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Natural Awakenings Milwaukee

The Sustainability Summit and Exposition: The Evolution of a Flourishing Green Idea

Mar 03, 2014 04:49PM ● By Linda Sechrist

(L-R) Ed Begley, Jr., George Stone, Michael E. Mann

Since 2004, Milwaukee’s highly successful Sustainability Summit and Exposition has been attracting participants interested in energy efficiency, social responsibility and green energy practices. A collaborative effort involving university students and professors, as well as business vendors and government entities, the conference is a shining example of how ideas can evolve and grow for the good of a city, region and state. Since its first incarnation in the spring of 2004, its turnout has grown from 60 attendees associated with Wisconsin’s technical colleges to an expected attendance of more than 3,000 at this year’s event, Conserving the Future Together, which takes place March 26 and 27 at the Wisconsin Center, in Milwaukee.

By 2001, Wisconsin’s forward thinking technical colleges were already planning to replace fossil fuels and contemplating a number of other sustainability efforts. Madison College was involved in energy initiatives, Lake Shore had an interest in wind energy, and several schools found renewables appealing; so the first Wisconsin Renewable Energy meeting made a lot of sense.

“The idea of a major initiative in renewable energy was actually conceived in 2001 after an Environmental Protection Agency workshop that we attended in Chicago,” says Summit Chair George Stone, a Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) instructor of natural sciences and one of the summit’s founders.

Sustainability Summit and ExpositionIn 2005, Johnson Controls, one of the state’s largest employers, offered to co-host the summit with MATC; the turnout doubled to 120. The 2006 summit, which was held at the Wisconsin Rapids campus of Mid-State Technical, attracted 180 individuals and six exhibitors. By 2008, the event was being held at the Milwaukee Convention Center, which allowed for more space and fewer logistical challenges. It was renamed the Green Energy Summit and marketed more widely to organizations, schools and institutions of higher education, which resulted in an attendance of 1,250. The 2009 Summit expanded to three days and garnered Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, as a keynote speaker; attendance soared to 1,750. Between 2010 and 2013, the audience grew to 3,400.

“Our base of academic and corporate sponsors includes most of Wisconsin’s major institutions of higher learning as well many major corporations such as A. O. Smith [headquartered in Milwaukee] and SC Johnson [based in Racine]. This level of support has helped to turn the summit into a major conference for our state and region,” advises Stone.

With the support of sponsors, the conference is able to attract a national audience with myriad local, regional and national experts that lead its plenary and breakout sessions. Nationally recognized speakers have included leading climate scientists such as James Hansen and Michael E. Mann and environmental leaders like Ed Begley Jr., actor, author of Living Like Ed and spokesperson for the A. O. Smith Corporation; as well as corporate leaders like Charles Schrock, president, CEO and chairman of Integrys Energy Group, and Will Allen, author and founder of Growing Power.

George Stone
George Stone
Stone is especially proud of one particular aspect of the summit. “We determined early on that we would always allow students to register free of charge because the summit addresses trends in energy sustainability, as well as potential careers in everything from energy engineering, environmental health and water quality technology to sustainability and renewable energy such as wind, solar and geothermal. Of the 3,400 individuals who attended in 2013, 2,000 were students,” he notes.

In addition to its 150 presenters and 68 exhibitors, the 11th annual Sustainability Summit and Exposition is hosting a career fair from 2 to 5 p.m., March 26, following the completion of the first day’s sessions. “It will be a rich mix of colleges and corporations, which is ideal because it puts students and green job seekers in touch with leading industry, government, consumer and academic experts, as well as what could be their college of choice or their potential employer,” remarks Stone.

Location: 400 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee. For additional information, visit SustainabilitySummit.US.

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