By Mackenzie Pedersen, Staff Writer

If you’re ever looking to be incredibly inspired about environmental and business sustainability opportunities, attend a Net Impact Conference!

Photos taken by Mackenzie Pedersen

I had the opportunity to experience this inspiration. During the two-and-a-half-day conference, a variety of events were hosted, including an opening reception at The World of Coca-Cola, keynote speakers, a career fair, panel breakout sessions, and a closing reception at the Sweet Auburn Curb Market. An amazing impact was established based on Net Impact’s key focus for this conference: A Path to Purpose. The world we live in is changing rapidly and in many ways, its easy to get lost in the whirlwind. Net Impact excellently articulated this focus on finding your ‘Path to Purpose’ through its partnerships and panel discussion topics, so regardless of whether you knew how you want to impact the world or you were doing a little bit of soul-searching, everyone was bound to find a new path during this inspiring weekend.

Image Courtesy of Writer- Nike+ Run Club

The weekend commenced with an opening reception at The World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta. This event had a relaxed atmosphere where travelers could socialize, sip on Coke products from around the world, and peruse the history of the world’s most well-known soft drink, complete with a photo opportunity with the Coca-Cola Polar Bear! As this festive October evening concluded, everyone moseyed back to their hotels with anticipation for the following morning. Like much of the weekend, Friday morning was packed with activities. Along with the opportunity to do some peaceful stretching and meditation, the Nike representatives hosted a guided 5k run (approximately 3 miles) for those who enjoy an early morning endorphin rush. This opportunity allowed for participants to socialize while running and see some of the various sights that the downtown Atlanta streets had to offer. Luckily, there was enough time after the run to shower and prepare for the incredible day ahead.

Shannon Schuyler-PwC

The conference truly kicked off with the first Keynote session: Purpose Across Sectors. This session featured impactful individuals such as Aaron Hurst, CEO of Imperative, Shannon Schuyler. Chief Purpose Officer of PwC, Cheryl Dorsey, CEO of Echoing Green, and Kevin Cleary, CEO of Clif Bar. Each provided incredible stories about how their companies have purpose and provided takeaways for the audience to help us find our purpose. Aaron Hurst mentioned the importance of understanding ourselves as individuals, who we are as a collective whole, and the time that we live in now, as he discussed the ‘Story of Self, Us, and Now.’ Shannon Schuyler discussed how important it is for individuals to find a purpose in their workplace to enhance productivity and overall satisfaction. Cheryl Dorsey explained that we must keep the questions of ‘Why’ at the center of it all. And lastly, Kevin Cleary explained that as our world progresses, businesses need to begin to move towards change. What a powerful way to start the day!

Aaron Hurst (Imperative) having a conversation with Cheryl Dorsey (Echoing Green)

Following this beginning Keynote, the series of breakout sessions began. Both Friday and Saturday held various breakout sessions and each time slot had anywhere between 5 and 7 sessions to attend. Each breakout session had topics that envompassed Social Entrepreneurship, Career Development, Corporate Impact, Civic Engagement, Start-ups and Tech. There was a breakout session for every type of curios person, whether it be an undergrad, a graduate student, or even a professional. And each panel included people from across the board, such as representatives of Dell, Skoll, Welcoming America, Monsanto, Campbells, Intentionalist, Honest Tea, and so many others. Discussions ranged from how to incorporate sustainable business practices into existing companies, how to become a social entrepreneur, how to create a disruption in existing industries, what current companies are doing to create sustainable advantages, and so many others.

Additionally, Friday hosted a career fair between 10:30am and 6:30pm, which offered a plethora of companies and schools which  presented their organizations for perspective customers, employees, or students. Such organizations included: International Paper, Samsung, Global Social Venture Competition, Greener Fields Together, The Environmental Defense Fund, The National Parks, Bloomberg, Brown-Forman, Campbell’s, Nike, and many, many others. Students and professionals had the opportunity to learn from the array of organizations as well as network with other individuals in their respected fields.

Derreck Kayongo

The second Keynote of Friday afternoon hosted additional moving speakers. These speakers included: Douglas Moore from Toyota, Paul Hawken, Executive Director of Project Drawdown, Derrek Kayongo, CEO for the Center for Civil and Human Rights. Douglas Moore spoke about Toyota’s newest innovations in robotics with the Human Support Robot (HSR) as one of Toyota’s goals to further support human mobility, both socially and physically. Paul Hawken spoke of Project Drawdown as a project focused on finding the top 100 things individuals could do to not only reduce or mitigate climate change, but actually reverse it. The top 7 results of the list included answers such as: Refrigerant Management, Wind Turbines (on and off shore), Reduced Food Waste, a Plant-Rich Diet, Tropical Forests, Educating Girls, and Family Planning. Derreck Kayongo was originally a refugee from Uganda, but never let that stop his ambition. His message to the crowd was centered on the concept of finding the skillset you have now and investing in it. He also urged the audience to have faith in what you want to accomplish.

Courtesy of Net Impact

Saturday commenced with more breakout session panels, and then the last Keynote Session. This selection of panelist included: Julien Gerveau from Kendall-Jackson, Jim Schorr, a professor at Vanderbilt University, Kerry Kennedy, director of the RFK Human Rights Center, Kyle Peterson from the Walton Family Foundation, and last, but not least, Kathryn Finney, the CEO of Digitalundivided. Their messages were focused on not only human rights, but on how to make change accessible to others, and how to foster that change through your own action. As Kathryn Finney said, when you shine, you give others the permission to shine!

The conference finished out with additional breakout sessions to attend, and then concluded with a closing reception at The Sweet Auburn Curb Market, an eclectic array of food establishments. There was gourmet pizza, delicious poke, decedent praline, mouth-watering burgers, and Kendall-Jackson wine samples for those over the age of 21. Music, dancing, laughter and chatter were abundant. This was evidence of an impactful weekend! Unfortunately, I could not describe here all the incredible people or sessions that occurred during the weekend, but for those who are hoping to attend the next conference, I am excited to announce that Net Impact Conference 2018 will be hosted in Phoenix, AZ!

I hope to see you there!

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