New Bottom Line Volume 6.21 – Bioneers: Plant Wisdom and Corporate Futures, Together Again for the Very First Time

Oct 8, 1997

The air turns chill, the colors change, the leaves fall… (in the northern hemisphere, anyway). And here in the US, football fills our screens, children start preparing for Halloween, and the environmental management conference season just about boils over. Environmental Management Systems, ISO 14000, Environmental Cost Accounting, EcoTech; the mailbox fills and the list goes on. It sometimes see ms like I could professionally justify three or four conferences a week; I couldn’t get any work done if I went to them all, of course, but that’s another story.

Fortunately, some jewels emerge out of the roiling mass. For one weekend in late October, a converted army base on San Francisco Bay is home to a distinctive collection of leading edge and old-fashioned thinkers and doers (sometimes both combined in a single person) called Bioneers.

The name as well as the conference imply biology and pioneers. Since 1990 this landmark conference has convened a remarkably rich and eclectic collection of presenters, exhibitors and audience exploring “Visionary Solutions for Restoring the Earth.” It’s a conference that manages to stimulate on many levels — emotional and, yes, spiritual as well as intellectual and political; that manages to be at once deeply satisfying, disturbing and inspiring, all in one grand multi-colored fragrant parade.

Unique among environmental conferences, Bioneers doesn’t talk much about environmental protection (or even environmental policy), because it thinks more about environmental restoration. And beyond all its concern about we humans can do for the earth, Bioneers resonates with a profound respect for what the earth does for us… and for itself, thank you very much.

If Bioneers sometimes has the feel of a tent revival of biological fundamentalists, it’s because it grows from a fundamental respect for “plant wisdom” — the unfathomable adaptive experience gathered over several billion years by our energy harvesting partners on this ball of rock hurtling through space — and for the indigenous cultures who out of necessity and desire live intimately with that wisdom.

So the flavors of Bioneers range wide: from botanical medicine to environmental design, from shamanism to social investment, from plant devas to biotechnology, from Permaculture to “The Wateriness Congress” to revoking the corporate charter. It’s joyful and hip — though definitely more a Whole Earth Review hip than Wired magazine kind of crowd — and yet a quite serious crowd of dedicated pra ctitioners reporting on Real Work, and some remarkable creativity and breakthroughs of a sort that don’t commonly show up in the six o’clock news.

Am I gushing? Well, yes, I guess I am — not something I usually do about conferences — because there’s something uniquely valuable in both the depth and diversity of the program Bioneers gathers. I enjoy it, and suspect some of you may too.

The lineup this year includes Stuart Cowan, Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and William McDonough on “natural design”; Dr. Jeffrey Bland, Katsi Cook, John Robbins and others on botanical and integrative medicine; Andrew Kimbrell and Margaret Mello on the “gene rush” and genetic engineering in agriculture, and John Mohawk and Gary Nabhan with a counterpoint on biological and cultural diversity; Theodore Roszak, on eco-psychology; Paula Gunn Allen, Susan Griffin, Elisabet Satouris, Starhawk exploring “Restoring the Feminine;” as well as theater and music from Kaiulani Lee, Kirsten Wilson and others. (You also get an impressive and eclectic offering of books, foods and stimulation from Gaia Bookstore and other vendors.)

Sound a bit “California” to you? It definitely is. (Of course Silicon Valley once sounded a bit California to some folks, but who cares if you’re the motive force for the world economy?) Yes, you’ll see more tie dye and organic burritos than you’ve seen in a long time. But you know what? You’ll probably enjoy yourself, and you might just come away more affected by a conference than you have been in years.

The Bioneers Conference takes place each year. For more information see

(c) 1997 Gil Friend. All rights reserved.

New Bottom Line is published periodically by Natural Logic, offering decision support software and strategic consulting that help companies and communities prosper by embedding the laws of nature at the heart of enterprise.

Gil Friend, systems ecologist and business strategist, is President and CEO of Natural Logic, Inc.

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