May 8, 2017   Lillian Grant   6 min read


In FigByte’s inaugural newsletter, Low Hanging Fruit which we published last week, we promised we’d make you feel like you were at Sustainatopia if you weren’t able to attend the event in person  from May 7-10.  We’ll be sharing nuggets throughout the event – doing our best to convey the energy and experiential nuances over the four days this melange of hearts and minds come together to connect, inspire, innovate and network. 


As the first day of the Sustainatopia conference kicked off at the Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel on yesterday’s sunny afternoon in San Francisco, we started with pre-conference sessions intended to allow for longer conversations and deeper engagement with an intimate group from all walks of the sustainability sphere. 


John Rosser, Founder and Grand Poobah of Sustainatopia got us started with intros and lead us in a tribe building exercise.  We were to each take a turn at sharing who we were, why we do what we do, and what we expected to get out of our time at the conference.  We went around the whole group and we quickly discovered we were in fine company.  Even some of the volunteers were the likes of grads from Presidio Graduate School.


First up was Terry Mollner of Ben & Jerry’s/Co-Founder of Calvert Foundation with his “Global Outlook on Mainstreaming of Sustainability & Impact” which was more of a morality wakeup call than the usual corporate trials and tribulations of every other successful executive’s address that we’ve all heard a hundred times over.  While he did share his rather beautiful and ballsy tale of his path to Ben & Jerry’s (yes, the birthplace of Cherry Garcia), he shared more than that. 


He is living proof that ethics, morals, and an absolute that it’s incumbent on us to ensure that we conduct business with soul and leave the generations behind us with more to work with than a wing and a prayer.  He shared visions of how it could be, nay should be.  It all made sense, yet seemed so far from where we are.  He spoke with authority and belief that we would:


  • Eradicate poverty for children

  • Vote for people we know, vs. figureheads we do not

  • Make business withstand the rigors of morality in the same way conduct our interpersonal relationships.


The common thread in all of this was:  Oneness.  And that when we talk about environment, sustainability, whatever moniker you feel so inclined to use, that each element, building block, strategy, tactic, breath, are all inextricably linked. 


Second up was Adam Smiley Poswolsky who brands himself:   Author. Speaker. Millennial.  Three for three.  But could he bust the myths many of us have about millennials and show us what is behind the curtain of casually coifed beards, overly stylish glasses and lazy narcissistic tendencies?  I was more than willing to listen. 


Admittedly, I have had my own misconceptions and experienced millennials in more than one context.  Some were firmly ensconced in the above noted characteristics and others that swam against the stream and proved all the clichés wrong.  But let’s face it, the generation as a whole has suffered a severely bad hair day as far as PR goes.  What has kept my mind open and hopes highs, is the fact that we need them, but they also need us.


So, I leaned in and listened up.


He had a no-frills, no-nonsense presentation deck that focused purely on the content at hand.  His goal was to educate us on how to attract and retain millennial talent and that their collective reputation as a generation should be re-labelled, “The Purpose Generation”.  Some concepts I had already heard of, but I learned a few things.  Here’s what was news to me:


  • Quarter-life Crisis – the more entitled, and roughly 15 years too early version of the mid-life crisis. 

  • FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out.  The phenomenon that no matter what you are doing, your peers’ seemingly idyllic life may not be as great as it looks.

  • Millennials are NOT the “Me Me Me” generation – they are looking for meaning, coaching and mentoring, learning & leadership development, and flexible, remote work and work-life balance (Source: Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016)

  • 65% of today’s kids will end up in jobs that haven’t been invented yet

  • Boomerang Effect – Let your talent leave – and welcome them back!


In addition to Adam dispelling the widespread myths that the nay-saying of folks of my generation and older were convinced of, he took the words out of my mouth, which I had been holding for his Q&A.  By definition, despite being born in the 60s, I too, am a millennial.  They just get more credit for the characteristics.  I checked off just about all of the traits and short of growing an unruly yet stylish beard and rockin’ the tight jeans and dress jacket, on paper, I fit the bill on paper.   Many of us do.


So, what I took away was that we’re not so different from each other.  More importantly – we all need each other.  Millennials want to be coached and mentored.  That means coaches and mentors are needed.  I hope I speak for the masses when I say I’d be as happy to share my experiences as I would be to hear fresh ideas.  Millennials want purpose and alignment with their values in their work.  More and more companies know this translates to attracting and retaining a competent and engaged workforce.  Isn’t that a win-win? 


I had been wanting some form of enlightenment on this very topic and I have to thank Adam for his insights into this much-needed, and misunderstood demographic.

Finally, Garry Gach lead the group in a mindful meditation to prepare us for the busy days of presentations, networking, and thought sharing.  We’d all be in a state of multi-sensory giving and taking.  I’m exhausted just thinking about it.   We’ve all prepared for weeks in the form of presentation decks, scripts, collateral, marketing materials, plane tickets, logistics and anticipation.  We’ve invested time, effort, energy and now it all comes down to a few days.  No pressure, right?


Unable to pack my yoga mat for this trip due to space needed for marketing materials, I was pleasantly surprised that this “fringe” approach was part of the setting the tone for this conference about social and sustainable themes.  Garry was decidedly Zen and his calming energy was contagious.  His gentle demeanour was subtle, yet commanding.  We were under no obligation to stay at this point of the session but, to my recollection, nobody left.  He lead us through some fundamental breath work and echoed the oneness of which Terry had reminded us and Adam reiterated in his own way.   It was a lovely way to wrap up an opening session and I felt fortunate to participate in and listen to a group of such passionate and inspiring individuals. 


I’ll be sure to reconnect with some of this initial “tribe” and connect with many new ones in the coming days.