Green marketing conference brings faith-based speaker

Dr. Matthew Sleeth will be the keynote speaker of the University of Kentucky's green marketing conference on Dec. 3, 2010.
Dr. Matthew Sleeth will be the keynote speaker of the University of Kentucky's green marketing conference on Dec. 3, 2010.

The University of Kentucky's second green marketing conference is bringing in a headliner who might not be seen as your standard keynote speaker at an academic conference.

Matthew Sleeth was once an emergency room doctor but says he realized one day that he "felt like I was straightening deck chairs on the Titanic saving one patient at a time while the whole ship (the Earth) was going down."

He said he saw an increase in the number of diseases with roots in the environment, an environment he calls a "sea of chemicals."

Sleeth, who lives in Wilmore, resigned from his job, and he and his wife and two teenage children worked to dramatically cut their fossil-fuel consumption. He became a teacher and preacher about faith and the environment and has since written several books — Serve God and Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action, The Introduction to the Green Bible and The Gospel According to the Earth: Why the Good Book Is a Green Book.

"So much of this green approach to marketing and consumption is — I hate to use these words — thinking outside the box," said Bob Dahlstrom, the conference's organizer and director of UK's Von Allmen Center for Green Marketing. "Matthew's a guy who has had to do that. ...

"By getting someone from a very different perspective, I hope it really opens people's eyes to the ubiquity of the issue."

Dahlstrom, author of Green Marketing Management and director of the School of Management at UK's Gatton College of Business and Economics, noted that Sleeth brings a powerful message to the country because of the numerous churches that dot the landscape.

He said that as ministers graduate from seminaries, they take jobs that entail much more than just preaching and tending to the needs of their congregations. In essence, they become facility managers.

"These are some of the buildings with the greatest potential to be refurbished in a way that's good for the group and also good for the environment," Dahlstrom said.

Churches go green because it's the right thing to do for the environment, he said, but it's also good for their bottom lines.

"It's funny because that's often what we talk about for businesses," he said. "Yes, it's good for the environment, but it's also good for the bottom line.

"If it's not good for the bottom line, a lot of organizations wouldn't do that."

Sleeth echoed that view, saying that while faith isn't something usually looked for in the business community, it's exactly what's needed of business leaders who want to leave a lasting legacy.

The emerging field of green marketing is one that UK plans to continue exploring through a number of initiatives, including an existing MBA-level course and an undergraduate course that begins in the spring.

Also presenting at the conference will be Naresh Malhotra, a highly respected green marketing author and professor who will discuss using social media with marketing efforts.

"My generation doesn't think about this initially, but I watch my kids, and the way they do things are always through the computer or a hand-held device," Dahlstrom said.