This past April 2013, I accepted an invitation to participate and attend the Launch 2020 Summit at Nike HQ in Beaverton, OR. This two-day summit was sponsored by NASA, Nike, USAID, and the US State Department and brings together 150 of the world’s brightest innovators and sustainable system thinkers to participate in workshops and discussions where they tackle sustainability issues facing our society. The participants were strategically selected from academia to manufacturing, from Not-for-profits to government policy experts and entrepreneurs. Launch 2020 uses this format in order to best harness the collective wisdom of the attendees to disrupt the status quo and “to imagine a world where the making of things has a minimal impact on people and the planet.” The typical conference structure of keynote speaker, speaker, speaker, break, speaker, and finally wrap-up speaker doesn’t promote free-flow idea generation that can be openly discussed and documented to implement positive action. The Launch 2020 organization facilitated immersion into the summit theme and in my opinion was definitely more preferred than the standard conference structure.
In fact, from the moment I exited the elevator and attempted to wade through the masses of intellectuals at the opening kick-off roof party at The Nines Hotel (LEED Silver), I knew this would be no average event. After the kick-off toast and a few conversations my mind was already racing with new ideas, fresh connections, and reflections about what I had just learned.
The first and second day events took place at the Tiger Woods Conference Center in a large dimly lit ballroom with a large green screen glowing from behind the front stage. As the guests and myself entered we used our color-coded name badges to locate our table and future teammates. Our badges featured icons that related to four components of a value chain: raw materials, brand, vertical manufacturers, and chemistry suppliers. When I arrived at my table, I found it was composed of twelve experts that would be divided into four smaller teams of three that had expertise in one of the four value chains. As everyone took our seats and made introductions, Hannah Jones (Vice President of Sustainable Business & Innovation at Nike) took the stage to kick-off the multimedia infused event. She introduced the theme of the summit “Systems Innovation” and made it very clear that Launch 2020 was NOT a conference. Instead it was a “disruption of status quo”. Launch 2020 hoped to harness the collective wisdom of the experts in the room to encourage innovation, collaboration, and transparency in business and beyond.
Hannah discussed how at Nike, 60% of the environmental impact of their shoes is in materials and as they have found with through their in-house sustainability index that winning in sustainable innovation is also winning in business. Nike has reduced their greenhouse gases by 18% from ten years ago, which has quickly helped their bottom line. (The index Hannah discussed back in April is now available in their newly released “Making” mobile app.) CEO Mark Parker added on to Hannah’s important points making it clear that from the top-down Nike was investing in sustainability. These two quick keynotes transitioned into the introductions to the other sponsors of the summit: NASA, US AID, and the US State Department. Each organization also made it clear we were all in attendance to make a difference. If that wasn’t enough to get us motivated, NASA astronaut Ron Garan and Joan Benoit-Samuelson (the first-ever women’s Olympic marathon champion in 1984) joined Hannah Jones on-stage to share how they were turned on to the topic of sustainability and why they are dedicated to making it happen.
Garan, in his travels in space, has seen the majesty of and damages done to our “spaceship Earth”. He shared how his empathy for the struggles of humanity was an “epiphany in slow motion” as he rotated the Earth watching weather and events unfold below him. Benoit-Samuelson echoed his thoughts as she discussed how through her long-distance running, she has seen environmental damage and poverty, inspiring her to help prevent further destruction and steward our lands, air, and water. There words were powerful, important and inspiring for the exercise we were to embark upon next. It was also pretty darn cool to meet an astronaut, CEO, and Olympic gold medalist all in a one day!
SIX – Systems Innovation Experiment
The summit introductions on stage were short but vital to the central point of the Launch 2020 event: a game. This game is entitled SIX or “Systems Innovation Experiment.” The twelve teams of twelve experts were asked to create a sustainable t-shirt company by the year 2020 by making decisions throughout the supply chain based on current events and predicted future ones that business leaders and scientists foresee happening. These interruptions into the fictional t-shirt companies included droughts, floods, labor law protests, and more.
The game component of the exercise occurred not only through these interruptions in the system, but also through a series of printed cards handed out to each value chain at the beginning of each round. Each smaller team of three at each table was given a set of cards based on their area of expertise (raw materials, brand, vertical manufacturers, or chemistry suppliers), which were possible actions your small team could make. However, each smaller team had to make a decision and sometimes that involved collaborating with another value chain or opposing teams to pass laws or to get enough investment to make change happen faster.. Making a shrewd water-saving choice could pay off if a drought happened the next year and save your company money, or waiting to make an investment would hurt economic growth. After the team approved decisions, they were individually entered by the smaller groups into the SIX interface on a digital tablet. The results were tabulated as each of the seven rounds ended eventually determining a winner that had the least impact on the planet when the year 2020 was reached.
SIX, as a game, was invigorating, exciting, and educational, however as a possible tool for a company, it seems vital for long-term sustainable growth and vitality. The organizers of the event are clearly looking at entrepreneurial uses of SIX. I see its use also vital in a university classroom for the correct training of our business, science, and design leaders of tomorrow. Participating in the Launch 2020 event provided me a host of great ideas that I could use in my design pedagogy and share with my colleagues at the University of Illinois. I’m very excited to see how these translate into positive social action in the upcoming fall 2013 semester.