Q&A: Jerry James Stone
I was recently asked to join the Advisory Board for SXSW Eco, an offshoot of the huge SXSW conference now in its second year and coming to Austin in early October. In my new role I have organized one panel discussion and reviewed many others. Now as a member of the diverse Advisory Board, I decided to tap into their wisdom, starting with Jerry James Stone, an environmental writer with Discovery Channel’s TreeHugger.com who also writes for Atlantic.com, MAKE magazine, and Digg.com and focuses on food and wine. He has served as the first “Cool Chef” for Cline Cellars and is this year’s Twitter Shorty Award winner for the hashtag #green. Here he talks about the many sprouting green conferences, concerns about content, and greenwashing.
Kira Gould: It seems that “green conferences” are sprouting up all over. Why are you involved with SXSW Eco and what kind of impact do you think this conference can have?
Jerry James Stone: Yes, there is definitely a green conference trend emerging, for sure. It is one of those good and bad things. The fact that green is a trend is great because people recognize not only the value of protecting the environment, but that it has mainstream appeal too. Of course, mainstream appeal comes with consequences—like greenwashing. That is why I wanted to be a part of SXSW Eco. The brand is proven, SXSW is known for innovating and being creative. With such strong brand recognition, it can really move the needle in a sincere and beneficial way. I am thinking about what SXSW Eco can be five years from now. That is what I am concerned about. How can we keep bringing in the right people, the right panels and the right attendees to really make a change. And I think it will happen.
KG: I, too, am an Advisory Member, and I just finished evaluating many panels. I continue to be struck by how greenwashing persists. What’s your perspective on this? How does a conference stay above the green-wash fray?
JJS: I think they have done a great job at building an Advisory Board to help keep the conference on track. I guess I am patting myself on the back there (and you) but it’s true. The people involved are top notch. I am really excited for SXSW Eco’s sophomore effort. The first year was a good one but there are so many great people involved this time around. It’s going to be epic!
KG: It sometimes seems that for laypeople, there is just too much to choose from in the environmental realm: energy, water issues, recycling/upcycling, etc. When people ask you “where to start,” how do you advise them?
JJS: It is tough to break habits, regardless of how important it is. You see this with the environment but also with people who need to change their eating habits. I always suggest that they start with the thing that is easiest. Of course, we all want a big impact. But if someone doesn’t really follow through, then it’s moot anyway. So start small and start easy. Keep it simple.
Kira Gould is director of communications for William McDonough + Partners and a freelance writer living in the Bay Area. For SXSW Eco, she has curated a panel focused on women and leadership in sustainability—Gould’s Women in Green co-author Lance Hosey will moderate a panel that includes Gail Vittori, Michelle Kaufmann, Erin Schroede, and Jennifer Cutbill. Learn more about this session and others in the first round of programming here.