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10,000 may attend Phoenix ‘green’ meeting

PHOENIX – They say big ideas come from light-bulb moments.

Chris Samila’s big idea began with a real light bulb.

Vacationing in Costa Rica early last year with a classmate from Arizona State University, Samila noticed homes and businesses using energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs.

“Chris couldn’t believe they had them but that we really didn’t,” said Lance Lamoreaux, who was with Samila on the trip.

That led Samila, a senior majoring in global studies and political science, to create a sustainability conference and exposition that drew 4,000 people at ASU last year and is expected to draw about 10,000 to the Phoenix Convention Center on Friday and Saturday.

The 2008 GreenSummit Expo and Conference offers a Green Innovations Expo on sustainable living and an Advancing Sustainability Conference sponsored by ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability.

It’s a huge undertaking for anyone, not to mention someone who is 23 and pursuing a college degree. But Samila said it’s important to help people learn how to live in a sustainable way.

“Everyone wants to do something, but they’re not sure where to start,” Samila said.

That had him at the convention center on recent weekday, sitting Indian-style in a chair and talking with a reporter before returning to the 200 e-mails that had accumulated on his BlackBerry in the past hour. Running something this big isn’t for everyone, he said.

“It’s incredibly stressful,” Samila said. “I would say it’s one of the top 20 hair-raising careers.”

It started as a student project, with Samila and others inviting companies to exhibit in tents on an ASU playing field. He freely admits that he had no clue what he was doing and thought the event would look good on his resume.

“We sat around and thought, ‘Solar panel – hey we need one of those,’ so we Googled ‘solar panel’ and called people,” he said, laughing.

But the companies came. And so did people interested in learning about sustainability.

“We had a few thousand people show up, and we knew we wanted to do it on a much larger scale,” Samila said.

Expanding GreenSummit has meant putting his education on hold; Samila said he isn’t taking classes this semester.

He has founded GreenSummit Inc., an event-management company that runs the event.

“In his mind, through Green Summit he has the power to make an everlasting change in the world,” said Lamoreaux, who has continued working with Samila on the event. “I’ve never seen anyone with that kind of passion.”

Carol Hughes, director of media relations and marketing for ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, worked with Samila on the first GreenSummit and said his energy helped make the event.

“He has so much enthusiasm and passion for what he’s doing,” Hughes said. “When reporters were in touch with him, all we had to do was get out of the way and the stories happened.”

Charles Redman, director ASU’s School of Sustainability, described Samila as “amazingly dedicated” and said GreenSummit is a good way to help people learn better ways to live.

“I believe that it will be events like the GreenSummit that get the word out, demonstrate the depth of interest in the private sector and help turn the ship around,” Redman said in an e-mail interview.

Samila is already looking ahead. He wants to expand GreenSummit around the country, starting with his home state of Georgia.

“I want this to go beyond someone saying, ‘Hey, go green,’ ” he said. “I want it to last.”

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