Top Four Reasons to Attend a CSR or Sustainability Conference This Fall

Professional development events exist for just about every career, and they’ve been around since Thomas Edison held his first, “How to Change a Light Bulb” seminar for aspiring electricians (attendees earned 10 CEU credits and went home with some nice tsotchkes).

For the growing number of corporate and nonprofit professionals focused on social impact and sustainability initiatives, there is more choice in fall 2016 than ever before for events aimed at showcasing successful programs and the brands that made them happen. 

Getting approval from corporate controllers for airfare, hotels and conference fees may be intimidating for many CSR and sustainability execs.  But the cost of not sharpening your skills may be much higher this fall than in years past for four reasons:

  • Passage of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals provided a road map for private-public partnerships to solve the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems. Brands are now aligning their business goals with causes and getting to work. Smart CEOs see the value of pursuing a purpose beyond profits, so the race is on to be a leader rather than a follower.
  • The Paris climate agreement, dubbed COP21, was just signed by 195 nations.  Environmental laws are now under review across the globe and companies are seeking innovative ways to join the circular economy.
  • Corporate reputations are at stake. The Associated Press earned the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for public service reporting for its coverage of slavery in the fishing industry and other news outlets are laser focused on sustainability. Corporate supply chains are being scrutinized and everyone from the general counsel and sustainability officer to the investor relations and corporate communications execs are prepping for inquiries.
  • Watching too much U.S. presidential campaign coverage is bad for your brain.

Fortunately, there are more quality events scheduled for the third and fourth quarters of 2016 than ever before.

Geographically, summits are being held in Boston; New York; Chicago; Denver; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; San Francisco; Santa Clara, Calif.; Redwood City, Calif.; Washington; London; and Copenhagen, Denmark.

Following are 18 events worthy of consideration for anyone working in corporate social responsibility and sustainability, and for the marketing and communications teams responsible for content creation, distribution and measurement of corporate citizenship initiatives:

SOCAP16, Sept. 13-16, San Francisco – The acronym stands for Social Capital Markets. Among the themes at this year’s edition of the self-professed “world's leading conference on impact investing and social enterprise” are neighborhood economics, cities, inclusive entrepreneurship, clean energy, sustainable food and agriculture and a discussion about how to operate in various countries. Venue: Fort Mason Center.

SOCIAL GOOD SUMMIT, Sept. 18-19, New York – Holding this event during UN General Assembly week has provided easy access in prior years to big name talent like Alecia Keys, Ashley Judd, Madeleine K. Albright and Ban Ki-moon. Tech news giant Mashable teams up with the UN Foundation and UN Development Programme to host this gathering that examines the impact of technology and new media on global social impact work. Venue: 92nd Street Y.

GREENBIZ VERGE, Sept. 19-22, Santa Clara, California –This event has a Silicon Valley flavor, focusing on trends at the intersection of technology and sustainability. Content tracks include smart and resilient cities, next-generation buildings, Grid 2.0, connected transportation, sustainable food and water systems, and the circular economy. Venue: Santa Clara Convention Center.

SUSTAINABLE BRANDS, Sept. 26-28, Copenhagen, Denmark – Practitioners from Europe and the rest of the world will gather in a city that’s known for its devotion to sustainable business practices and the goal of becoming the world’s first CO2-neutral capital by 2025. Topics will include CSR and sustainability, brand strategy, communications, design and innovation, supply chain and human resources. Venue: Radisson Scandinavia Blu Hotel.

INNOVATION CONFERENCE, Oct. 9-11, San Francisco – This event explores how emerging technology can be used for social good. Among those who attend Innovation Conference, organized by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, are philanthropists, private foundations, community foundations, corporate foundations and CSR.  Venue: Hilton Union Square.

SXSW ECO, Oct. 9-12, Austin, Texas – Asteroid mining and hyperloop trains were discussed last year in this brainy gathering that covers themes of transformative design and technology.  On tap for 2016 are Google’s top sustainability executive, Kate Brandt, Bill Nye the Science Guy, author and architech William McDonough, and Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Venue: Austin Convention Center.

SUSTAINATOPIA, Oct. 9-12, Boston – With roots in impact investing and entrepreneurism, Sustainatopia attracts corporate attendees keen to build innovation into the DNA of their brands.  This event includes more than 200 speakers and emphasizes workshops and breakouts rather than plenary sessions.  Venue: Hyatt Regency Boston Harbor

RENEWABLE ENERGY MARKET, Oct. 16-18, San Francisco – Clean power is the sole focus for this conference, which has been taking place for 20+ years. Organized by the nonprofit Center for Resource Solutions and co-sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, this annual meeting of renewable energy stakeholders includes generators, marketers, utility representatives, purchasers, policymakers and regional stakeholders. Venue: Parc 55 San Francisco.

COMMIT! FORUM, Oct 18-19, New York – CSR and sustainability executives from some of the largest companies share their challenges and triumphs during this event, which is run by the Corporate Responsibility Association, publisher of CR Magazine. Last year, Yum! Brands talked about its partnership with the World Food Programme, Intel detailed efforts to recruit a more diverse workforce, and MGM Resorts International affirmed its commitment to community involvement. Venue: Westin New York at Times Square.

CR REPORTING & COMMUNICATIONS SUMMIT, Oct. 20-21, London – With sessions on sustainability reporting and communications strategy, this 10-year-old Ethical Corporation conference is aimed squarely at CSR and comms professionals. Speakers include peers responsible for high-performance programs at companies ranging from Pirelli and Nestle to IKEA and Marks and Spencer. Venue: Grange Tower Bridge Hotel.

VM SUMMIT, Oct. 25, Chicago – VolunteerMatch has perfected speed dating for corporate responsibility and employee engagement professionals. This one-day gathering provides face-to-face opportunities for local and national nonprofits to learn how to create impactful partnerships and effectively engage corporate volunteers. Venue: Groupon headquarters.

EHS & SUSTAINABILITY MANAGEMENT FORUM, Oct. 26-28, Denver – Now in its 24th year, this National Association of Environmental Managers (NAEM) event is the largest annual gathering for environment, health and safety (EHS) and sustainability decision-makers. In addition to volunteer programs to clean up an area river and trail, keynotes include Eric Berlow, ecologist and complexity scientist and founder of Vibrant Data Labs. Venue: Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel.

BSR CONFERENCE, Nov 1-3, New York – Founded as the Business for Social Responsibility, the nonprofit BSR orchestrates one of the most important global gatherings dedicated to sustainable business. “Building a just and sustainable world” is the stated purpose for this gathering, which has booked General Mills CEO Ken Powell, former BP CEO John Browne and UN Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres as keynoters. Venue: Grand Hyatt New York.

NET IMPACT CONFERENCE, Nov. 3-5, Philadelphia – This event features an energetic mix of students and professionals who are committed to making a lasting social and environmental impact. The nonprofit Net Impact runs more than 80 sessions with the aim of helping its student members navigate their career path. Corporate executives, including heads of CSR and sustainability programs, join nonprofit, government, and academic innovators.  Venue: Pennsylvania Convention Center.

NEW METRICS, Nov. 14-16, Boston – Designed for business leaders responsible for measurement, this Sustainable Brands event focuses on smart new metrics for interpreting the true costs and benefits of sustainability. Among the corporate teams who attend are IT, HR, brand, finance, product, supply chain, sustainability and C-suite. Venue: Royal Sonesta Boston.

SOCIAL INNOVATION SUMMIT, Nov. 15-16, Redwood City, California -- A global convening of “black swans and wayward thinkers,” this Landmark Ventures event showcases new methods of engaging with social challenges. Speakers range from CEOs and foundation execs to astronauts, former NFL players and White House advisors.  Venue: Sofitel San Francisco Bay.

CORPORATE CITIZENSHIP CONFEFENCE, Nov. 16-17, Washington – Scheduled for a week after the U.S. presidential election, this event promises to be an important reflection point for CSR professionals, just blocks from the White House. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Center for Corporate Citizenship has assigned a “Purpose and Progress” theme to the 2016 gathering. Keynote speakers include Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS; Jamey Millar, SVP of GSK’s Managed Markets & Government Affairs group, and Jacques Panis, president of Shinola. Venue: Ronald Reagan Building.

COMPANIES VS CLIMATE CHANGE, Nov. 30 - Dec 2, Fort Lauderdale, Florida – Taking place on the one-year anniversary of the COP21 Paris climate change agreement, this conference is designed for executives seeking to discuss climate change, to address it inside their own organizations, and to collaborate with other companies. Organizers promise attendees won’t be stuck in a conference room filled with academics and government officials. So far, the list of speakers appears to deliver on that promise, with jetBlue, TD, GE, Hershey, SAP, Biogen and Ingersoll Rand among those sharing success stories. Venue: Hyatt Regency at Pier 66.

Looking forward to seeing you on the conference circuit this fall.

(Photo credit: Shark Tank’s Daymond John, taken at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s 2015 Corporate Citizenship Conference, by Dave Armon) 



Dave Armon




All, 2017