This year, we attended SXSW Eco 2013 and walked away very inspired by all the amazing talks. SXSW Eco is an excellent conference that converges environmentalism, sustainability, technology and other talks presented with an eye for changing the world.

Here are our top 3 talks from the conference:

The science of inspiring good behavior

Panel URL: http://schedule.sxsweco.com/events/event_ECOP16622
How do you encourage sustainable behavior, especially as it relates to purchasing behavior? Experts from Fast Company, Seventh Generation, Made Movement and Vizium Americas provide insight into how to best tell your story to inspire good behavior. Here are my key takeaways:

  • There are generally 2 groups that care about sustainable products: millennials and conscientious explorers.
  • Millennials are externally driven and love to share their decisions.
  • Conscientious explorers, usually heads of household, are internally driven — they seek to simply use good products for their family.
  • Lead with the product, not the message. If the product is good, the message will resonate with the audience more strongly.
  • Focus on the good, not the bad. Don’t guilt-trip your audience into good behavior. Focus on how good it will make them feel to use your product.
  • When crafting your messaging to inspire good behavior, ask yourself this question: “What can you (or your product) simplify for people.”
  • Allow your audience to live their values through the product.

So This Climate Walks Into a Bar: Why Humor and Storytelling Matter in the Fight for the Planet

Panel URL: http://schedule.sxsweco.com/events/event_ECOP10001112
This was a lightning talk, but it was by far one of the most impactful. Chip Giller, founder of Grist, talks about his experience crafting stories that work. What he found? Humor is way more powerful than straight-up data.

He identified three ways in which environmental stories are usually told:

  • Oh, so very earnest
  • Scolding
  • Critter-centric

“But people don’t care about polar bears!” The story of changing the planet should be a story about people. Why? Because storytelling activates the brain. This is why Ira Glass is so captivating — he finds the human story. Well, that’s how I rationalized the message. Next time I find myself telling a story, I will definitely focus on finding the human story in at the heart of the message, and telling that with a fun, yet respectful flair.

The link behind hearts and minds

Panel URL: http://schedule.sxsweco.com/events/event_ECOP990751
Shepard Fairey provided one of the best keynotes I’ve ever attended. He was extremely down-to-earth while explaining his artistic process. I could do a large write-up just about this keynote alone, so I will focus on the top 3 things I learned from his amazing speech:

  • Make the invisible visible. When your audience feels something emotionally, they try to rationalize it intellectually. Things can be hard to image with statistics. It’s better to use provocative and evocative images.
  • Art can’t be provocative or evocative. It has to be both. It has to incite a call to action, but also make you feel something.
  • “Lead with the product, not the pledge.” Proceeds from select works go to applicable charities. Instead of leading with the pledge, he leads with beautiful art.

The last point was especially intriguing for me. It’s a similar principle from campaigns such as (RED). If people are already going to buy certain products, why not get them to donate a part of their purchase to charitable organizations? Part of me feels like this approach encourages unnecessary capitalism. If you buy yourself a pair of shoes because part of the proceeds will go to charity, why not just donate the full amount of your shoe purchase directly to charity? That said, I think Shepard Fairey has figured out a model that works for him, his art, and his message perfectly.

This was my first time attending SXSW Eco, but I loved the conference so much, I am looking forward to attending next year. And next. And next!