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What is SXSW Eco?

South by Southwest is adding another conference to its roster of music, film, interactive, and education forums.

It will be called SXSW Eco. The focus will be on finding ways to make humanity more ecologically sustainable. Unlike other SXSW forums, this conference will run from October 4-6. Early tickets are $800.

We called SXSW managing director Roland Swenson to find out more.

KUT News: What is this South by Southwest Eco conference?

Roland Swenson: It’s a new event for us that is the accumulation of a lot of things we’ve been working on for a number of years.

There’s a woman who works with us who’s based in Ireland, who is one of our international reps. She is also an environmental consultant.

Almost ten years ago, she approached us and said, “South by Southwest needs to have a green program. It’s needs to have an environmental strategy.”

We began to measure our carbon footprint. That involves looking at all our travel, what our utilities cost, all the things we do that produce carbon.

We started looking at ways to reduce our carbon, which is difficult to do in a business that’s growing as fast as [SXSW].

One of the things we did is we built a solar array on the roof of our building. That cut our energy use by about 25 percent.

That led to us getting involved with Austin Energy on a project we called a “solar pump”, which is a solar charge station for people to charge up everything from electric bikes to their phones and computers during South by Southwest.

We actually take this solar pump around to different events. Right now, it’s on its way to the Roskilde Music Festival in Denmark.

We had this increasing awareness of all the issues surrounding sustainability. It came to a head this year when we had a new employee who was also working on his master’s degree on sustainability issues at Harvard. He proposed the idea of doing this event.

A lot of [other environmental conferences are] about whether or not there is global warming. Or how much of a problem is air pollution, and trying to quantify those issues.

We are skipping over those points to start at: There are problems. What are the solutions?

KUT News: Right now you are taking ideas? You don’t have any panels chosen yet?

Swenson: We have a process for people to propose ideas. We’re putting together an advisory board. It’s very much in the formative stage.

But we’ve fixed a date (Oct 4-6) and a location (the downtown Hilton), and we’re reaching out in all the ways that we do for our other events to draw people here.

KUT News: You already have the SXSW Interactive, Film, Music, and Edu conferences. Are you worried about taking on too much?

Swenson: One of the issues for us is that we tend to have so much of our activity focused in March. So we’re trying to do some other stuff in other times of the year.

We’re doing this in October. We’re also involved with the Texas Tribune on the Texas Tribune Festival that they’re doing in September.

Part of that is so we can justify keeping more people on the staff in the summer. Right now, we gear up starting in the summer to this crescendo in the spring. We’d like to even out that activity, and not have it weighted so heavily.

KUT News: So then what is the SXSW brand? Because it’s obviously not just music or film or interactive anymore.

Swenson: Our core activity has always been bringing people together who are professionals in their fields to talk about their common interests, goals and ideas.

That is true for all of our events. We’re applying that formula to different topics.

The entertainment stuff we do is very important. With interactive, we’ve expanded beyond entertainment to all kinds of different issues. This is an extension of that.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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