A Beginner’s Guide to EDTx 2016
Trammell S. Crow is no fool. He knows what the East Coast and the West Coast think of the South, and he knows that Texas is probably the last place they’d expect to host a major environmental expo. But that’s exactly what you’ll find if you happen to be in Dallas this week.
When Trammell established Earth Day Texas (EDTx) in 2011, it comprised all of five blocks in the Dallas Arts District. Five years later, it’s grown to cover approximately one million square feet in Dallas Fair Park and is considered the largest environmental exhibition in the world.
In an interview with Planet Experts, Earth Day Texas CEO Jerry Hess said he expects about 75,000 people at the event this year. “It went from 265 exhibits in 2011 with nine speakers to 266 speakers in 2015 and approximately 1,100 exhibit spaces,” he said. “This year we will see over 1,600 exhibit spaces and a similar increase in programming – it’s really an amazing increase in participation. We expect attendance growth will be just as significant.”
Trammell S. Crow is game to talk about the success of EDTx, but he believes that Texas is only half the story. “The real story is there’s not a major Earth Day every year in every major city,” he said in a separate phone call with Planet Experts. His rawhide voice cracked over the speaker as he excitedly listed the nation’s largest cities. “Who would expect to have it in Dallas? Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, you’ve been to these places and they excel in their temporary exhibitions. So I just assumed this was happening, that we were emulating somebody.”
But no, said Trammell, where environmental showcases are concerned, Dallas remains at the head of the pack. “Let’s have a place for environmental groups to exhibit, and people can see it and touch it and talk it and vote for it and contribute to it,” he continued. That’s what EDTx is for, and why Trammell is so proud of it.
But the Texas native is not a jealous philanthropist; his environmental-expo-that-could need not be an island. “We want to be national,” said Trammell. “If there’s a philanthropist in some major city that convinced me that he wants to do something serious to make this kind of thinking exciting to everyone, we’ll just open up our books and show ‘em how to do it.”
But let’s back up. Why does Trammell give a damn about the environment in the first place?
He’s asked this question a lot.
“I could say how I learned the word ‘environment’ when I was ten, I could say my daddy took me to a piece of property and said we were stewards,” he drawled. “But the fact is, this is the most burning cause in the world.” Trammell asked if I’d read Generations, a book by Neil Howe and William Strauss. “There’s a generational theory,” he explained, “that says every four generations there’s a secular crisis – and the generation meets it or not. It’s always been war, but what is it this time? Is it terrorism? Is it population? For the next generation, the millennials, they’re entering that phase, and they’ll meet the challenge.
“It’s the environment. Period. The population, global warming, polluting creeks, species dying.”
That’s why the U.S.A. needs more Earth Day events, and not just for a weekend in Dallas. That’s why Trammell and his team continue to pour their blood, sweat and tears into EDTx. That’s why the scions of President JFK and Theodore Roosevelt will be speaking at the event. That’s why the discussion panels will cover every topic from the Tiny House Movement to vertical farming & aquaponics to LEED design, community transit, fracking and the President’s Clean Power Plan.
And that’s why Trammell has been eager to get Exxon-Mobil to join the show.
Yes, That Exxon-Mobil
Ask any green activist and they’ll tell you Exxon-Mobil is as divorced from green causes as Elizabeth Taylor is from Conrad Hilton. On the subject of climate change in particular, the fifth largest oil and gas company on the planet (by revenue) has an actively adversarial relationship with climate scientists. So Trammell is well aware of the criticism.
But as the son of real-estate mogul Trammell Crow (at one time, the head of the largest real estate empire on Earth), Trammell S. Crow understands that business is America’s backbone. Why make enemies with that essential body part when everyone can benefit from working together?
“One of the larger, more adamant environmental groups took me to task at a chapter meeting two years ago, and they were really mad that we were trying to get Exxon-Mobil to the show,” said Trammell. “I told them that there was a forum for anybody, any entity, any organization that could honestly represent sustainable practices.”
While the petroleum giant has not diverted resources into alternative energies like wind and solar, it has spent $600 million in research and development to try and turn algae into oil. That kind of biofuel might not wow the electric- or hydrogen-vehicle crowd, but it’s something. And that something is enough to merit a seat at the table.
Ultimately, that’s what Trammell is going for, giving everybody a seat at the table – making Green a united cause rather than a divisive one. It’s also what makes Texas – itself the biggest oil-producing state in the Union – uniquely positioned to host this mega-meeting of the minds.
“Maybe it couldn’t happen in California,” Trammell mused. “I think the oil and gas companies would be protested out, would not be allowed to show. We’re going to have a balanced forum. Some people may call it greenwashing – but we consider attracting hundreds of thousands of Texans, many of whom might not otherwise be thinking about conservation and sustainability a big step in the right direction.”
Trammell wants to break down the traditional barriers between industry and activism, and that’s the best way to move forward, argues Planet Expert Greg Wendt, a Senior Wealth Advisor at StakeHolders Capital and the founder of the Green Economy Think Tank. Eliminating the “us vs. them” mentality that posits business and environmentalism cannot co-exist is crucial to reducing global warming, ocean acidification and deforestation, he told Planet Experts.
This “impact investing” he says, “includes investing in enterprises where the priority is to regenerate culture, regenerate ecosystems and livelihood. […] It fundamentally means that we look at things much more than what is traditionally known as money and profit and look at the whole system – of all the stakeholders in an economic activity and see the longer timeframes and long term effects of our actions.”
Encouraging businesses to come to EDTx and participate in discussions or show off their latest clean innovations is part of the reason why the event has grown year after year, said Jerry Hess.
“One of the reasons we look to include organizations that people might not generally associate with Earth Day is to reach people that may not be thinking about the environment. If a company that is not generally thought of as sustainable will take the time to show why the positive steps it is taking are important, it’s relatable and can serve as model for people who might start to wonder what steps they can take in their own lives” said Hess. “One important aspect of this event is to try to engage new people and organizations by acknowledging progress and improvement, which is a significant part of the overall equation.”
“We’re Still Making It Up As We Go”
In addition to its sizable lineup of famous speakers, EDTx 2016 will also feature a summit on hydrogen power as well as Earth Tank, a takeoff on the popular show Shark Tank, in which environmental innovators will compete for grants.
“It’s the first year we have done something like this and we are excited about it. The goal is to create another avenue of engagement that will hopefully encourage more people to think about issues and solutions and take steps to address them each year,” Hess explained.
Though it occurs just once per year, planning for Earth Day Texas is a year-long affair. “It really is a seven-day-a-week effort,” said Hess, “especially in the last few months running up to the event.”
Flexibility, improvisation and iron-clad organization are a must for pulling the event into a cohesive whole. “When working with corporations, nonprofits, government agencies and academic institutions, everybody has different needs, goals, and perspectives,” said Hess. “We’re looking to pull those into a cohesive whole that will inspire people and present them with a number of different ways they can make a difference.”
“And we’re still making it up as we go along,” said Trammell. “The Friday portion, the business day, we’re call it E-Day.”
What’s the “E” stand for? I asked.
“Estuary,” said Trammell. “Elephant. Emu. Education. Efficiency. Economy. Man, we’re trying to do everything. So ya’ll come! Ya’ll come here!”
Planet Experts has accepted Mr. Crow’s cordial invitation and will be reporting from Dallas later this week. To learn more about the event, you can visit the Earth Day Texas website.