The first environmental conference I ever attended was the inaugural Post Landfill Action Network (PLAN) Students for Zero Waste conference in October of 2014. I was a student in college, took the train from school to Durham, New Hampshire, and was able to identify other conference attendees by their overnight packs and sleeping bags; part of the budget-friendly nature of the conference included a sleepover at a local church.
I learned a lot, met hundreds of amazing people, practiced networking with industry professionals, and experienced that positive and energizing feeling of wanting to change the world while leaping over tall buildings. The organizers—college students themselves—did an outstanding job of balancing many different types of speakers, including scientists, activists, corporations, non-profit organizations, authors, student groups, and thought leaders.
This October, I again attended the PLAN Students for Zero Waste Conference—this time at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA. This time, I attended not as a student (even though I am currently in graduate school), but as an industry professional with four years of work experience in the environmental field. Perhaps I had changed, perhaps PLAN had changed (probably both), but somehow I did not leave this conference with the same energized aura that I associate with environmental conferences. Instead, I took away an updated understanding of the Zero Waste movement, especially among the youth and student sector.