EVENTS: Reflections from the ISSP Conference - Day 1

Dispatch from SSC President Jennifer Woofter 

I've been in Portland this week, soaking up beautiful weather and enjoying the Cascadia hipster vibe. It's all led up to this: the ISSP Conference

What is ISSP?

ISSP is the International Society of Sustainability Professionals, the industry association for people like me. Its membership is made up of roughly half sustainability consultants and half in-house sustainability practitioners (at companies, government, education, etc.). 

What's Going on at the Conference?

First, the networking is amazing. Within a couple of hours, I've met up with six different alumni from my Masters Program in Strategic Leadership Towards Sustainability (in Sweden). I've seen Bob Willard, Gil Friend, and other luminaries in the field chatting up enthusiastic fans at the breakfast bar. And I've had the chance to shake the hands of more than a dozen people that I have previously only known through the Internet. 

Second, the presentations! There have been GREAT presentations--ranging from government green building approaches, life cycle assessment trends among large corporations, and quantifying social impacts in the supply chain. And those are just the tracks that I've attended--I'm hearing great feedback about the other tracks as well. 

Common Themes

Caveat: these are just initial impressions and I would guess that at least one of these reflections will change by the end of the conference (in about 36 hours).  

  1. Sustainability is such a big topic, that we have trouble diving deeply into specific topics (e.g. LCA standards) without losing a lot of people. The presentations are fabulous, but there is not an opportunity to jump into really advanced discussion in this setting. (So, for example, if you are really interested in LCA, this will whet your appetite. But if you already know a lot about LCAs, this session isn't set up to explore the deeper challenges and approaches.) 
  2. Language and terminology is REALLY important. Even within this relatively small industry, we are using key terms differently and with different implications. Just to go back to the LCA presentation, there is a HUGE difference between "life cycle assessment" (a very specific tool for inventorying, calculating, and analyzing environmental impacts for a product) and "life cycle approach" which is a broader way of thinking about designing, managing, and marketing a product or service. Depending on which "LCA" you are talking about, the implications are wildly different. 
  3. Hotels are cold. I should remember to bring a scarf or something to wear in addition to my sweater.