Sustainability Unconference

I recently attended a Sustainability Unconference in San Francisco hoping to learn and contribute something. This is not a summary of the event; just some takeaways based on my perspective.

One of the more interesting workshops pertained to careers. Not everyone was a tree-hugger. But I believe everyone’s career should involve passion projects — whether it’s sports, music or an interesting hobby. Sustainability has been my hobby under the veneer of a technology career. Some folks at the conference were much more embedded than me — having spent their entire careers protecting the planet. They dedicated their lives — overcoming highs and lows. Others tried to pivot based on where their core skills can take them.

Environmental careers are certainly achievable in niche areas. There’s definitely a shortage of evangelists and scientists in corporate sustainability. Sustainability is considered less critical for a business than implementing a digital strategy or expanding sales in China. Eventually, nothing else will matter more than sustainability.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” The demise of our planet is almost assured. The world will be much worse off for our grandchildren if we don’t plant the seeds of change today.


Sustainability as a career path is expected to grow exponentially as the world experiences more catastrophic events. The worse it gets, the better it will be for sustainability professionals.

No silver bullets exist such as hackathons to solve climate change. Policies which promote infrastructure spending & technology solutions take time and tons of capital just to get modest returns. Environmentalists need all the support they can get. Venture capitalists and financiers haven’t been able to uplift the Cleantech industry even with reports citing clear risks to business in the near future. Yet, no one is giving up. Some folks question why Elon Musk is advising President Trump. Elon has a better chance to move the needle on the White House lawn than on Sand Hill road. I applaud his efforts.

Silicon Valley continues to move the needle. There is a rich population of local leaders who know how to achieve sustainability goals.

In another conference workshop, I pitched an idea about using technology to promote ‘neighborhood sustainability.’ Most of San Francisco has multi-tenant apartments or condos. Yet, most next door neighbors don’t know each other. Next Door has done a nice job of creating neighborhood communities — block-by-block. Another startup called Townsquared connects businesses in a neighborhood. Both tools connect the dots for residents and businesses. Neighbors keep each other aware of key activities and incidents. Next Door has also become a dashboard for cops, government officials and nannies. I’m sure smart phones will come to the rescue when a major earthquake strikes. It’s hard to imagine being on the middle of the street and not knowing your neighbors when you really need them. That day might be coming soon.

Communication tools exist that will help address a disaster, but hardly anyone knows about them. Why not take it further and let neighbors self-organize for sustainability? They can build stronger eco-friendly communities. I remember how fun it was living in a college Co-op. San Francisco is like a large college campus full of idealistic people.

What if more people connected in a positive way? What if cities allowed neighborhoods to keep score and share resources on their own? It could change the world. Maybe it’s time for another cool app.