I have attended numerous sustainability conferences and gatherings over the years. I always feel energized talking about sustainability with colleagues, but the inspiration quickly fades after the event. Sometimes I even feel some regret for all of the resources I used in attending these events.
These feelings, coupled with the fact that the lectures at conferences can be viewed as stimulants for the 'real work' which happens in the networking time, gave birth to an idea: What if we could sponsor a volunteer/networking event as part of a sustainability conference? This would help achieve some lasting good for the host community and simultaneously promote networking among the participants.
This seed of an idea germinated at the South-by-Southwest (SXSW) Eco Conference held in Austin, Texas last fall. In only its second year, SXSW ECO 2012 attracted over 2,000 participants and has quickly become one of the premier environmental gatherings in the country. Since this event is held in Austin where AMD has a large facility, we decided that this conference would be the ideal venue to try out the idea.
AMD, SXSW ECO and several nonprofits worked together to build a volunteer event into the conference program. We decided that the main objective of the volunteer event would be to clean up a historic urban waterway -- Waller Creek -- which runs through central Austin.
As the team started to plan the event, we thought that we could involve more people and make more of an impact if we opened it up beyond the conference attendees. The team decided to split the event into three shifts over one day:
- the first shift came from the SXSW ECO conference participants;
- the next shift was drawn from local community volunteers; and
- the last shift was made up of employees from AMD and other local employers.
The event took place on Oct. 4, 2012 and, by all accounts, was a big success. We fielded a "green army" of more than 150 volunteers and by the end of the day the volunteers had cleaned up over 20 city blocks of the creek and removed 114 bags of trash that weighed about 1,300 pounds. We also split off some smaller teams that made 5,500 seed balls to restore vegetation in the areas burned by the 2011 Texas wildfires; mapped 120 invasive species in the urban canopy in an effort to restore a native ecosystem; and planted several trees on the University of Texas campus.
Like any new idea, we learned a lot by going through the process. Now AMD has documented the process and the lessons we learned in a new white paper titled "Bringing Action into the Agenda: Crowdsourcing Volunteerism at Corporate Events." Our aim in releasing this white paper is to inspire and empower future sustainability conference planners, or any event planners, to use the guidance for planning similar volunteer/networking events.
We believe that this concept has the potential to create a movement. Imagine the good that could be accomplished if more conferences offered sponsorships for volunteer events rather than just coffee breaks. If this idea takes root with event planners, there could be thousands or even millions of volunteers working for good across the country and globally.
Here are a few of the highlights of the white paper:
- Appoint a central coordinator: Someone needs to devote sufficient time to be the central point of contact and link up all of the parties who will be involved.
- Nonprofits are crucial: Local nonprofits like American YouthWorks and Keep Austin Beautiful were essential in managing this event. These groups have counterparts across the nation that do the ground work needed to manage successful events.
- Build a financial model: Everyone involved in the effort should feel that it is worthwhile. Since nonprofits are essential to the effort, the sponsorship package should include sufficient funding for these groups. And don't forget the small stuff like coffee for the morning shift!
- Have fun: After all the trash was picked up, we all gathered at a local watering hole overlooking the creek so we could admire our work and continue the networking experience.
The 2012 SXSW ECO was indeed a great conference. I left with a lot of good ideas, memorable conversations and great connections. And, because of the AMD sponsored volunteer event, I also left with a sense of fulfillment that we helped the local community. By sharing the lessons we learned in this new white paper, we hope that others will have similar experiences and, hopefully, launch a "green army" movement.
Tim Mohin is Director of Corporate Responsibility for Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). Tim is the author of the book, Changing Business from the Inside Out: A Treehugger's Guide to Working in Corporations (Greenleaf and Berrett-Kohler). Tim's postings and the comments made in his book are his own opinions and may not represent AMD's positions, strategies or opinions. Links to third party sites, and references to third party trademarks, are provided for convenience and illustrative purposes only. Unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such links, and no third party endorsement of AMD or any of its products is implied. Follow Tim @TimMohinAMD and check out AMD's latest Corporate Responsibility Report - the summary is available as a tablet app.