Innovation and community

Second annual TEDxChico brought together speakers and audience members to explore new ideas for sustainable future

Mark Roberts, of Springboard Biodiesel, delivers a talk at the recent TEDxChico event.

Mark Roberts, of Springboard Biodiesel, delivers a talk at the recent TEDxChico event.

Photo courtesy of Laura Joplin

Get connected:
Go to to watch videos of TEDxChico presentations. Send an email to if you are interested in auditioning to speak at next year’s TEDxChico event.

On Saturday, Nov. 2, 250 people gathered at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s Big Room to participate in the second annual TEDxChico event. The beautiful autumn weather set the tone for a program of six local speakers interspersed with videos of past TEDTalks by nationally recognized presenters.

TEDxChico committee chairwoman Laura Joplin (sister of the late singer Janis Joplin) explained prior to the program that the initial cap for attendance had been 100 people, based upon the TEDTalks licensing contract. However, following last year’s inaugural TEDxChico event, Joplin attended a national conference of TEDx organizers in order to more than double the capacity for attendance.

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talks emerged 25 years ago as a nonprofit conference in California. TEDx is an independently organized network of conferences presented by local communities. A committee of 11 local business and community leaders screened 50 applicants to select the six speakers for TEDxChico 2013. Speakers were selected based upon auditions offering solutions for collaborative problem-solving. The talks addressed global warming, ecology and advances in equitable and sustainable business models.

The program opened with a 2011 video of a talk—“Open-sourced blueprints for civilization”—by TED Fellow Marcin Jakubowski. Using scrap metal, engineering and a DIY ethos, Jakubowski offers templates for construction of basic equipment (tractors, and other tools for farming) needed to sustain a community.

The first live speaker was Mark Roberts, CEO of Chico firm Springboard Biodiesel. His company’s development of biodiesel “buckshot” projects challenges a “silver bullet” solution to creating alternatives to fossil fuels. “The goal is to reduce global warming using a ‘bottom-up approach,’” Roberts said. He described simple, cheap methods for individuals and businesses to convert used cooking oil into fuel.

As previously reported in this newspaper (see “From kitchen to engine,” Earth Watch, Jan. 13), Springboard Biodiesel was recognized by the national nonprofit Green Restaurant Association for the development of BioPro. This appliance produces premium-grade biodiesel from used cooking oil for less than a dollar per gallon. According to Renewable Energy Magazine, biodiesel emits half the particulate matter of and 90 percent less carbon dioxide than traditional diesel fuel. The recycling of used oils also saves money in disposal and maintenance fees.

In his talk, Roberts highlighted some success stories. A Florida National Guard cafeteria at Camp Blanding converted its kitchen grease into biodiesel for 68 cents per gallon. This also diverted grease from the cafeteria septic system. He ended with a quote from the Dr. Seuss book The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.”

John Carlon, of River Partners.

Photo courtesy of LAURA JOPLIN

Social entrepreneur John Carlon, of nonprofit River Partners, discussed efforts to “re-wild” California rivers in partnership with local farmers. He likened the demise of riparian habitat due to human activity to “a teenager on a spending spree.” He said that river conservation in the form of sustained human effort was needed to salvage the supply of clean water for the North State.

Doug Kirkpatrick of Sacramento-based Redshift3 challenged the hierarchical model of business management in a talk titled “Beyond Empowerment: Are We Ready for the Self-Managed Organization?” He cited data from Gallup polls: 70 percent of the American workforce is not engaged, resulting in $450 billion to $550 billion in annual lost revenue.

Kirkpatrick posed a question: “If people know how to do jobs, why do they need a boss?” He told the story of Morning Star Co., started by one man in Woodland in 1970, which grew to become the largest tomato processor in the world.

The organization embraced the principle that people should not use force or coercion to get others to work. Beginning in 1990, individual Morning Star workers composed letters of understanding to their colleagues detailing their commitment to the mission, rules and performance measures of the company. He explained that no one could be fired or direct the activities of others. In 2008, he helped form the Morning Star Self-Management Institute to promote the ethos of the self-managed organization as a self-healing organism (go to to learn more).

The program also included provocative topics related to social justice presented by Chico State professors. Nandi Crosby, who teaches sociology, spoke about live organ donation. Kate Transchel, professor of history, spoke about preventing human trafficking.

“The I-5 corridor in Northern California is a prime destination for sex slaves,” Transchel said. She implored listeners to visit and to discover “how many slaves are working for you right now.” The audience responded with a standing ovation.

After a musical performance by Chico band MaMuse (“Will you move when the voice inside you calls?/ We cannot do this alone”), a buffet lunch was served. Next, Angelo Poli, of Whole Body Fitness, talked about overcoming “iposture” from overuse of electronic devices. Master of ceremonies David Zink introduced another video, this one featuring Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert in a 2009 TED Talk that refutes the idea that creativity and madness are inevitably linked.

Local drum troupe Wolf Thump ended the day with a percussive display that brought audience members to their feet for a community dance.

“TED is about gathering people to explore possibilities, solve problems and move toward consensus,” concluded Joplin, during the final discussion break. She stated that committee members and volunteers are already planning TEDxChico 2014.