Ted goes to TED

Last week I was fortunate enought to attend TEDActive in Palm Springs. TEDActive is a bit of the little brother to the larger and more prestigious TED Conference that is held in Long Beach. But there are some benefits to being at the kids table instead of the adult table where everyone needs to mind their manners and carry on polite conversation but yet still be a part of the TED banquet that provides nourishment. TEDActive is meant to be more about experiential learning and interaction moreso than TED. This was the first time Ted attended a TED event and I had no idea what to expect but what initially struck me is that I only knew 2 people on the attendee list. I was definitely entering new territory in terms of social circles and interests. Being the LOHAS guy can get me narrowed a bit and I run into the same people over and over at different locations. 

I really had no expectation other that knowing that TED has a great reputation for quality speakers and attendees. I landed in Palm Springs and once I was registered I was whisked away to be a part of the sustainability roundtable discussions. There were several roundtables and my responsibility in going to TED was to be a part of this team. I was amazed to see not only the level of international attendees who had travelled from all parts of the world to attend this but also the level of enthusiasm they had for being there. We all watched the live stream of the TED Conference and then had some live TED talks on location that were specific to the event called TEDYou. So it was a blend of watching TV, live talks and interactive exercises. I was very curious as to what got people so jazzed and asked pretty much everyone I met –  What makes TED so great? Why are you here? Almost everyone said it was so great to be around people who were doing amazing things and interested in new ideas of creativity. I have to say if you didn’t know any better you would think it was a cult gathering. Definitely a positive group – much like the LOHAS Forum

If you haven’t seen a TED Talk you definitely should. They are inspiring, intriguing and fascinating.  I ran into all kinds of CEOs and established executives but also many who were simply people doing amazing things. I met a woman who created the largest art library in South America for children, a professional kayaker, even a professional doodler. (I missed my calling) Their business card titles were things like Top Shaman, Innovations Director or Company Juice Instigator. I was just a plain lowly Director and Editor.

Another thing that really struck me was that this event attracted people at a personal level and not professional. Usually it is the opposite. We go to conferences for professional reasons with a professional agenda and if we connect with people we get to know them a bit more personally and establish a relationship that is personal afterwards. TED flips that and puts personal interests first and professional second. I found this quite fascinating to watch and experience. The venue had all kinds of things to promote creativity which was awesome. They had a Lego corner with tons of Legos to make things. They gave out colored pencils and paper when you arrived to sketch and draw – even doodle!. There was a sculpture you could add your own designs – all in the spirit of creativity. It allowed me to recall my inner playful child that I had forgotten.

The TED presentations were on HDTVs that were all over the place – on the walls, on the ceilings, out by the pool, in the hallways. Chairs were bean bags or big pillows along with lounge type couches. It was a very hip set up. 

Unfortunately there is still work that needs to be done regarding sustainability as a practice at TED. Of course there are some great talks from stellar presenters about saving the environment but I did not see much of TED itself walk that talk. Our sustainability team brought this up and some other ideas that hopefully the TED producers will consider. Here is a bit of what we wrote up for the attendees to hear as a result of our group’s efforts and hopefully will be used as a starting point for the next TEDActive.

We were presented a question – “How can TED to make sustainability grow?” – a simple question with a pig of an answer to try to manifest in 3 days from group of individuals coming from all over the world with various backgrounds and various definitions of what ‘sustainability’ actually means. Needless to say, it was challenging. Initially our group was all gung-ho but as we shared ideas the different definitions of sustainability emerged as well as various agendas of how to go about the process. In some instances this could have built up into factions and lead to the separations that we commonly see with committees and governments. But in the spirit of collaboration that TED fosters, we were able to push through our differences and work together. It was a ride that was uncomfortable at times, but in the end we felt in was a great experience to be a part of and we were satisfied with our overall results.

We agreed upon some various calls to action for TED and the TED Community; a bit of a manifesto if you think about it. Sustainability has many different meanings but at its core it is about our relationships to each other and the planet. The TED Active Sustainability project is not only about people, planet and profit, but more importantly it is about people, passion and empowerment. This week we were moved by images of nature, fascinated about scientific breakthroughs and inspired to create a better world for future generations. But how can we challenge our entrenched behaviors and outdated systems?

Calls to Action
We saw the TED Prize winner JR put out a simple call to action to the audience that many answered as they wanted to be a part of something larger than themselves. We want to do a similar call to all individuals using the existing TED platform of videos and online community that would be engaging and fun. (A.) Through the TED website we would like to see people become curators of content and link the sessions that are relate to sustainability and pass to others. These threads could be tracked and curators could be recognized and rewarded through the TEDcred system. Perhaps a series of badges or other status symbols could be developed for this and other similar purposes. (B.) We also feel that TED itself should embrace transparency and set goals and guidelines around reducing the footprint of the TED events. We all agreed this needs some work. We challenge TED to measure, reduce and report on its environmental impacts to the attendees and the larger community. It would show that this is something that the TED executive team cares about. Ways to reduce the footprint don’t need to be stogy but can be creative solutions such as group travel to events and activities that capture kinetic energy to be stored and used to power the event. Tapping into the creativity and desire to do good in the world by the TED community is boundless and sustainability touches everything. We invite anyone take the inspirations received from the TED talks towards actions of TED Walks.

I came back from the event with a lot of new ideas and inspiration and look forward to attending the TEDxMileHigh. If you are in Colorado I highly recommend checking it out. If there are other TEDsters out there who have suggestions on how to move the needle of sustainability using TED I would love to hear them. Also if you have ideas that LOHAS can implement that you may have seen at a TEDx please share.

This article originally appeared on LOHAS.com and is republished here with permission.

Join Ted Ning, Gretchen Bieler, Randy Paynter and other top green executives at the LOHAS Forum June 22-24 in Boulder, Colorado. Early bird tickets are still available. More information here.

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Photo credit: via Flickr by whiteafrican
By Ted Ning, Executive Director of LOHAS


Akin Adelakun
Akin Adelakun6 years ago

Thanks for sharing this information

Zee Kallah
.6 years ago

Nice! very nice, indeed.

Abbe A.
Azaima A6 years ago

TED is wonderful. The presentations are really short -- great for inspiration when you need a break or a pick me up.

Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth M6 years ago

Thanks for the article. I will have to check out the website of TED. Sounds interesting and inspiring and the conference sounded like it was great!

Tomasz Grabarczyk

Thanks for this :)

gerlinde p.
gerlinde p6 years ago

i love the ted talks.

Michal Ciepielewski

thanks a lot;)

Linda AWAY Be Back
Linda G6 years ago

TED is a wonderful forum. I'd encourage everyone to visit their website and listen to any of the talks. Very inspiring!

Hartson Doak
Hartson Doak6 years ago

Emily. There is a force released when people come together. When TED conferences happen there is a positive reinforcement that happens. This inspires others to go out and accomplish good for the world. All the talks are online for those of us who can not go. So the resources that you are worried about are conserved. TED shows us a glorious future that will happen in spite of the political chaos happening now.


How TED could make sustainability grow, is not to have a giant conference. In the age of Skype, why not teleconference? Air travel (fuel) , AC (electricity), food (who knows what that cost, including snacks, and how far was it trucked in?), could all be saved...