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The interactive community’s next challenge: sustainability

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Digital Technology

SmartBrief editor Rebecca Pollack was in Austin, Texas, for the South by Southwest Interactive Festival. Here’s her take on Sunday’s keynote address.

“What if social media was actually about social impact?” That’s one of the questions that Valerie Casey, founder of The Designers Accord, posed to the audience as a keynote speaker at the 17th annual South by Southwest Interactive Festival.

Casey called on designers, creators, developers and strategists in the interactive community to take on a leadership role, after having been “virtually absent” in the conversation around sustainability.

Why now? Casey showed a image of the open-air burn pits in Iraq. Last month, an Institute of Medicine panel started to investigate the sites, used to destroy waste, as they have been linked to illnesses, such as respiratory diseases and cancers, in war veterans and contractors. Casey showed another slide: A child sitting in the middle of an e-waste dump where 133,000 computers and 100 million cell phones are added every day. And then she asked: Why does a salad cost more than a Big Mac?

Why us? Rarely are industries, silos or other groups able to take on such challenges. The Interactive community has “systems thinking” in its blood, she said. So often, groups make excuses because a task falls outside of their expertise. Yet these systems thinking skills are necessary to help us look at environmental, sustainability, cultural and social issues with a fresh perspective. We bring creativity and optimism. We can be the bridge to the other communities.

Depending on our collective wisdom, Casey believes that “the Interactive community is the connective tissue [among] all universes.”

SXSW shows its green side. Meanwhile, Austin is welcoming more than 20,000 SXSW attendees this year, and the festival is continuing its environmental leadership.

  • In the past two years, the Interactive and Film departments have transitioned to online registration, while Music portion went paperless in 2003.
  • SXSW became a carbon-neutral company in 2006. It also added solar panels  to its building in Austin about a year ago that have  produced more than 7,000 kilowatt hours of clean energy.
  • Most of the SXSW “official hotels” also are invested in green initiatives, including using CFL bulbs and water-conservation fixtures and installing gray-water recycling for irrigation.

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Image credit, Vladimir Ivanovski, via Shutterstock