The 2017 Net Impact Conference – Finding Your Path to Purpose

Guest Post by Cher Xue, Sustainability Report Analyst, Governance & Accountability Institute

The 2017 Net Impact Conference was held in Atlanta, GA, from October 26-28, 2017. The conference gathered about 2,000 students and young professionals who are committed to making a positive and lasting social and environmental impact throughout their careers.

Net Impact, headquartered in Oakland, California, is a leading global nonprofit, a global community with over 100,000 strong leaders and 300 chapters. Members are well equipped with the vital skills, experience and connections to people that will allow them to have the greatest impact — and turn their passions into a lifetime of world-changing action.

This year’s conference theme was “Path to Purpose” — and this resonated well in every session of the conference. To meet attendees’ different needs and interests, the conference offered more than 60 breakout sessions for professionals, students and faculties; these sessions are in the form of boot camps, panels and workshops.

The conference content covered a variety of different topics, including civic engagement, corporate impact, environment, equity, food, global development, social entrepreneurship, and startups & Tech. The conference also featured career advancement opportunities by organizing the on-site Expo, group mentoring and one-on-one career coaching.

One panel entitled, Leading with the Triple Bottom Line: Creating Shared Value Through Business, brought together people driving CSR and sustainability forward in their companies.

The panelists were:

  • Michael Oxman, the Managing Director of the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainability Business at Scheller College of Business, Georgia Tech;
  • Suzanne Fallender, Director of Corporate Responsibility at Intel;
  • Jami Buck-Vance, Director of Corporate Responsibility & Community Partnerships at Cox Enterprises; and,
  • Bruce Karas, V.P. of Environment & Sustainability at Coca-Cola North America Group.

This panel discussed details of both the challenges and solutions for corporate in social and environmental impact. The panelists shared their experience in what it takes to integrate impact metrics and values across the company. Young professionals, students, and people who would like to contribute to sustainability in their own companies found great advice for them to carry their work in the future.

Another panel –  Navigating the Clean Energy Transition  — featured:

  • Marilyn Brown, Professor at Georgia Institute of Technology;
  • Lee Ballin, Head of Sustainable Business Programs at Bloomberg;
  • John Federovitch, Senior Director of Renewable Energy & Efficiency at Walmart; and
  • Jim Hanna, Director of Datacenter Sustainability at Microsoft.

The panelists talked about how we could change the energy landscape from dependency on fossil fuels to cleaner options in an economically feasible and environmentally conscious way.

As the private sector plays a leading role in energy consumption, John Federovitch and Jim Hanna (from Walmart and Microsoft) shared their views on navigating the clean energy transition, the challenges, and future trends in Clean Energy.

Opening party at the World of Coca-Cola

In addition to panels and workshops, this year, in honor of the Net Impact’s 25th anniversary, the conference added more local networking events and excursions throughout the weekend for attendees to explore Atlanta. These included an opening party at the World of Coca-Cola, a visit to the Civil & Human Rights Museum, the panda enclosure at Atlanta Zoo, and a tour of the city’s “living walls project”.

The Atlanta city tour of street art and social justice allowed attendees to be immersed in its vibrant culture, socially conscious communities and southern charm.

Reception at the Georgia Aquarium

Atlanta is a thriving city with a history of social movements, and is the birthplace for one of the greatest Civil Rights icons, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The history of this southern city and national events influenced artists who create art in public space throughout the city with over 100 outdoor murals. The 4-hour long bus tour experience not only added welcome fun to the conference, but also allowed attendees to explore sections of town that use art as an identifier of their community, and examine how art was used to present powerful and thought-provoking messages.

Atlanta Alive: Street Art & Social Justice Tour

I found the three-day Net Impact conference in Atlanta to be a really wonderful gathering of the brightest, most enthusiastic and innovative change agents from all over the world. My participation allowed me to gain rich experience in all aspects, as well as tangible skills and actionable insights.  I am sure that participants came away feeling that the conference helped them to map out their Path to Purpose — to turn their passion into a purposeful career!

Qier “Cher” Xue is a recent graduate of Duke University, Nicholas School of the Environment.  She majored in Environmental Management with concentration in Energy.  She also earned a Certificate in Sustainable System Analysis, and worked as student consultant at Lenovo.  Her interests are in renewable energy, supply chain management and sustainability.  She’s a grad of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities with Distinction Cum Laude Honors in Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management (B.S.).  G&A Institute is proud to have her working as Sustainable Reporting Analyst.


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