‘EarthX Can Be to Dallas, What SXSW is to Austin’

Trammell S. Crow is a man on a mission. At the nine year mark, EarthX is out to ignite environmental change, prove that 'green makes green,' and connect people to create a more sustainable world—365 days a year.

It’s hard to tell if Trammell S. Crow’s Turtle Creek compound more embodies EarthX or the man himself.

Nestled between the trees and streams in a private enclave, the main house is a tableau rife with artifacts, collections, artwork, memorabilia, books, photographs—part museum, part cabinet of curiosities. Crow himself is a kind of artist, filling his home with thoughtful assemblage constructions that might include rock specimens or insects or French comic book characters, all in combinations laced with meaning. The overall effect is a glimpse into the mind of the Dallas businessman, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and environmentalist.

Amidst it all is the heartbeat of operations: the plans for EarthX 2019.

But it’s not important to distinguish where EarthX ends and where Crow begins. Because Trammell S. Crow is EarthX—down to the pin on his jacket—and that was entirely evident as we sat on a purple velvet couch and he told Dallas Innovates about his vision for this year’s EarthxExpo, and beyond.

Collector of collections: Crow curated artifacts, butterflies, gemstones, and objets d’art for a ‘turquoise table’ inside his home. [Photo: Rebeca Posadas-Nava]

Crow founded EarthX, formerly Earth Day Texas, in 2011 as a way to showcase environmental innovations and initiatives to help the public become catalysts for change. Today, EarthX programs aim to make a difference 365 days a year, culminating in a four-pronged environmental experience that consists of a film festival, conference, expo, and education that runs from April 19 to 28 in Dallas.

To say it’s big is an understatement. From the EarthxConference (a five-day series that deals with every major issue facing our environment today) to EarthxFilm (a 10-day festival that uses the power media to raise awareness of environmental and social issues) to EarthxExpo (a three-day public festival that celebrates innovation and hope with interactive programming and subject matter experts, along with live music, art, and food) to EarthxEDU (an initiative that provides teachers and students with the resources needed to improve sustainability), the event is likely the largest of its kind in the world.

Crow aims to draw attention to the challenges that our planet faces, as well as those individuals and groups rising up to meet them. Ultimately, inspiring action.

With the abundant array of EarthX offerings, he’s found a way to do that. The Expo, in particular, is a combination of entertainment, inspiration, and education with tree climbing, an electric car track, music, interactive exhibits, tree climbing, and (much) more. It’s important to reach folks from all walks of life: students, families, activists, innovators, capitalists, scientists, environmentalists, business people, officials, foundations, farmers, ranchers, and researchers.

Or, as EarthX heralds: All the citizens of the world.

The space in-between

Helping all types of people find common ground is a core tenet of EarthX.

Crow has become an environmental power broker of sorts, bringing unlikely parties together, from high-profile politicians to activists to corporations.

That can make for an odd mash-up of groups, as Peter Simek noted in D Magazine last year. At the first EarthX event in 2011, “an organization combating deforestation had a booth next to a corporation that cut down a lot of trees to make its product. But rather than complain, Crow says, the group came up to him after the event and raved about how they finally had an opportunity to speak directly with the company and build a rapport,” Simek writes.

“It really, truly is a platform for people with all different types of opinions and positions to come and share their ideas with the hope there are pragmatic solutions to move forward,” Tony Keane, EarthX’s newly appointed CEO, says. “Because people in the far right and far left can be entrenched in their positions.”

Tony Keane sits in Crow’s studio on his Turtle Creek compound. [Photo: Rebeca Posadas-Nava]

EarthX can be a nonpartisan “space in-between” that bridges the divide on environmental issues. Common ground is where trust can be built and conflict resolved, Crow notes.

“I had a dim notion of this: I thought we weren’t going to be able to talk about climate change that first year—or the sixth,” Crow says. “I thought we’d have a hard time getting any traction.”

But Crow hasn’t seen that. Instead, people who would typically never interact are becoming connected and forming relationships, no matter their political stance.

“The conservatives and liberals, and republicans and democrats, it’s been amazing how we’ve fallen into it together,” he says. “It’s connecting everybody.”  

According to Crow, that doesn’t happen anywhere else.

“We bring together four entities—commercial, nonprofit, governmental, and academia—to network and put people together, who would not normally eat together, for measurable outcomes,” says Lanny Shivers, part of EarthX Development, who’s been with Crow for some two decades.

Shivers has been around since the beginning; he used to do yard work for Crow when the idea for EarthX was conceived. He, Crow, and a team of others spent four months pulling things together for what turned out to be that very successful 2011 outdoor event in Dallas’ Arts District.

“We had 48,000 people, 300 exhibitors—it blew our minds. I sat up there that last day and cried on a golf cart,” Shivers recalls. He remembers Crow saying: “Turn the cart around, and look at all those people coming in for Earth Day. Kids, families. See that Lanny? We built that. And we’ve only just begun.”

Shivers says EarthX outgrew the Arts District that first year, so they took it to approximately 500,000 square feet in Fair Park. Last year, the organization accumulated over 137,000 people to listen to and learn from over 600 exhibitors and 400 speakers. That’s a large crowd, which Crow acknowledges.

And, he says, it has the potential to be so much bigger.

Yes, that’s in Dallas

“EarthX can be to Dallas, what SXSW is to Austin,” says Capital Factory’s Bryan Chambers. Chambers is working with 9-year-old EarthX on the 2019 E-Capital Summit and is bullish on the opportunities it offers our region and its entrepreneurs with regard to clean technology. Crow and Keane agree.

By comparison, for the past 30 years, SXSW has grown to become an event of national stature, into a massive conglomerate of music, interactive media, film, informative programming, and star-studded appearances. The excitement starts a year in advance, the weeks become completely booked, and the buzz never really stops. It’s garnered a real reputation.

It’s what Crow calls a “manifestation.”

But, despite its grandeur, that’s not what EarthX is all about—and that’s where the potential lies. As Keane points out, SXSW has a lot of different elements compounded into one climactic event, for an array of people. 

“I didn’t feel there’s as much as much of a focus for SXSW, whereas I think the difference is, EarthX is probably more focused, because we have kind of a very broad topic called ‘the environment’ that has a tremendous number of different areas within it,” he says.

In terms of a major event, the men think that Dallas has a pivotal opportunity with EarthX.

“EarthX already is that, in reality,” Keane says. “And when we start talking about what it’s progressed into—what it’s grown into—a lot of people are very surprised. Like, ‘wow, that’s actually what’s all going on here?'”

But it’s not without its challenges. Despite Dallas boasting the largest environmental event in the world, Crow says “there’s some of this idea that the local people appreciate it less.”

Besides large corporations such as Kimberly Clark and TI, the Expo hasn’t yet had a strong representation of Texas companies.

Keane says he and Crow would love to sit down with locally based innovators, technology startups, and existing companies to better learn how to showcase their story. “I think this is an opportunity for this community to come together a little bit better in terms of ‘how do we take this national-level event in our own backyard, and utilize it better?’”

“If you look at some of the universities here—we know they have a lot of incubators, startup-types, and technology,” he continues. “But because we’re in the same community, they don’t look at us as: ‘well, this is a great place to showcase this.’”

For example, ASU is all over the Expo, because they see it as a great opportunity. “Tons into it,” Crow says. 

To Keane, it’s a tale as old as time: “You don’t see what’s right in front of your face.”

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The event is for everybody, though, and that shows in the attendees flocking to Dallas from across the country. If environmental change is actually going to spread to the rest of the world, ignited by the change makers at the Expo, it first has to start with those who reside here.

“The rest of the world seems to think that Texas doesn’t care about the environment,” Keane says. “We know that we do.”

EarthX is all about this idea of busting preconceived notions. Shivers says people don’t always see it, but “everything that EarthX does is to make the world a better place.”

Keane recommends taking a step back and looking at some of the companies that have made Dallas home. He mentions multiple “amazing things” being done here to help the environment: Southwest Airlines’ repurposing programs, AT&T’s energy management systems, Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle, and Dallas Fort Worth International Airport’s nationally recognized low emissions.

“There’s a lot going on [in the region] that people just completely dismiss, and we need to make a bigger noise for ourselves,” Keane says. “Because, here in Dallas, we’re doing some fantastic things.”

Crow seconds that. Oftentimes, these initiatives aren’t recognized as much as they maybe should be, simply because of the controversy that can surround talking about sustainability. “We dismiss it,” he says. “It’s an unconscious thing—that’s environment.”

Companies want to be seen as sustainable; seen as environmentally friendly. But it isn’t about greenwashing. “Sometimes, companies don’t want people to know that they were dirty before,” Crow says.

But, as these global corporations clearly attest, environmental awareness can do a lot for the business community. Especially for those in North Texas.

Green makes green

Crow and Keane emphasized that the EarthxExpo, while centered around Earth Day, is so much more than a traditional festival. Yes, there’s plenty of entertainment, dabbled with arts and crafts, food trucks, and a tiny home showcase.

But, at its core, EarthxExpo is about bringing together different communities to be a catalyst of change through workshops, panels, and inspiration.

“In terms of recruiting businesses to the Dallas community, we’ve got the largest environmental event in the country and probably the world. We haven’t found one bigger yet,” Keane says. “It’s a good lead into a tremendous amount of economic development as far as seeing Dallas as an innovator in this area. If you start looking at what’s going on in the business community with sustainability initiatives and environmental consciousness, that’s really becoming the forefront of what’s going to happen in business.”

Trammell S. Crow (left) and Tony Keane. [Photo: Rebeca Posadas-Nava]

Back when Crow and Keane were entering the workforce, there weren’t nearly as many ‘green’ jobs out there as there are today. But Dallas’ growing status as a rising tech hub, combined with the power of EarthX, can make it the place to be.

“If you start looking at environmental technology, how do we continue to promote that Dallas is a place where technology can thrive and grow?” Keane asks. “You don’t have to be on the West Coast or the East Coast to be ‘green’ or ‘environmentally friendly’—you can be right here in the center of the country.”

Crow points to the growing presence of emerging technology, like “blockchain can have a direct effect on the environment.” In conversations with his VP of EarthxCapital, Matt Myers, Crow has realized just how important these innovations are becoming, and why EarthX has to continue that momentum.

This tech world of innovators is an ecosystem, he says. “[Matt Myers] thinks that we will be one of the most important investment forums for where innovators meet investors in two years.”

Myers is also the co-founder of the aforementioned E-Capital Summit, which he calls EarthX’s “tech investment summit focused on families and foundations.” The forum features financiers, venture capitalists, and family offices looking to invest their private capital and have a positive impact on the planet.

And that’s the idea behind “green makes green.”

“We all know what the most important part is,” Crow says. “The E-Capital Summit—that’s the money.” 

A year-round effort

The E-Capital Summit falls under the EarthxConference, one of the myriad of other elements that make up EarthX: EarthxFilm, EarthxExpo, and EarthxEDU.

The anchor of it all is the Expo, what EarthX proudly dubs “the largest event in the world of its kind”, bringing together businesses, academics, government, speakers, interactive programming, and more to learn amidst live music, art, and food.

While each a little different, these pieces, at their core, are all focused on raising environmental education and awareness around Earth Day in April. But the common public misconception is that EarthX is just a nonprofit that holds this major experience once a year, then goes away.

And that’s not the case.

Because although a large amount of attendees, exhibitors, and speakers is an enormous feat for a single weekend, EarthX’s efforts span 365 days a year. The organization says it is dedicated to generating inspiration year-round in order to actually make a lasting impact.

Because, as Keane puts it: “Reaching out once a year isn’t going to change people.”

Plan Your Weekend at EarthX

The 2019 theme of EarthxExpo, Water for All, hones in on discovering new ways to uncover clean water for all and protect the world’s oceans, rivers, and lakes. All held at Fair Park, the EarthxExpo and EarthxEdu will be April 26-28, and the EarthxConference will be April 25-28. EarthxFilm—which includes EarthxInteractive, an exploration through nature in virtual and augmented reality— is April 19-28 at Fair Park and select theaters around Dallas-Fort Worth.

The schedule is robust, so Crow, Keane, and the EarthX team shared some new, improved, and exciting elements this year that attendees can start to plan their weekend around.

With the Inland Ocean Action Summit and the first-ever Island Resilience Forum, EarthxOcean will address the role the ocean plays in everyday lives. In gathering island leaders and hosting three ambassadors from the United Nations, the Forum intends to explore scalable and comprehensive energy roadmaps, along with actionable and fundable projects for those on the front-line of climate change.

Launching at this year’s EarthxExpo is a social platform called EarthxLeague, which the team compares to Facebook, but EarthX owns the data. It’s sort of a “a community platform times an action platform.” Visitors are able to develop their own communities where they can read stories or watch videos, then share to their own social media pages, pledge to make a change, volunteer, or donate to EarthX or one of its participating nonprofit partners.

On-site at the Expo will be hundreds of vehicles, from hybrids to zero-emissions, created by the leading green automobile makers on the market. The EarthxAuto Show intends to show how smart transportation solutions can make an environmental impact in a fun consumer-driven way.

A major element added this year is EarthxBanquet, which is a way to dine with fellow advocates and show support for a cleaner, more sustainable planet. Rick Perry, U.S. Secretary of Energy, will announce the “future of energy” at the Thursday night Roosevelt banquet, accompanied by speakers Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Whitehouse, and Susan Eisenhower. At the Energy Lunch on Friday morning, Howard Schultz, former Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, will speak. And, Mark Victor Hansen, author of “Chicken Soup for the Soul” and his wife Crystal Dwyer Hansen, author of “Metamorphosis Energy” will speak at the Business Breakfast on Friday morning.

As an extension of EarthX’s international expansion into Mexico City last November, this year’s EarthxExpo is hosting an EarthxMexico pavilion highlighting the importance of taking the dialogue beyond borders. The feature, which Crow is “very excited about,” will bring a curated selection of speakers and exhibitors to Dallas to share with visitors the environmental efforts of our southern neighbor.

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