Meet Joe Oliver: Artist and Social Entrepreneur

Young and following his dream to leave the world in better shape than he found it.  Meet Joe Oliver.

Joe Oliver


Joe Oliver has been spending time in China making events such as the Shanghai Fashion Week environmentally responsible.  We had the chance to listen to him speak at an event sponsored by Carlson School of Management – we enjoyed chatting and hearing his story.  Here are some highlights.

  • Joe’s involvement with sustainability began with an event that he was organising.  He learnt by trial and error how to successfully run events sustainably, and things snowballed.  He has become a leader in promoting sustainable events, has his own consultancy and is on the Green Meeting Industry Council.
  • Reflective of his generation, Joe wants to do something worthwhile with his life.  He came to realise that we need to keep our planet in good shape for future generations, and his mission is to make ethical lifestyles desirable and mainstream.
  • It is crucial to an event that people have fun.  The foundation is financial sustainability (otherwise the event is not viable.)  Environmental sustainability must be built on these two basic principles.
  • Joe’s event management company recently helped run Shanghai Fashion Week but did not promote their ‘green’ efforts to the attendees.  Instead, they used a set of sustainability metrics to track energy usage, recycling etc.  They are beginning to influence the event management industry by showcasing what is possible.
  • Joe describes his organisation as a ‘social enterprise’ meaning that it has a triple bottom line:  minimise environmental impact, maximise social value; and generate financial profit.
  • Every organisation needs to make a profit.  Even not-for-profits try to increase their donations and support levels – essentially working to achieve greater profit (which is invested back into the organisation to do greater good, rather than being distributed to shareholders.)

For me, Joe’s story highlights the principle that sustainability efforts can be very successful if we have a balanced view of our objectives.  Pushing the green agenda can at times limit its success.  The point is that we need to think long-term about the effects on our planet of all that we do, and minimise or eliminate the environmental impact while pursuing our business objectives.  In Joe’s case his primary objective is to create great events where people have a lot of fun.  People have fun, sustainability happens.

Also, there’s no point being green if you’re bankrupt.  C.K. Prahalad said that “it is possible to ‘do well by doing good.’”  I suggest that to have the most impact at doing good, you need to also do well financially.  While making money shouldn’t be a prerequisite, neither should being socially and environmentally responsible be considered more important than being profitable, otherwise you reduce your ability to do good.

Finally, I think Joe is a great example of the mindset that is becoming more common, especially among the younger generation.  They don’t accept limits, they want to make money (i.e. they aren’t just being altruistic) but they don’t see any conflict between career, personal mission and a responsibility to society and the environment.

Who has inspired or challenged you in your thinking?  What did they teach you?


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