In Part 1 of this two-part series, we talked about how exhibitors can build sustainable booths and be kinder to the environment. Now, let’s look at how trade-show/expo managers can help.
The simplest way to make a difference is with event signage, says Tom Bowman, founder of Los Angeles-based Bowman Change Inc. and the author of The Green Edge.
“You can create evergreen signage if you don’t date it and don’t list the cities,” he says, adding that attendees and exhibitors should already know what show they registered for and what city they’re in. “Reuse your substrates and layer new graphics on them over and over again until they’re too thick or too worn out to reuse.”
Identify sustainability stakeholders
Jeff Chase, vice president of sustainability at Canada-based Freeman Audio Visual, says it’s important to look at everyone involved in a show — from the convention center staff, general contractor, security providers and caterers to the exhibitors, attendees and AV providers — as sustainability stakeholders.
“Each one of these companies has their own goals and needs to drive profits, so it’s not very productive to think that [you] can find one entity and task them with sustainability,” Chase says. “This is really what it takes because everyone wants to play their part, if they know what those parts are.”
He suggests using the general contractor as a steppingstone to reach installation and dismantle companies and event organizers as steppingstones to exhibitors.
Chase cites Oracle OpenWorld as a good example. Its vendors all act as green task-force members and help shape the event’s five-year sustainability plan. “As event organizers, we plan our shows five years out. Just add sustainability to that conversation and how we’re going to work together as vendors, suppliers, facilities and organizers.”
Hold exhibitors accountable by making environmental regulations part of exhibition requirements. Bowman says the U.S. Green Building Council requires all its exhibitors to sign a contract with green guidelines. “Part of that is that you have to reuse your properties; you can’t deliver a single-use [booth],” he says. “USGBC conducts a 10 percent audit on the show floor.”
If they bring it in, make them take it out
Requiring exhibitors to pack out what they bring in is the No. 1 way trade-show managers can reduce expo waste, Chase says, especially if it’s a show with international exhibitors. “The mentality of people coming in from other countries is that they don’t have a lot of storage space. Their booths are built out of a one-time use material. They paint and fix them on-site, and when the show is over, they’re ready to tear them down and throw them in the dumpster.”
But, he says, people want an alternative to being wasteful. One option is to rent a booth from a local company. Another is to set up a floor donation and recycling initiative for your show.
At the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show, Chase asked a handful of automobile and electronics exhibitors whether their booths would be trashed, then asked if they’d be interested in donating instead.
From six exhibitors, he culled 22 trailer loads of materials for Habitat for Humanity. There was more interest, he says, but he had to stop because he’d reached the limit of what he could personally handle. “They were very excited to have an alternative to throwing it away,” he says. The interest inspired CES organizers to create a formal booth donation program for its 2015 show.
Ask about donations before you go
When you book a venue, ask if it has donation solutions and nonprofit partnerships. The Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, for example, gives exhibitors lists of charities open to post-show donations. The Las Vegas Sands Corp., disturbed by the amount of plastic sheeting discarded during booth load-ins, found a Nevada co-op that repurposes leftover materials. If no such programs exist, event organizers should consider becoming the go-to for solutions, Chase says.
Organizers also can minimize the environmental impact of their shows by encouraging exhibitors to think twice about who and how many people they send.
“Big companies I’ve worked with sometimes send up to 100 people,” Bowman says. “Half are only going for one or two meetings. The best thing you can do is question the value of each person who travels.”
Does a couple of appointments justify someone flying coast to coast, he asks, or can a local salesperson make those calls? By reducing the number of personnel sent to a show, you eliminate travel expenses and reduce your company’s carbon footprint.
When you do travel, try to fly nonstop. “Airplanes use much more fuel and create more pollution climbing to altitude than they do cruising,” Bowman says. “When you fly with connections, you go off-course, sometimes, by hundreds of miles. So as bad as the footprint is for flying, it’s smaller if you fly nonstop.”
Interested in hearing more sustainability solutions? View the video recap of Chase and Bowman’s #GMIC2014 conversation HERE.
Register for #GMIC2015 in Atlanta on June 17-19, where more cutting-edge ideas for sustainability at meetings and events industry will be discussed. Plan Your Meetings is a longtime media sponsor and GMIC supporter.