SXSW Eco: Three Panels That Brought Diverse Voices to the Table

October 16, 2015

Last week, Austin, Texas hosted SXSW Eco, “a space for business leaders, investors, innovators and designers to advance solutions that drive economic, environmental, and social change.” Resource Media made it out this year to screen our new Women at the Center film, “I love my IUD”, and to speak on the “Sex and Sustainability: Youth and Reproductive Rights” panel.

The three days were jam packed with highly engaging and mostly techy and design centered panels, workshops, and keynotes. From the Biomimicry Institute showing us how designers are creating nature-inspired solutions, to the United Nations Foundation and Social Good Hub engaging the audience with a virtual reality film that transports the viewer to refugee camp in northwest Jordan and then all the way to space with keynote speaker, Chris Lewicki, explaining how asteroids are the new frontier for resources like water and metals.

Although each panel or workshop had something pretty mind-blowing stuff to offer, there were three that stuck out to me because of their relevance to social justice and multicultural issues in the U.S.

#BlackLivesMatter in Advancing Energy Democracy:

This panel consisted of three African American leaders, Dujaun Coleon, executive director of Project Urban Renewal Energy, Donele Wilkens CEO of Green Door Initiative, and Jacqueline Patterson director of Environmental and Climate Justice at NAACP. (Alicia Garza, co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter was scheduled to speak; however a sudden obligation to the movement conflicted with the panel). The panel discussed how the Black Lives Matter movement intersects with environmental justice and how the emerging energy economy can be more inclusive and just to low income communities and formerly incarcerated persons.

Dujaun Coleon made the connection between these issues by telling the story of Freddie Gray.

“On the surface the story of Freddie Gray is that he was an African American man who struggled with the law, had been arrested several times, and the last time he was arrested he died in police custody, which then sparked civil unrest. But when you dig deeper you see the intersectionality. You find that Freddie grew up in an area that had a high level of lead poisoning and Freddie, himself, was actually lead poisoned. The reason that is significant is because lead poisoning affects your cognitive behavior, it affects how you react. So when you think about social justice and Black Lives Matter you have to think about it holistically. You have to look at the environment people live in and you have to look at their socioeconomic situation.”

Coleon noted that hazardous and toxic waste is put into Black and Brown communities disproportionately, so in this regard, he says “we are saying Black (and brown lives) don’t matter.”

These comments touch on the structural racism that is built into our energy and environmental policies. From New Orleans to the Navajo Nation and almost every place in between, it has become normal and accepted that communities of color experience environmental racism. When Coleon shared the story of Freddie Gray he challenged the audience to think not just about the symptoms, like health problems or violence, but also about the roots and causes of these issues. For me, at the core of what Coleon was saying was that as innovators, designers, and business leaders we need to create solutions that go deeper than the surface and put social justice at the center of our work.

One way to begin developing these holistic solutions is by building relationships with marginalized communities. Coleon offered two noteworthy pieces of advice on partnering with communities of color and movements like Black Lives Matter. First, he suggests that environmental groups, nonprofits, and government agencies need to diversify their staff. In 2014, only 18% of nonprofit employees were people of color, yet 60% of nonprofits serve people of color. So as nonprofits, especially environmental groups, work to solve problems like climate change and resource scarcity that disproportionately affect people of color, we need to bring diversity to our organizations so that they better represent the communities we work with. Second, Coleon says that when partnering with grassroots groups and communities of color, you must begin that partnership by listening, not lecturing, and meet those communities where they are.

Mobilizing U.S. Latinos to #ActOnClimate

This panel featured Adriana Quintero from the National Resources Defense Council and Felipe Benitez, an expert in strategic communications, who shared ‘insights, best practices, and new ideas to effectively communicate, educate, and mobilize the U.S. Latino community around action on climate change.” Adriana began the discussion by breaking the myth that Latinos are not involved in environmental movements with statistics like: 85% of Latinos believe its extremely important to reduce smog or air pollution, 80% of Latinos say the U.S. should mandate more clean energy sources like wind and solar, and 86% of Latinos support increased water conservation. Later, Felipe offered best practices to engage Latino communities to #ActOnClimate. The top three were: 1. Make it personal and family centered (connect to what’s happening in their country of origin) 2. Talk about effects on health 3. Make it actionable: individual actions can generate global changes.

Reaching The Next Generation Influencer

…aka the elusive millennial. This panel was made up of 4 millennial women who work in the marketing world and they explored “the impact and strategies behind bootstrapping effective marketing campaigns geared towards the next generation influencer.” First the panel distinguished what exactly a millennial is. According to these women, a millennial is someone that’s born between 1980 and 1995. It’s the generation that went from analog to digital and started using cell phones in high-school. Then they discussed what works and doesn’t work to engage this generation. Some of my favorite takeaways from this panel were:

  1. Know who you are trying to reach within the generation. People assume that milliennials are one group of people but it’s actually a very diverse group. So it’s really important to distinguish which segment you’re trying to engage. For example, are you trying to reach millennials who are in their early 30’s or millennials who are in their first year or two of college?
  2. Stay informed on cultural cues and trends within the generation and use those “inside jokes” strategically in your campaign. Also most millennials are creative types, they work as designers, artists, bloggers etc. They want to co-create, not just consume.
  3. Genuineness and transparency are very important in reaching the millennial. This generation is very interested in taking action and it’s a very empathetic generation. So make sure your messaging contains a call to action and appeals to this empathy and humanness.

As a millennial, I found this panel pretty spot on, especially when they discussed the empathy within this generation. I did find it a bit disappointing however that the panel, being at SXSWEco, did not discuss reaching millennials in regards to environmental or social issues. The conversation was more focused on the consumer market, not advocacy or sustainability. Nevertheless it was very inspiring to see a female group of twenty somethings have a panel of their own, breaking the norm of the week, which was typically a male-dominated panel.

Resource Media also spoke on a panel that brought diverse issues like gender, reproductive rights, and women’s empowerment to SXSWEco. Click here to read more about our panels “HERStory” and “Sex and Sustainability: Youth and Reproductive Rights”.

Also you can listen to the SXSWEco 2015 presentations here.

Jade Begay