FORTUNE’s “Brainstorm: Green” 2011 Conference

AT&T Charging TentFORTUNE Magazine held its “Brainstorm: Green” 2011 conference in April, and I had the good fortune (pun intended!) to be there.   It was my second time attending, and I find it to be one of the most interesting and top notch conferences I go to – well planned and executed, with a wide range of perspectives and environmental issues discussed and debated.   This year a term that kept coming up over and over was… you guessed it…, “Smart!” Smart grid, smart buildings, smart logistics, smart homes, and there were also plenty of smart people in attendance. And, of course, the whole lot of us conference-goers was constantly on our smartphones – using them for real time polling at the conference, checking work email, using the web to fact check, calling home (I avoided sending pictures so as to not lose credibility that I was in fact working with that Laguna Niguel, CA surf in the background), and charging the devices at the uber-cool AT&T eco tent….

AT&T Charging Tent

Sorry – I couldn’t resist the plug!

At times the conversation was less than optimistic:

  • there was widespread agreement that the path to clean energy was still a ways away,
  • heart-wrenching photos shown and stories told of beautiful animals whose natural habitats – and ecosystems that benefit man — are disappearing,
  • concern about the competitiveness of our nation
  • and widespread disagreement about what to do about it.

After initially getting down about the less than good news, I reminded myself that there has rarely been widespread agreement on any major issue that our country has faced.   We either fight our way through it, or some innovation comes along that reframes and leapfrogs the whole issue. Given the awesome ideas and new technologies that I see spring forth every day, I’ve got to believe it will be the latter.

So, despite the uncertainty and lack of a clear path forward, I’m optimistic. I’m optimistic that these smart technologies and devices and developments will add up to something that leapfrogs our current quagmire of foreign oil and pollution and helps to correct a high school drop out rate that is concerning, to put it mildly.   As we get more smart things, we have to remember to be smart ourselves – to understand that the actions of our companies impact society, and that, to borrow an old adage, “What goes around comes around”–sometimes in a very different form!

Understanding the downstream impacts of a business lever is something most companies do well, but we often stop short of understanding the impacts on society and how society’s issues impact us as companies.   And so, as we start “Smart Week,” I’d like to ask:

What smart technology do you think holds the most promise in helping our nation leapfrog past  the unknowns of today?

Beth Shiroishi Citizenship & Sustainability AVP AT&T About Beth