Posted by: Mr. Austin | November 15, 2009

The New Leaf at Opportunity Green

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Michael S. Hopkins, Editor in Chief, MIT Sloan Management Review (click to enlarge)

One of the oldest ways to get someone’s attention about environmental concerns is to holler at them and wave your arms in the air. While that still has its place, the best way to get a bear’s attention is with honey, not vinegar. Over recent years thousands of forward-thinkers worldwide, including Michael S. Hopkins, Karen Solomon and Mike Flynn noticed this and acted upon it. In a largely capitalistic world, the only way anyone’s gonna make significant progress in sustainability is to monetize it.

Greenpeace, that doesn’t mean we don’t love you… sometimes the Conscience Police “gotta slap someone upside the head” with negative media to get a company’s attention. Of course, many people and companies can be found who try their best to greenwash their business and customers but over the long term, the only businesses that will succeed will be those with genuine interest in heartfelt sustainability. And those companies were the rule rather than the exception at the third annual Opportunity Green business conference in Los Angeles just a few days ago.


(l-r) Zem Joaquim of Ecofabulous, Colin Bryant of Paladin Capital, Adam Lowry of Method, Julie Gilhart of Barneys and Rich Steinberg of Mini (click to enlarge)

Opportunity Green’s tagline is “being green + being profitable” and 56 top-flight speakers held forth on a wide variety of topics from overviews of mass consumerism, to marketing, to the history of green technology, product design, to the business of sustainability, to next generation transportation. By quick visual estimate, around 35 companies set booths to discuss their green services and products. And since picking our path into the future is important, Opportunity Green also created a nifty competition, the “OG25” to select, “twenty-five sustainable start-ups chosen for their stand-out approaches to creating real change through business.”

The net effect that Opportunity Green has on your life is simple – in months and years to come, many of the discussions which took root here will bear fruit as products and services which you’ll use.


Chris Jordan’s new rendering of Hokusai’s famous ‘Great Wave off Kanagawa’ – made instead from plastic debris (click to enlarge)

Setting everyone’s intention at the first session was attorney-turned-photographer Chris Jordan, who showed unedited photos from his just-finished expedition to Midway Atoll. Getting one’s brain wrapped around humanity’s influence on Earth takes focus and perspective, but since a picture’s worth a thousand words Chris’s work drives home the point that our species is out of reaction time. Sobered, arrested and sad would be how I’d describe many of us felt as we watched Chris flick through his photographic montages to show us what we’ve done.

Chris’s unedited Midway photos and especially striking photographic montages like the ironic homage to Hokusai shown here, depict humanity’s influence via our debris from places like the Eastern Garbage Patch. These beautifully horrible images must be pondered to be believed. Also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, this soup of humanity’s toxic debris about twice the size of Texas is contained in one of five ‘pools’ in the Earth’s oceans called gyres.

If you’re reading this you owe it to yourself and your children to click through to Chris’s site. His compilation from Midway is below – Downer Alert! – get yourself some coffee or tea before you watch this, take a little time and remember that we can correct our mistakes.

Chris Jordan’s “Midway: Message from the Gyre”

But Opportunity Green is here to help us focus on solutions to problems like these that Chris is able to show us, bringing some of the world’s best organizations together to compare notes. Keith Kegley of the X-Prize Foundation even hinted during his presentation that they’re considering working on solutions to the debris of the gyres. Hundreds of the best companies in their field attend or present at Opportunity Green including legends like Yvon Chouinard’s Patagonia. Co-founders Karen Solomon and Mike Flynn have done a fabulous job with their brainchild, and it looks like a particularly bright childhood will lead Opportunity Green into brilliant maturity.

In addition to Opportunity Green’s strong profile in the business world – as exemplified by BusinessWeek’s Helen Walters video interview of Len Sauers, Procter & Gamble’s Vice President for Global Sustainability – the conference has already drawn attention from wider media. The Los Angeles Times, Glamour magazine, the New York Times and CNN are all carrying stories about Opportunity Green.

CNN Local Edition’s interview of Opportunity Green’s co-founder Mike Flynn & Emilie Cowan.

A nonprofit or two were even represented, including Bud Moore’s Algalita Marine Research Foundation, one of the first groups to give the Earth a heads-up about the Eastern Garbage patch and the other four marine gyres which attract toxic plastic detritus. Algalita’s Anna Cummins was on-hand to outline its programs and told Blue Planet Almanac that Algalita is planning to survey the other four marine gyres in its brand new 5 Gyres project. Anna showed up on a bicycle carrying everything she needed for her Algalita booth for Opportunity Green. She was also a land crew-member of the Junk Raft, a first ocean-going vessel constructed from 15,000 plastic bottles and a Cessna 310 cabin, which sailed in Summer 2008 and predated the upcoming launch of David de Rothschild’s Plastiki.


Adam Lowry, Method (click to enlarge)

Another excellent example of the thinkers and doers to be found at Opportunity Green would be Method co-founder Adam Lowry, who spoke to conferees with broad strokes about how to keep one’s heart in his business, complementing his head. Lowry’s accessible style and thoughtful approach to creating and maintaining his business have put Method products on the shelves of major American retailers including WalMart and large grocery chains. If you asked Lowry why he co-founded Method, he’d tell you he was tired of the minimal options he found for everyday products. And Lowry was only one of hundreds of conferees exercising their brainpower and hearts to do green business.


Freya Williams, OgilvyEarth (click to enlarge)

Freya Williams, co-founder of OgilvyEarth, Ogilvy’s sustainability practice division, also shone brightly as a forward thinker. Conceived as a positive means to focus vital attention on the upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen, Williams’ presentation on the development of OgilvyEarth’s Hopenhagen, showed us the “campaign for United Nations Secretary General Ban-ki Moon to help effect a positive outcome from the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen in December 2009.” Followers of Blue Planet Almanac can sign the petition for Hopenhagen at the upper-right corner of any page.

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Volunteer Amanda Crater of CraterCom & BusinessWeek’s Helen Walters clowning at the after party

An interesting philosophy which Opportunity Green’s founders expressed was the extensive logistical help from their volunteers, who looked to be around 30 in number. In a balanced atmosphere of Fortune companies and startups, trained volunteers were at our service to provide directions to sessions, find vendor booths and help media reps locate presenters. This should be taken a good sign that Opportunity Green is attracting thoughtful talent at every level and isn’t strictly about profit. All the volunteers either knew how to answer questions and solve problems, or knew exactly who to ask. At Opportunity Green’s closing presentation the volunteers were thanked profusely for their invaluable logistical assistance.

So, when millions of us are using the thoughtful green products and services launched at Opportunity Green, we can thank the thousands of companies and volunteers who made it a point to get involved and do their best for everyone. If you want your business to be sustainable, and to be on the leading edge of the movement that’s really gonna save humanity’s biscuits, then you might consider putting your head together with others of like mind at this excellent conference of some of the best and brightest.


  1. Great write-up of the conference!


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