Sustainable ideas worth spreading

Yesterday, I visited the TED Global Talent Search event in Vancouver, an evening full of 22 inspiring and diverse talks that each only lasted for 3-6 minutes but had a great impact due to their powerful and exciting messages. This event was part of a global talent search in 14 towns on six continents for TED2013, the main global TED conference. At least half of the speakers for TED2013 will be selected through these global salons and a subsequent online voting process.

For those who do not know about TED (and have enough time to dig into the amazing TED universe), I would recommend you to go to the TED Talks website where you can find more than a thousand inspiring talks like Garth Lenz’s TEDx Victoria talk “The true cost of oil” on the Alberta tar sands that I have just watched today. These videos are both from the official TED conferences as well as independently-organized TEDx events that have contributed to the worldwide success of TED.

It is almost impossible to summarize yesterday’s event due to the diversity of the 22 talks with regards to both the speakers and the topics covered. So, I would like to focus on some exciting ideas from the fields of sustainability, renewable energy and social change where Michael Green’s “Wood Skyscrapers” talk stood out of several great talks (not only for me as I could learn from several interesting conversations during the break).

Michael Green’s vision of a 30-storey wood skyscraper was already featured in the media worldwide (even Austrian state-broadcaster ORF had an article on it) but it was exciting to listen to his project and ideas live. As buildings are the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions and urbanization is rapidly accelerating worldwide, we definitely have to change the way we build. Wood is renewable (if it comes from sustainable forestry), it is grown by the sun and we should get familiar with the idea that the earth not only grows our food but also our homes, according to Green. Not only does this wooden architecture store carbon instead of releasing it, these buildings would definitely also change the way we think.

Another exciting project is Ben Rattray’s online petition website As the social entrepreneur did not only want to talk about today’s problems but wanted to solve them and change something, he started this website where people can easily raise awareness for a topic, mobilize thousands of people to take action and ultimately win in both large and small. As a pioneer in grassroots people-powered change, Rattray believes that there are millions of unlikely heroes waiting who togehter, with the right tools, can change the world. His next step is to further develop the website so that people can better mobilize other people, the media and political leaders and build a movement instead of just individual campaigns.

Among yesterday’s most exciting talks were those by three young innovators. Eighth grader Raymond Wang developed the Weather Harvester, a device that takes the kinetic and potential energy of wind, rain or snow falling on a building’s roof and turns it into electricity. 16 year olds Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao are convinced that in a sustainable world humans have to find ways to biodegrade plastic waste as fast as an apple. They have identified soil bacteria from the Fraser river that naturally breaks down phthalates and may lead to a future where biologically engineered bioorganisms will clean or environment.

Ron Finley has radically transformed his deprived neighbourhood of South Central Los Angeles from a food desert to a food forest by planting healthy, fresh vegetables next to the sidewalk in front of his house. His aim to motivate people to take back their health in their community soon became an inspiration to other people. By also starting an organization that puts gardens in people’s homes for free and by showing kids how to grow and cook food, he helps people to reconnect to food and to improve their health. He once again showed us the important contribution of food to a sustainable community.

Kevin Scott talked about architecture, urbanism and the language of sustainability and believes that cities have a lot to learn from mashup musical artists. His “Reclaiming nature’s metropolis” project pictorially showed us how we could transform our cities and make them a greener place. Finally, he also made an important point when he said that “another world is not just possible, it is on its way”. In fact, despite the size of the challenges that we are facing today, we should always put at the forefront the success stories that are written every day in our quest to fight climate change and become more sustainable communities.

Nevertheless, I would like to give some further short insights into the diversity of talks yesterday at the sold-out Roundhouse community centre: Anita John said that we have to ask what is behind what you see when educating people to understand what they face in their everyday products and experiences with regards to energy. Zoran Popovic talked about the Foldit game and his vision of fostering innovation and education as people are becoming part of a bigger and collective intelligence for solving problems. And Cliff Schmidt explained how his Talking Book program can save lives by making on-demand knowledge available to the very poorest people.

But let me not forget Majede Patel capturing the audience’s attention with her fantastic drum rider poem. And Rupinder Bains putting a face to Crohn’s disease and becoming a role model for surviving when facing death. And F.S. Michaels explaining how the economic story has fundamentally changed our lives and how we define ourselves and our relationships. And Paul Freedman showing us how music events can be pedal powered. And Majede Najar talking about how wearing a hijab frees her from unrealistic expectations in society and redefines the standards of freedom. And Hussein Fazal showing us what images make people click on Facebook ads.

And of course Firdaus Dhabhar researching on stress and mind-body connections, Andrew Evans combining magics and design, Katie Zeppieri talking about leadership development training to young people, Padina Pezeshki presenting a new bone cancer treatment, Christopher Ryan entertainingly answering the question why sex is such a big deal for human beings, Carin Bondar comparing humans and animals and Dave Montgomery looking at ancient floods from science and religion perspectives.

What an inspiring evening! Thanks to TED and all the speakers and their great ideas! I also created a Storify story based on #TEDtalentsearch tweets.

Posted on June 2, 2012 in Sustainability

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About the Author

Andreas Lindinger is a Vienna-based business consultant, sustainability expert and urban thinker passionate about livable cities, sustainable transportation, renewable energy and civic engagement. Andreas offers a transdisciplinary business, finance and sustainability background, industry expertise in energy, mobility and environmental consulting and broad international experience gained in Vienna, Vancouver, Berlin and Dublin. Make sure to also check out and to follow @lindinger on Twitter.

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