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Bringing the Enviro 'Entourage' to SXSW Eco

Adrian Grenier, UN policy creators getting green in Austin

By Richard Whittaker, 9:20AM, Wed. Aug. 21, 2013

Bringing the Enviro 'Entourage' to SXSW Eco

For the last recalcitrant anti-Greens out there who still thought environmentalism was just cheesecloth and hacky sacks, maybe this will change your mind. Adrian Grenier, star of HBO's Entourage, will be part of SXSW Eco. But this isn't just a flash of star power.

Along with 300 speakers and panelists announced today, Grenier and his creative partner Peter Glatzer will be showcasing the impact of their sustainability-centric website SHFT.com. SXSW Eco co-founder Chris Sonnier said, "I spoke with them in New York earlier this summer, and we were of the same mind. It's one thing to say 'culture needs to lead the way,' and another to say 'this is how culture leads the way.' That's the challenge I put to them. … They're going to giving a talk on positive propaganda and the arts and media, and give us case study examples on what has worked and hasn't worked in trying to inject these kinds of ideologies into culture."

For Sonnier, the third SXSW Eco is more of the same, but bigger. He said, "Our approach of bringing the policy crowd, the energy complex, the food and agriculture crowd, designers and technologists, has been well received by the audience." Looking back on the first two outings, he said, "It's mostly been a validation of our original thinking that there's a lot of people in a lot of different sectors that are working towards these ends of sustainability or reducing carbon emissions, or anything that's for a more prosperous world."

It seems that, after years of sailing towards the abyss, there may be some forward motion on ecology in politics: A key concern for SXSW Eco. At the Federal level, Congress is still poring over the third presenting National Climate Assessment, which Sonnier described as "a big policy approach to getting climate on the radar." Then in Texas, the sometime-home of anti-environmentalism, lawmakers have finally started getting serious about water resources, with a multi-billion dollar plan to start a water facility investment bank going before voters this November.

On the SXSW Eco policy side, the cornerstone will be the Policy Action Track, with figures including Sierra Club CEO Michael Brune and Southern Nevada Water Authority conservation manager Doug Bennett laying out what the National Climate Assessment really means. Sonnier was particularly happy to get Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. As such, Sonnier said, "Her task is in hammering together a legally binding agreement on climate change." No small challenge, and it's amazing she has the time to sleep, never mind come to Austin to deliver the opening remarks. Sonnier said, "One of our colleagues met her in Edinburgh in a closed door meeting about women and policy. She pitched to her, and she really bought into it and really believed in it. She sees our event as being a free market event that does a lot to bring in the other sections of society."

Of course, as with everything SXSW does, there's a large component of the show that is about affecting business practices. 2013 sees the return of the Startup Showcase, which highlights small businesses in the green tech field ("Or as it was called last year, clean tech, and then the industry has moved words," said Sonnier) clean web, and social impact. On the session schedule, two programming strands particularly stand out for Sonnier. Firstly, 'How to Make Your NGO Run Like a Start-Up': "[non-profits] are so used to running on very lean budgets, this is how to make them function at much more efficient pace." Then there's 'Who Wins the Water' which Sonnier called "a different conversation but a higher level conversation around this, bringing in government regulators and free market opportunities."

For Sonnier, the simple fact that this is a SXSW event changes the game. He said, "Beyond the fact that we're unique and you'll meet all the players in one room that need to be working together to solve these issues, we're doing it in a way that's a little bit more laid back. It's Austin, so we get them a little bit more relaxed, relaxed enough to have real conversations."

SXSW Eco runs Oct. 7-9 at the Austin Convention Center. Visit www.sxsweco.com for more details.

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