Did you miss the Blue Earth Summit last month? If so, find out what brings over 5000 nature and business minded people to Bristol for three days each year – and whether you should book in the next one – with Suston’s on-site report.
The Blue Earth Summit is a business conference with a few differences. It was started in 2021 by Linley Lewis and Guy Hayler, whose backgrounds are in the creative media industry with a focus on outdoors, and this is clearly a big influence on the event.
Billed as “the only purpose driven summit for people in business inspired by the great outdoors,” this year has been curated around three “pillars”: Adventure and the Outdoors; Purpose-led Business; and Re-imagining Futures.
With this focus, there are over 150 speakers across three days, including people as wide-ranging as historian Professor David Olusoga OBE, Deborah Meeden (famous for the TV show Dragon’s Den as much as business) and the climber Leo Houlding.
When we’re talking about purpose-driven business, it’s natural to see companies like Patagonia, Ecosia, and OVO represented. But there is also space for SMEs focused on environmental causes, and businesses not immediately associated with the phrase “purpose-driven” such as NatWest, JCDecaux, and more.
Exploring industry and colonialism’s part
You can also see the Founders’ creative interests in several talks. The first talk I saw was with Danielle Mulder, the Group Sustainability Director at BBC. She spoke about the effect of the broadcasters’ Blue Planet and Wild Isles series on environmental action, but also on the importance of media commissioners to move along public discourse.
Taking place in Bristol – an historically industrial hub of the UK – it was good to see several of the speakers referred to the historical influence of industry and colonialism on both business and outdoors. The industrial history of the city is further highlighted by the venue, Propyard, which is an events space that’s been created from an old MOD (Ministry of Defence) torpedo testing factory.
Forum for connecting like-minds
Whilst the talks provide a chance to learn new things, there are opportunities elsewhere for more tangible business interest. The Marketplace is the space for exhibiting products and services to a captured audience. Right next to this is the 1:1 Networking space (attendees could use the Blue Earth Summit app to book in with other attendees).
Perhaps most innovative and interesting are spaces where people with business ideas are put together in a room full of sponsors and investors. The ‘Pitch Tent’ is where six purpose-led and sustainable companies take the stage to pitch to companies. The ‘Pitch Tent: Adventure’ again highlights the event’s outdoor connection, and people are pitching “an ambitious adventure that has never been attempted before.”
But as well as the talks and networking you can expect from many business conferences, the most notable scheduling of the Blue Earth Summit is the third day of the event. The whole of 12th October takes place at The Wave, an innovative inland surf venue just outside Bristol. There is the chance for sessions of cold swimming, trail running, yoga, a “whale bath” and, of course, surfing.
Around the practical sessions, the third day line-up either keeps people outside – such as the “Walk and Talk: Why business can and do work with NGOs for Bigger Impact” – or celebrates the outside with film screenings.
On FOMO, value of talk, and need for action
This third day of the conference is the aspect I was most disappointed to miss, but the day I attended gave me a great chance to listen to talks and catch-up with people I usually only see online. The Blue Earth Summit app allows you to view the schedule, find other attendees and book networking sessions with them. But I found the emphasis on the app to be too much – it was even compulsory to access your tickets – and I question the eco-credentials of anything that is essentially surplus.
I found the more low-tech version of curating my day was sufficient. The “Blue Earth Lecture: Professor David Olusoga OBE” was a great start, and a reminder to understand history, before looking to the future. I gravitated towards the panel talks on the Futures Stage for the rest of the day, such as “Decolonising the Outdoors,” “The Future of the Creative Industry” and “Greenwashing: Can brands meaningfully work with grassroots groups and campaigning organisations?” The queues outside that tent prove the popularity of those subjects, and I would have liked to see them given more time on the bigger stage.
The unique venue and offering it provides means the Blue Earth Summit has established itself as a date in the calendar. With several aspects of the event aimed at both individuals and brands, and a programme that touches on important conversations and provides some playtime, I’m sure it will continue to be popular with many. But I look forward to seeing if the Blue Earth Summit team can move beyond conversations and use this popularity to prompt actions. I think the follow-on from the event is neglecting to ask businesses to commit to tangible promises. Perhaps then we can assess their commitment to change at next year’s event.
Photos: Francesca Turauskis