I went to my first Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility conference yesterday, where I met and talked with lots of fun, creative local businesspeople who are grappling with the big issues of the day — i.e. managing through tough economic times, figuring out how to scale sustainably, managing innovation, etc.
I was wearing my "associate publisher" hat rather than my reporting hat — Seven Days is a VBSR member — so I didn't do much blogging or reporting. Took a couple photos though. Here's my fellow Ass. Pub., Creative Director Don Eggert, waiting for the bus in Winooski. Don and I live around the block from each other, so we commute together a lot.
We took the bus to the conference for FREE yesterday because we're both registered for Way to Go Week. It's a week-long promotion that seeks to cut 500,000 pounds of carbon emissions this week by encouraging Vermonters to walk, bike, carpool or take the bus to work.
When you register for WTGW, you get coupons for free bus rides, which Don and I redeemed yesterday on the way into Burlington. You can still register — Way to Go Week ends Friday. I used another one of my bus coupons this morning. I don't know how much carbon I've saved, but I've saved myself $2.50.
But back to the VBSR conference — highlights for me included David Cay Johnston's address, which I would characterize as depressing, but informative. Incidentally, Kevin Kelley's pre-conference interview with him was the second most popular thing on our website last week, owing mainly to the fact that Vermont Business Magazine's e-newsletter and Jim Romenesko of the Poynter Institute picked up the link.
One thing about Johnston that came up for me later in the day — in his intro, VBSR Executive Director Will Patten called the investigative reporter "the country's de facto tax enforcement officer." Johnston, of course, is a Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter who spent most of his career working for newspapers. Part of our challenge as a socially responsible news organization is figuring out how to continue to provide that kind of vital reporting as the platforms and business models change. We definitely still need it.
I also enjoyed the panel discussion on "The Long View" of Vermont. Panelists included Sarah Waring of the Council on the Future of Vermont, Dave Winslow of EpikOne and Tom Stearns of High Mowing Organic Seeds. The most interesting stuff came out of the small group discussions we had within the session, and the issues people raised when we reconvened (that's what you're seeing in the photo, right).
During that panel, Dave Winslow pointed out that he had been keeping up with the conference on Twitter — Rob Williams of Vermont Commons was aggressively tweeting the sessions. Click here to follow his feed. You can sort of see him in the back in my photo — he's the guy in black, looking down (at his phone?) while everyone else is looking at the speaker.
In fact, there were several tweeters present, and Twitter came up many times in my conversations with other attendees. Click here to see the VBSR Twitter mentions, and click here for the #vbsr hashtag.
Not much groundbreaking info there, but you get a sense of how people are using Twitter to network and share info.
Twitter came up again as part of a larger conversation about social networking in a panel about how small businesses can use new tools to advance their business goals. Michael Wood-Lewis of Front Porch Forum moderated the discussion, which included Linda Rossi of the Vermont Small Business Development Center, Glenn McRae of the Intervale Center's Food Hub Program, Amy Kirschner of Vermont Sustainable Exchange, and Jesse McDougall of Chelsea Green Publishing.
Jesse talked a bit about how Chelsea Green is using Twitter and the web to promote its content, and its sustainability-focused mission. I was glad to finally meet him — I intereviewed him for a story I wrote in March. I've been impressed by his work. It's always exciting to find Vermonters who are innovating and experimenting — and are able to articulate what they're doing and why, which Jesse does very well.
I just went looking for other roundups of the event and found this report from WCAX, which focuses mainly on how VBSR members are weathering the recession. Feel free to post others in the comments, and please share your own responses to the conference.