Driving Sustainability in the Public & Private Sector with GoGreen Conference’s Ericka Dickey Nelson
What does it take to organize a GoGreen Conference?
July 14, 2015
John Shegerian: Welcome back to Green Is Good. This is the GoGreen edition of Green Is Good and we are absolutely so honored to have with us Erika Dickey-Nelson. She is the President and Founder of GoGreen Conferences. Welcome to Green Is Good. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Thanks for having me. John Shegerian: We are so honored to be here, so thank you again personally. The show is just wonderful to be able to be broadcast from here in downtown Seattle. The guests that you have here are just spectacular. One of the greatest conferences in sustainability we’ve ever been at. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Great. Thank you. John Shegerian: So thank you. For our audience members that haven’t had a chance to get to know you ever before, Erika, share a little bit, how did you even come to found this great organization and get excited about sustainability? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: So my company, Social Enterprises, has always been doing large social cause events. John Shegerian: Yeah. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: We work with non-profits. But there was a real need for sustainability education way back in 2008. So we worked with the City of Portland. We met with them and they asked us, “What do you need from us to make this happen?” And so it was really truly a meeting of the minds between the public and private sectors. John Shegerian: And you started this in 2008? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: In 2008, in Portland. John Shegerian: Wow. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: It’s our eighth year in Portland. Our sixth year in Seattle. And we have been in Austin, Phoenix, New York. John Shegerian: And, in 2015, how many cities are you coming to this year? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: This year, we are focused on two, and that is primarily because of our client events such as Green Sports, Green Electronics Council. John Shegerian: Right. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: There are so many other events that we are doing that it has actually booked our schedule full so we haven’t been able to do any more GoGreens, but we are working on adding some new ones for next year. John Shegerian: Next year. For 2016. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Yes. San Diego. John Shegerian: San Diego next year? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Yes. John Shegerian: Still going back to Portland and Seattle again? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Yes. Always in Portland and Seattle. John Shegerian: And for our audience members out there that want to go or attend one of Ericka’s amazing conferences, you can go to www.GoGreenConference.net. So now you’ve started it. Talk a little bit about your journey the last seven years since 2008 and sustainability. And how have your conferences grown and evolved, and what is your own take on sustainability over the last seven years? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Great question. So I think the main thing that we’ve seen – we’ve always had interest from the private sector. Businesses want to know about best practices around sustainability, so there’s always been an interest there. But what I think we’ve added – and it’s much more a 50/50 split now – is public sector leadership. The mayors, the city council members, the people that are actually leading our government come together with the businesses and we make sure that we have public sector representation on every session sitting with the business community so that we can see how they can work together to drive these initiatives forward. That is our main goal in life. We have to create action. John Shegerian: And I know the mayor is coming in a little while. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Yeah, 30 minutes. John Shegerian: Right. So you put together these conferences. That’s a great point. For our audience members out there that get inspired and want to come to one of your conferences next, some of them – the speakers and the thought leaders there, big business, government, small businesses and other thought leaders, authors and other types of thought leaders. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Yeah. Anyone who can address best practices around sustainability for business and the public sector. John Shegerian: So it’s really just a great conglomeration of people that are solution providers. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Exactly. John Shegerian: Working together to make the world a better place. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Yes. John Shegerian: That’s awesome. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: And it is regionally focused so you’ll notice that all the companies here today are based in Washington State. John Shegerian: Wow. That’s a great point. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: So that anybody from any of the other states can come and learn what Washington State is doing. John Shegerian: That’s right. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: So each state we are in it is regionally focused. New York is focused on the Tri-State area. Oregon in Portland. So it’s a regional focus. John Shegerian: How has it evolved in terms of size in seven years? You are an entrepreneur really. You are an ecopreneur. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Yes. John Shegerian: This is your ecopreneur gift to the world. How has it evolved in size and scope? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: So it has actually held pretty steady, because it is a decision-maker audience, so literally CEOs from these small and medium businesses attend and then people who head up departments at larger organizations, so right around 500-600 since 2008. John Shegerian: Wow. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: It stays steady every time we do it. So really it’s truly just the right mix of people to actually create action around this. John Shegerian: That is so nice. And how many thought leaders come and are speakers? How many speakers do you have typically at each event? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Fifty to 60 for the day. John Shegerian: Fifty to 60. That’s a lot to curate though. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Yes. And we usually interview 200 to get to the 50. John Shegerian: Wow. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: So we make sure that their story really stands out. Because everyone here is a leader, so we have to make sure their story stands out as a case study before we put them on stage. John Shegerian: But even if you’re not a CEO of a company, you could come to one of your conferences. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Absolutely. John Shegerian: So, again, they can go to www.GoGreenConference.net and buy a ticket to come to the Portland conference. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Yes. John Shegerian: Got you. Talk a little bit about issues that you like to focus on. How do you curate your issues and come up and keep it interesting and fresh for the world that is constantly evolving and the sustainability issues that we have that constantly need addressing? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: So the number one thing is that we have a local expert advisory team. John Shegerian: Wow. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: So, literally, King County is our big partner here, so we have 20 people from King County that really advise on topics that they are covering in their departments. In addition to private sector leaders. So we are getting a true mix from all the different industries, getting their expert opinion on what their issues are, that’s what we end up covering is based on the feedback from them. So we actually create an outline with that advisory team and then send a call-out to our huge business audience here in the States based on those ideas, and then, that’s how we craft such an amazing program. John Shegerian: So even though you are covering so many global issues of importance, you are keeping it very local with your advisory team and also with the thought leaders from the local community. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Exactly. John Shegerian: Wow. We’ve never been to a conference like this that is curated the way you’ve done this. Do you have competition in other regions across the United States? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Definitely. I mean there are a lot of global sustainability events like Green Biz. John Shegerian: OK. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: So it covers a lot of the same topics we do. John Shegerian: OK. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: But they have speakers from all over the place, whereas we focus on the region that we’re in. John Shegerian: The region. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: So when you are in New York you will see only speakers from New York, which of course those are global companies so it ends up being a global conference but a local audience. John Shegerian: How are you going to take it to the next level? Besides geography and next year hopefully adding San Diego and maybe other cities, how are you going to take it to another level in terms of, what’s your vision for GoGreen in the years ahead when you start thinking about a three- and a five-year plan? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: I think getting more cities on board, so really spreading it to the places that need it most. John Shegerian: Right. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Portland and Seattle are the choir. John Shegerian: Right. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: And there is a lot of action around greenness, so they don’t need it as much as, say, Phoenix. John Shegerian: That’s true. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Or other places that don’t have as much going on. John Shegerian: Great point. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: So I think if we can spread our message a little farther to different cities that really need it. Maybe smaller cities would be a good thing. And I think too, for us, is as a company – Social Enterprises – industry-specific conferences around the higher education source industry like Green Sports Alliance and really supporting other conferences in this arena to focus on industries. John Shegerian: So your organization, Social Enterprises, is being hired by other organizations to run great events like this because you have got now the reputation in sustainability. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Exactly. Yeah. It’s essentially what we’re doing here at GoGreen but industry-specific. John Shegerian: Wow. And how many other events are you doing this year outside of the GoGreen? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: So we are doing a total of about 12. John Shegerian: Whoa! Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Of this size. John Shegerian: One a month keeps you very, very, very busy. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Yes. John Shegerian: Across the country. As we know, the sports one is in Chicago. And when is the Portland event coming up? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Coming up in October. John Shegerian: October? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: So October 6. John Shegerian: October 6. So if you want to buy tickets to the October GoGreen Conference, that is www.GoGreenConference.net. And can you give a little sneak preview on some of the issues you are going to be tackling there? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Yeah. So the number one thing in Portland – and this is really based on government and private sector in part – social equity and diversity will be our theme for the third year running. John Shegerian: Social equity and diversity. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: So we will have at least one track of topics dedicated to social equity and diversity. Just like the session we had here. It’s fascinating. It’s a little bit of a complex topic area to cover so we’re really relying on the experts in those arenas to help us come up with the topics we should cover, but we will definitely have a focus and probably at least three to five sessions on those topics. John Shegerian: Got you. Any final thoughts for our audience members before we say goodbye and get you with the mayor? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: I would say we rely on input from our communities. So anyone watching this if you have ideas for things that we can cover, that’s what we want to know. What are we missing? New things that we did. Think out of the box to make incidents interesting and innovative so that people actually take action. John Shegerian: And for our city leaders that get to watch us, or city council members that get to watch us across the United States, are you taking also invitations to come to their city as well? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Yes. Absolutely. Yes. We want to come to your city. John Shegerian: Big or small? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Big or small. John Shegerian: How about international? Do you have international aspirations? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Yes. We would love that. John Shegerian: Really? Which way do you want to go first across the Atlantic or across the Pacific? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: I’m thinking Atlantic. John Shegerian: Atlantic? Ericka Dickey-Nelson: I think that’s probably the way to go. John Shegerian: Really? That is so interesting. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: There are some cities that I think would be really interested if we had the right contracts and commitment from the government, so it just depends on how willing they would be to support our efforts. John Shegerian: That’s so exciting. So October 6 in Portland. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: October 6. Yes. John Shegerian: We are going to be there with you. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Yes. Great. John Shegerian: We want you to be there with us, too, so you can go on www.GoGreenConference.net and you can be there as well. Ericka Dickey-Nelson, you are a sustainability and green superstar and truly living proof that Green Is Good. Thank you so much for inviting us here today. We are so excited to share the journey with you. Ericka Dickey-Nelson: Same. Thank you very much. John Shegerian: Thank you.