Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sustainable Business Conference 2012

Ok, so here I am with all this time on my hands feeling the need to do something to keep up to speed with my career. How sick is that, right? Ha ; ) So a few weeks ago, I spent a morning perusing the handy-dandy internets to see what was going on around town in the world of sustainability. Perhaps I could find a lecture in English somewhere? Paris seems to be great when it comes to public seminars. Then I ran across something called the Sustainable Business Conference hosted by one of the local business schools which seemed pretty cool. Little did I know, this school, HEC Paris, is one of the most prestigious in the country. A random Chicagoan I met there (who, btw, has a wife from Elgin...seriously, how small IS this world anyways?!) told me that this was the place where all the CEOs of the country send their kids to take over their businesses...or as a French friend told me, something equivalent to Harvard Business School. Whoa. Ok. And impressed I was. The campus, located about 5km from Versailles, was nestled amongst a refreshing amount of nature with a fair amount of sustainable design in mind. I gave it all a thumbs up.

Not going to lie, I was a bit apprehensive about going to this, not knowing anyone, and not really knowing where the bus from Paris was dropping me off. But in the end, I was definitely glad I made the leap. It was kinda fun to get all dressed up, wear the badge of Architect (didn't see many archies there at all) and wander the halls randomly meeting people. Ok, that last part was actually kind of awkward, but those I did meet all had their own interesting story to tell and ranged from everyone from business students to bankers to sustainable technology investors.

The conference, itself, was all about "Enabling the Positive City" which was split into three different tracks you could choose from: Clean Technology, Infrastructure, and Social Business. I decided to choose one from each and attended discussion panels on:

1) How to Reduce Consumption in the Smart City
2) How to Generalize Smart Mobility
3) How to Develop Short Food Cycles

Though I didn't personally know any of the speakers (except our very own Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar), I knew everyone there had some high level of participation on whole concept of sustainability (owner of SNCF, VP of IBM France, etc., etc.); and that, in itself, was pretty exciting. To see what the leaders of today's companies are actually doing to move towards smarter, greener cities and to get the chance to hear points of views from a larger perspective of the movement was pretty cool. It's nice to be reminded once in awhile that there's more to sustainability than just buildings and neighborhood developments; it's in every aspect of our life, business, and economy. Yeah, yeah, obvious, right? But again, refreshing to hear different sides of the story and other problems out there needing to be solved besides 'what LEED rating are we going for."

Fortunately, the majority of the conference was in English, though they did say the opening and closing speeches would most likely be in French. They had the option of putting on headphones in which a live translation would be done, but I thought, hell, this is good practice for me. And plus, I would stand out less like a random foreigner attendee if I didn't have one of those things on my head. I will say, the opening speech went pretty well. Maybe the guy was using easy words or speaking slowly? I don't know. But I fell into this daze listening to the words and their rhythm and swore I understood a good 75% of everything. I was so proud of myself for not taking those damn headphones........ 

9 hours later, it was time for the closing speeches, and again, I thought to myself, no headphones for me. It was a disaster. My understanding dropped to about 10%. I was exhausted. These guys spoke so fast. The crowd would laugh. I'd stare out in a daze. Oooof. I couldn't tell you anything about what they said. The morning episode felt like a smooth ride down the river with only a few bumps along the way. Now I felt like the the smooth flow changed abruptly to rapids and I was drowning......Damn. Should have taken the headphones. By this point, I didn't really care if I stood out or not. I was just to hop back on that bus and head back to Paris.

And soon the final clap came, and I booked it right to bus where I instantly fell asleep. And to finally make it home an hour later with dinner made and wine served, I though, yeah, I think I really do need to attend more of these ; )

See here for some videos from the Conference

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