Finance plays a major role in any energy project, and we discuss the horizon of such opportunities, but we also highlight the newest ideas and technologies which continuously challenge our participants

SXSW Eco Conferences

Chris Sonnier | SXSW Eco

When you started SXSW Eco, what are some of the high level goals you set out to achieve? 

When individuals and organizations talk about or are working towards sustainability, they are typically doing so within a single industry. While this is a positive, it is also very limiting. Our goal has always been to connect like-minded people across sectors which we believe will catalyze the types of actions and collaborations that can truly move this field forward.

How would you say you've done so far?

I am very happy with our successes thus far. Starting anything new is inherently difficult, but we've had great response that highlights that there is a real need for this type of event. People tell me that SXSW Eco is the only event on their calendars that is truly about learning and opportunity, and that they never expected to have so much fun while addressing the challenges of our time. To date, SXSW Eco has been the launchpad for a number of businesses, public-private partnerships, technologies, books, a mutual fund and other collaborations.

What is the role and value of SXSW Eco in renewable energy industries? 

We take a very encompassing view of the energy sector, and focus on how to bring carbon-free technologies to scale. The complexities of this space are enormous, so we put a lot of work into addressing the details within the big picture. Finance plays a major role in any energy project, and we discuss the horizon of such opportunities, but we also highlight the newest ideas and technologies which continuously challenge our participants. But beyond the high-level education we offer, we also bring together all of the groups that are necessary to make things happen, which is a very powerful combination.

Who attends the conference?

The cornerstone of SXSW Eco is the diversity of our registrants. Last year, senators and entrepreneurs were in conversation cultural icons from professional snowboarding to performance musicians. I often get congratulated for the ethnic, age, gender and professional diversity in attendance, and mostly because people understand that it will take all kinds to solve the complex issues we face.

Are there any megatrends you've seen appear in this year's program?

Big data is a topic that I feel we were out in front of last year, and that we are really looking to expand upon for 2013. Energy efficiency is obvious, and we will be augmenting this area with the SXSW Eco Hackathon, but I'm also excited to showcase what big data can mean for agriculture or ocean conservation. Business and finance are other emerging trends, and our focus is to bring programming that is uniquely challenging and more valuable to this audience than they have grown accustomed to at other events.

I hear you crowdsource some of your programming content. Why do you create your schedule this way?

SXSW Eco is a platform that we build for the community, and crowdsourcing content allows us to best serve the professionals working in this space. Our role is to provide the tools and training necessary to make them more effective change-makers, and this is the best way for us to quickly respond to their needs.

What issue or technology received the most attention in your crowdsourcing process?

Communications for behavior change showed up a lot this year - everyone wants to know how to motivate culture. Policy was another big focus of the crowdsourced content, and you should expect to see some pretty amazing sessions under this theme. Lastly, and this is something I've thrilled to showcase, 3D printing of food as a way to combat global hunger. All very interesting stuff, really.

Are there any sessions you think will expose strong differences of opinion between presenters?

All our sessions deal with issues that evoke strong feelings, some of the sessions focus on really big, fundamental issues facing our civilization. This event is not about finding harmony amongst the registrants - it's about discovering the best way forward. To this end, we look to harness the contention of the event by programming debates and controversial ideas. 


Chris Sonnier

Program Manager - SXSW Eco

Chris manages most aspects of SXSW Eco, with a special focus on the content of the program. An avid traveller and adventurer, Chris brings experience in ecological restoration, public education, law and wild Alaskan salmon fishing to SXSW. He achieved his undergraduate from the University of Texas, and currently is pursuing a Masters on environmental management from Harvard.

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