Organized and run in its entirety by members of student club UO Net Impact Undergraduate, this year’s SPRNG Conference drew nearly 100 attendees to the UO White Stag Block in Portland. Since its 2013 launch, the annual conference has become a must-attend event for professionals, students, and faculty members with an interest in green business. This year’s theme was “Bridging Gaps: Sustainability in Unexpected Places.”
“We wanted to show real-life examples of how businesses that people don’t necessarily think of as being green are adopting sustainable business practices,” said Patrick Wrobel ’15, former president of UO Net Impact Undergrad.
Wrobel and the conference’s other organizers were inspired to choose this theme after attending a similar panel during the Net Impact National Conference in Minneapolis last fall.
“What stuck with me was that these particular companies were exhibiting quantifiable sustainability measures but not necessarily promoting it to the whole world,” said Wrobel. “The were just doing it because it made sense—both for business and the environment.”
For this year's SPRNG event, organizers set themselves the goal of increasing student involvement—from the planning stages all the way through to the event itself. They started by tripling the planning committee from last year’s five students to fifteen. To grow the number of undergraduates and graduate students attending the April 23 event, organizers invited students from Portland State University and offered Eugene-based students—including members of UO Net Impact's graduate-level chapter—the opportunity to participate for just $10, which covered the trip to Portland as well as the event itself.
A live jazz band provided background music for the informal networking session that kicked off the evening. Next, keynote speaker Amy Jarvis, a mechanical engineer at ZGF Architects, discussed green design principles and explained eco-districts, a sharing strategy that can make the most of businesses’ resources.
Sharing—and the sharing economy—was the focus of the evening’s panel. David Kenney, president and executive director of Oregon BEST; Carrie Hearne, Oregon business partnerships manager for Climate Solutions; and Franklin Jones, founder and CEO of B-line sustainable urban delivery services were among the six panelists. Angel investor Jim Huston moderated the discussion.
In the evening’s final keynote, Justin Zeulner, MBA ’94, COO of the Green Sports Alliance, talked about the ways in which professional sports leagues can bring about sustainability on a major scale.
For the event’s organizers and attendees alike, the evening was an exhilarating success. A particular triumph was the professionalism and panache with which the organizers pulled off the event.
“Most of the speakers had no idea we were undergraduate students, and many of the sponsors stated our event was of a higher caliber than other events hosted by professional organizations,” said Wrobel. “These were the best compliments—they never saw us coming.”
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