What’s better than attending the Fortune Brainstorm Green 2009 and hearing Ford Chairman Bill Ford and Founder and CEO of A Better Place Shai Agassi speak? Shaking hands with Former President Bill Clinton, of course!  Not too shabby for a couple of days in Orange County.  Beyond the speakers and the networking, the artistic angle of the conference was phenomenal. “Ultimately, it was the most comfortable and eye-pleasing conference I’ve ever attended.”

Herman Miller

Who would have thought that a chair could be chique, ergonomic, and green all at the same time? Herman Miller did. “One of Fortune’s Most Admired Furniture Companies,” Herman Miller has kept a strong focus on the environment from concept to distribution. So much so that Paul Murray, Director of Environmental Affairs and Safety at Herman Miller, says they have “very aggressive goals of zero footprint and no water emissions by 2020.”  It’s not that far-fetched: Murray reported the company has achieved 50% of this goal already.

    Their Aeron chair line, used on stage and in the audience at the Brainstorm Green event, was sourced for its eco-friendly features.  Murray says the chair “can be disassembled, is manufactured using renewable electrical power, parts are delivered using returnable packaging from suppliers and has over 60% recycled content.”

    Even more commendable is Herman Miller’s effort to go back to their suppliers and change the way they source their materials. Murray comments, “Our suppliers might not make the dyes or colors used, so we call their suppliers — anything harmful, we ask suppliers to take it out.” I love that Herman Miller can be profitable while reducing hazardous waste in the groundwater outside supplier plants worldwide.

These chairs are definitely on the wish-list for Opportunity Green!

 Junk Wall 

The backdrop of the conference was intriguing, but it wasn’t until I got up close and personal when I realized it was a collage of junk.  Artist Tom Deininger‘s autumn-themed wall collage, reaching a height of twenty feet, was a mapped masterpiece comprised of shoes, plastic items, and our favorite – action figures!

    Deininger started constructing these abstract wall collages in 1999 with materials plucked from beach wash and “literally dumpster-diving” for items.  He even perused garage sales, offering $15 for all leftover goods.  Eventually, friends and other artists caught on and unloaded piles of junk to his ever-expanding studio.  Deininger described his organized chaos saying, “The studio started to look like a painter’s palette, all reds in one section, greens in another, blues, pinks, blacks and so on.”

    Built in under three weeks by Deininger and his team, the junk wall for Brainstorm Green started with a base wall constructed from recycled wooden shipping containers.  He then fastened green, red, and orange plastic junk onto twenty individual panels, which were then encased in plywood and shipped to California.

    Deininger, whose work is in numerous public and private collections through out the world, is a resident of Bristol, Rhode Island and an advocate for Save the Bay.  He prides himself on creating works that are “bold and subtle at the same time” and most definitely achieved that at the conference.  Attendees were in awe of how discarded plastic could convey such a unique message.

The biggest tidbit I uncovered was the mystery of the whereabouts of his artwork after the event.  Neither Deininger nor myself know whether the pieces were discarded or displayed elsewhere.  Where in the world is the junk wall? It would be great to repurpose it for our conference. How’s that for collaboration!