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PUSH Conference: Day One


By Jessica Chapman

1 p.m.

The PUSH conference kicked off this morning at the Walker Art Museum in downtown Minneapolis, with short presentations by Chandran Nair, founder of the Global Institute for Tomorrow (GIFT) and Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of Good Magazine and co-founder of Ethos Water (and Worldchanging contributor and friend).

Both Nair and Greenblatt are professed optimists--no easy task when simultaneously displaying images detailing global water shortages and abject poverty. Both see glints of light amid broken shards. Both deliver messages of hope. Both see a real possibility of pushing boundaries while still working well within them.

"What matters is, can you create a movement. Can you inspire and engage your consumers," said Greenblatt, in reference to the runaway success of his Ethos Water ethical brand, which he launched with a friend in his son's bedroom in the face of possibly taking out a second mortgage on his home.

Greenblatt speaks of a "pragmatic idealism" that seems an appropriate and defining phrase to characterize what has drawn many attendees to the conference.


2 p.m.

In her opening speech today, PUSH conference founder Cecily Sommers encouraged everyone to seek opportunities in "the space between," a figurative space that presenters and attendees alike have been exploring in today's sessions.

The interesting thing is, even the literal spaces between conference segments (i.e. breaks, lunch) have been filled with creative and engaging opportunities.

For example, just before lunch, artist Jenni Wolfson performed the second installment of "RASH," a moving autobiographical account of her experience as a United Nations worker in Rwanda.

Lunch was facilitated by Marnita's Table, a Twin Cities organization that calls itself a "social capital incubator." Marnita's Table brings together diverse groups of people over meals and conversation, with the goal of building social connections.


9 p.m.

A successful business model requires us to ditch the philosophy that "work comes before pleasure," says the consensus so far from 2008 PUSH conference presenters. The two should not be separate, as it is pleasure that will give passion and authenticity to the work we do.

Presenters returned again and again to the theme that success is linked to meaningful personal relationships. Such bytes of wisdom might sound a bit cliché, but honoring these principles has gotten some of the most successful entrepreneurs to where they are today. Every presenter has a very present and visible passion, and is pursuing it within easily recognizable boundaries.

Greenblatt excitedly discussed the promise of success offered by the rise of ethical brands (something Worldchangers have discussed at length) as well as increasingly mature and admirable "corporate spin and rhetoric" tactics, mentioning companies like Whole Foods, Working Assets, the affordable shoe brand Starbury and green home manufacturer Living Homes as examples.

Greenblatt describes his own approach as "transforming active consumption into active preservation." A portion of every purchase of Greenblatt's (now Starbucks') Ethos Water goes to a nonprofit.

Greenblatt now sits at the helm of GOOD Magazine, another enterprise whose business model is unexpected and innovative. "This is not how mainstream media works," he told the audience, as he described how his magazine attracts subscribers, by donating 100% of their subscription payment to their choice of several approved NPOs (current options include Acumen Fund, YouthAIDS and Malaria No More.

This afternoon, Target Vice President of Government Affairs Nate Garvis discussed the growing trend of public engagement. He called out a few boundary-breaking websites, including Kevin Kelly's cultural trends and cool tools reviews and newly launched shopper activism hub CarrotMob.

One of the other joys of attending PUSH is in the asides--hearing what these leading thinkers and entrepreneurs are considering on issues beyond the reach of their own desks. Hovering at the edges of the day's events was the U.S. presidential campaign, a topic no presenter seemed quite able to resist bringing to their table. Nair even went so far as to offer a list of tips for the next occupant of the Oval Office: among them, a one-car policy, carbon taxes and high-speed rail.

Additional updates from the third and final day of PUSH will be available tomorrow.


Jessica Chapman is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis. She can be reached at jchapman678[at]gmail[dot]com.

All photo credits: Jessica Chapman

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Thanks for the recap. I like Nair's policy suggestions, with the caveat that instead of a command-and-control style one car restriction, a small national car tax be put in place on every household's car beyond the first, which slowly and predictably increases over several years to reach the true annual environmental cost of the car. This would support a more orderly and less politically costly transition.

Posted by: Lyle Solla-Yates on 20 Jun 08



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