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WI farmer leads sustainability panel at South by Southwest

Categories: WSMB, WSPPublished On: April 3, 20242.3 min read

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Photo courtesy of Joseph L. Murphy/United Soybean Board

To initiate change, it’s important to be a part of the conversation. 

That’s why Tony Mellenthin, who represents Wisconsin on the United Soybean Board, made his way to Austin, Texas, for the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference March 8-16. While there, Mellenthin moderated the “Script to screen: Advancing sustainable entertainment products” panel, which featured an up-close conversation with innovative pioneers who are working to increase sustainability in entertainment. 

“A lot of the discussion centered around using alternative products to build production sets,” said Mellenthin, who farms near Eau Galle. “But we also talked about how right here, right now, the first step is a drop-in replacement for diesel, like renewable diesel.” 

The panelists included Todd Holland of Directors Guild of America, Danica Vallone with Red Hen Industries and Ty Walker of Hartbeat. During the discussion, attendees learned about innovative approaches to balancing the imperatives to create engaging programming that is delivered on budget and on schedule while being environmentally friendly. The panelists showcased tangible steps that can be taken to incorporate sustainability into production, like using soy-based products. 

“Because we build worlds and tear them apart over and over in rapid succession, we are able to troubleshoot, problem-solve, iterate and ideate on new technologies and new methodologies faster than just about any industry,” Vallone said during the panel discussion, “so I think we are very uniquely poised to be able to steer the ship, lead the charge in this regard and I think we’re also morally obligated.” 

Founded in 1987, SXSW is an annual event for global professionals that features sessions, music and comedy showcases, film and television screenings, world-class exhibitions, professional development and networking opportunities, tech competitions and much more. SXSW “dedicates itself to helping creative people achieve their goals.” 

“SXSW wasn’t a vacation for anyone,” Mellenthin said. “You were there for the betterment of yourself and your organization and how you can collaborate with others. There is a ton of innovation happening there. I view it as a space that we have the opportunity to collaborate with the innovators who will help bring our innovations mainstream.” 

It may not have been a conference that Mellenthin was used to attending on behalf of soybean growers, but he was right where he needed to be to continue the sustainability conversation and push the needle for checkoff-supported, soy-based products. 

“First and foremost, it is important to be there because the individuals and organizations that are at South by Southwest – beyond who was on the panel – are seeking alternatives to make them more sustainable,” Mellenthin said. “Soy is not going to be a part of the conversation if we are not there physically talking about it.”