The annual Bioneers conference, with its goals for finding solutions to environmental issues, can carry with it the stereotype of appealing to an extremist audience. But Knox students who attended the Louisville, Kentucky event this past weekend, found something different from what they expected.
“I was surprised and delighted with how the themes of business kind of intertwined a lot through the speeches,” said sophomore Hannah Basil, who attended Bioneers with approximately 20 other Knox students. Basil, a major in economics and a minor in business and management, “came with a different motivation than most people there. You would assume more environmental people would go.”
However, Basil found that speakers described themes of sustainable business and other social issues as an integral part of environmentalism. They were themes that matched up with her own academic interests.
“I do have a passion for the environment because I don’t think the way business is being done is sustainable for the future,” she said. “We have finite resources. I’m very interested in changing that. I wanted to see if anything here could be applicable.”
Keeping business green
Knox attends the annual Bioneers conference each year. The main event, which is held in California, draws several thousand attendees each year. Groups across the country hold satellite conferences in which people watch live streams of speakers in California as well as host live speakers and discussions of their own on local environmental issues. Knox attended the Louisville, KY conference from Oct. 16 to Oct. 18. They camped in the quads of a local college.
“It’s overwhelming,” said sophomore Laura Thompson, who also attended Bioneers. “It’s one after another of really intense issues and they’re all focusing on it from another viewpoint.” However, it was being overwhelmed that Thompson valued.
“I’m not majoring in environmental studies, but I’m very interested in it […] I thought maybe going to the conference would be being exposed to the issue without giving up one of my three classes a term,” she said.
Keynote speakers at the conference included Jane Goodall and Gary Hirshberg, the founder and CEO of Stonyfield Farm. Both Bail and Thompson found the latter particularly fascinating.
“[He] just described what Stonyfield’s doing that’s really industry-changing; it’s completely innovative,” said Basil. Hirshberg’s company actively works to be sustainable, requiring their cows be grass-fed instead of corn fed and avoiding pesticides and hormones.
“The thing that’s cool is that […] he wants his competitors to do what he’s doing. He’s not trying to be the lone green business man. He thinks the food industry needs to become more organic,” Basil said.
Seeing Hirshberg combine his business with green principles inspired Basil to take advantage of another opportunity Bioneers offered in which participants could sign up to lead a 40-minute session on any topic that interested them. Basil led a session on using green industry as a business model and applying it to the wider economy.
“It was pretty well attended,” Basil said. “We had a really great discussion. I got up there and said, I’m not an expert by any means, but it was cool to get a conversation with people I never would have talked to at any point in my life.” Basil was the only person in her session under the age of 35. The group discussed ideas such as ecomimicry, in which an ideal business model would mimic the ecosystem’s pattern of using resources and then breaking them down to be used again. Many people who attended her discussion were already active participants in the field of green business.
“That’s something inspiring, to know that there are people out there doing it,” Basil said.
Thompson, although also enthused about the wide variety of fields tied together with environmental issues, came out of the conference with a new idea of the main roadblock to sustainability: apathy.
“It’s depressing,” Thompson said. “You hear these statistics […] I know that most people know about these facts but say, ‘the recycling bin is all the way over there and it’s just one thing.’ I think that small scale apathy is really damaging.”
After attending the conference, Thompson valued the extensive work Knox Environmental Science professors put in to teaching classes and mentoring students while still managing to work for sustainability.
“I guess that just gave me new respect for people [who work] on this issue and have jobs […] and have families,” she said. “That’s how much this issue means to some people. It’s inspiring.”
Both Thompson and Basil intend to carry the lessons from Bioneers with them.
“I’m going to try to bring this back to Business Club,” Basil said.
In discussions with other students and Environmental Science professor Peter Schwartzman, Thompson was enthused by the idea of helping Galesburg to become what is known as a ‘transitional town,’ working to become as sustainable as possible.
“I think that would be so good for Galesburg,” she said. “I think it would create jobs and the community working together.”
Beyond practical implications, Basil gained a new appreciation for the values of sustainability after attending Bioneers, which valued the concept of honoring the web of life.
“These are things you never think about – why we’re fixing it,” she said.