Commercial real estate and sustainability are two very popular topic areas for industry conferences. There are dozens of potential conference opportunities that in some way address the intersection of commercial real estate, retail, environmental sustainability, energy, clean technology, and the like.

At Kimco, we try to attend a handful of these events each year, but with the broad array of options we tend to focus on those conferences that offer the best ROI on time and money spent.

The International Council of Shopping Center's (ICSC) RetailGreen Conference was one of the events we chose to attend at the end of last year. After returning from Phoenix, and having had some time to reflect, I can say this was one of the better conferences we attended in 2012. Here are three reasons why.

Opportunity to engage with tenants and business partners

All conferences provide some networking opportunity, but not all conferences are attended by the people with whom you most want to network. RetailGreen 2012 brought together a healthy mix of leading owners, national retailers, product vendors, and service providers. We spent more than half of our time in Phoenix meeting one-on-one with existing or potential future Kimco partners.

Beyond these one-on-one meetings, we also had an opportunity to participate in a Landlord-Tenant dialogue sponsored by ICSC and the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA). Over the past two years, ICSC and RILA have held a series of these roundtable events that bring together large landlords and national retailers to discuss solutions to common sustainability challenges.

This meeting was one of the best attended thus far, with many new landlord and tenant faces at the table. In addition to networking, we had an opportunity to speak in detail about ongoing "green leasing" work and potential waste/recycling pilots being advanced by member companies, including Kimco.

Solid panel sessions with real practitioners

Many conferences have migrated toward a moderated panel format for breakout sessions. The panel format is more engaging than canned presentations from individuals, and allows for an interview-like atmosphere as well as dynamic audience Q&A with the panelists.

The 2012 RetailGreen conference relied largely on the moderated panel format. It was clear from the sessions we attended that significant planning went into choosing panel topics, panelists, and road maps for each discussion. We left each panel with relevant information on programs, technologies, and barriers to implementation. Although it seems obvious that this would be a priority for all conference organizers, too many today don't invest the advance time in planning solid programming.

For example, Tuesday's session on "Managing Your Energy Supply" brought together a great mix of panelists representing tenants (Target), landlords (General Growth Properties) and service providers (Reliable Power Alternatives). Each panelist brought unique hands-on insights to the discussion from their daily roles, and Mark Peternell from Regency Centers did an excellent job of facilitating.

A casual atmosphere conducive to learning

Michael Greeby from The Greeby Companies and Jeff Nash from General Growth Properties were the conference co-chairs, and set the tone by kicking off the keynote session with a rendition of “Gangnam Style.” Really? Yes … really. Here are two industry leaders who know the importance of not taking themselves too seriously.

The conference as a whole struck the right mix of formal and casual from the interactive format of the break-out sessions to other details, such as the hotel venue and the decision to co-locate all meals in the vendor/exhibitor hall. ICSC puts on quite a few conferences each year, and the experience shows.

All in all, RetailGreen 2012 was a successful conference, and was time well spent. We look forward to hearing more details as preparation for RetailGreen 2013 begins to come together. We plan on attending, and hope to see you there as well.