Reflections from the 2016 International OnSustainability Conference

What do climate-caused migration, ecological capacity, sustainability data management, communication, sustainable supply chain management, the psychology of consumers, and eating local for a year have in common?

These were just some of the topics covered by insightful and inspiring speakers last week at the OnSustainability 12th International Conference on Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability here in Portland. What a treat to have such great minds gather so close to home! Almost 300 attendees from around the globe came together, representing academia, architecture, engineering, consulting, decision strategists, economists, authors, scientists, public officials, and of course, sustainability coordinators/consultants/directors. Add more PhD’s than I’ve ever encountered in one room before, and behold some incredible conversations.

Lunch and networking breaks included thought provoking subjects about the conflict between economic growth and ecological sustainability, about how exactly we can make a difference in our everyday lives, workplaces and schools, and why subconscious (or not so subconscious) psychology is screwing us all over.

Needless to say, I’m going to need a few months to mull everything I heard over and put some of the new tools I learned into practice.

One key message coming out of the conference: there’s hope. As one New Zealand study showed, we Millennials are the most optimistic of us all (and yes- because according to this study we think we’ll change the world via grassroots efforts while waiting for the naysaying Boomers to step aside and *gasp* die). Still, all ages were in attendance, and nearly everyone was optimistic. The feeling in the rooms was that “we know what the problem is”, “we’re coming up with solutions”, “we have support”, “we can do it”, “we are doing it”, and “we’re getting there”. People care about sustainability more than ever before and the tides are changing. The numbers are still scary, the facts are still scary, but with so many people getting involved to improve the world around us for the people and planet, 2016 and the next few years promise to be the most exciting yet.

The least optimistic person’s message: PLEASE be considerate of the global population boom when you decide how many kids to have. (Coming from an only child here– the right answer is one).

Dying for more details? You can check out the abstracts from the conference at the OnSustainability website.

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