Bioneers: Not your average conference!

25th year celebration draws educators, activists, concerned citizens and communities from all over, but is still faced with challenges like the rest of them!

Venturing to the Bay Area of California itself is cultural education as the region is a melting pot of cultures and food dotted with incredible history coupled with tourism activities designed to keep you fit and moving during your stay. While exploring this wonderful national resource, Michigan State University Extension thinks that there is something everyone can benefit from attending a Bioneers conference during your trip can make it even better. 

Bioneers is a non-profit educational organization started in 1990; “it has acted as a fertile hub of social and scientific innovators with practical and visionary solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges.” They hold their annual conference just north of San Francisco in San Rafael, California. The organization has a tremendous reach and attraction to audiences concerned for humanity and the environment, as they “inspire, inform, and engage global citizen action with actionable knowledge, successful models and networks.” Through their work they attract a large number of authors, activists & organizers, film directors and producers, faculty and teachers, scientists, economists, and other professionals dedicated to solving some of the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges. 

While I initially envisioned Bioneers conference resembling conferences with similar themes I was impressed with their ability to scale back on waste, which often is an unfortunate outcome most attendees aren’t aware of or forced to manage with on the final day of the conference. Now some waste is inevitable from participants bringing their own or collecting from left-behind agendas, for example; but Bioneers, being an ecologically and socially conscious organization, managed to do one thing I have yet to see at conferences addressing environmental issues… refusing to provide and serve bottled water. Instead, this 21st century organization conscious of the environmental and social challenges provided water stations to fill your own bottle. Going with the social and environmental themes local food vendors serve out dishes of locally sourced hormone-free chicken and other meats, organic vegetables and fruits, thus contributing significantly to local businesses, farming communities, and reducing ecological footprints than if they sourced nationally (sourcing food locally has a number of social, economic, and environmental benefits. More information can be found on the Corporate Watch website.) 

Bioneers did a wonderful job walking-the-talk one major challenge they are faced with just as every other conference organizer with a social and environmental focus is faced with is access to affordable, efficient and clean transportation. Our dependency on fossil fuels and oil certainly is a national concern and of extreme importance for those of us in attendance this week at the Bioneers conference. Holding a zero-waste event is something happening more and more often, which Harvard University’s Sustainability office provides a guideline for when implementing your own waste-free event. While carrying my own water bottle and consuming local products helped contribute to a more sustainable planet holding/attending a conference in the northern foothills of San Francisco with limited public transportation does not exactly allow for a small carbon footprint, especially if one has to drive or fly long distances to attend. However, given the large network Bioneers has and the growing concerns members seeks to address choosing to attend satellite conferences like the one held annually at Marygrove College one week later allows for Bioneers themselves to limit their ecological impact while supporting their local chapter.

Marygrove College in Detroit again hosted the Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit  on Oct. 24-25, 2014, one week after the Bioneers annual conference was held in San Rafael, California’s Veterans Memorial Auditorium. Having attended the Bioneers conference in both Detroit and San Rafael it is fair to say that either way, simply being in attendance can and will help the movement to “communicate, connect, and catalyze”, as Bioneers strives to do.

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