Cutting Down on Trade-Show Waste

How IMEX is tackling sustainability, and the lessons this offers for the industry.

With sustainability the third "pillar" of this year's IMEX Talking Point: Imagination, we're asking the global meetings and events industry to imagine, "What if we ALL really committed to cutting down waste?"
Our team has accumulated a vast store of knowledge, having worked toward zero-waste shows for several years, and our philosophy is to share what we learn. Close partnerships with MeetGreen, the Sands Expo and GES Events have enabled us to improve IMEX America's APEX/ASTM score (as tallied for environmentally sustainable meeting standards) every single year. We're now at 93 percent of APEX Level 1, with 93 percent of the show's waste diverted from landfill.
It used to be the case that choosing to go green was more expensive, meant lower quality and was more complex to manage. This is simply not the case now. Sustainable materials, food choices, suppliers and effective waste diversions are today not only viable, but also distinctly desirable. There really are no excuses anymore, and younger generations in particular are voting with their feet, their attention and their money to prove how much they want to save the planet.

There really are no excuses anymore, and younger generations in particular are voting with their feet, their attention and their money to prove how much they want to save the planet.

Some of our recent efforts at IMEX America (which will be held Sept. 10-12, 2019 at Sands Expo, Las Vegas) this year include:
• Launching a refill movement by asking exhibitors to order water coolers instead of single-use plastic bottles for their booths
• Promoting reusable cups and bottles
• Offering only compostable service ware
• A pledge to reduce single-use plastic, which has saved 9,500 plastic straws that, stacked end to end, would stretch 1.8 miles — or 17 times the height of the Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas!
You can take a look at more of our initiatives here:
1. IMEX's Plastic Pledge
2. What can YOU do to make IMEX America more sustainable?
3. What WE do to make IMEX America more sustainable

Sustainability and the Meetings Industry

How Can You Help?

How do you view sustainability? Do you automatically include it in your project-planning equation? Or is there an assumption that sustainability efforts are now so embedded in our industry that meeting professionals no longer ask their venues for them?
A research project commissioned in 2016 by the Green Meeting Industry Council — now part of the Event Industry Council — supports that last theory. The results of "Sustainable Meeting and Event Practices: The State of the Industry" indicated that buyers preferred not to ask specific questions on sustainability practices, but rather wanted suppliers to include information in their requests for proposal. Suppliers, on the other hand, said they generally waited to be asked before providing that information. So it's really important you include those key sustainability questions in your RFPs.
Here's a few suggestions to consider:

• Find out if there is a giving-back program in place to support the local community
• Consider placing water-refill stations and encouraging your participants to bring their own water bottles, or supply branded bottles as an incentive
• Include "water wise" options in your menu, and consider reducing or excluding beef (see more on this below)
• Is there a food-waste diversion in place? Check out Rock & Wrap It Up – Conference Wrap
• Request sustainable signage substitutes such as Falconboard, Pure Banner, Styrene and Bubble-X — and avoid vinyl signage (vinyl is plastic, after all)
• Find out if the venue/destination uses renewable energy in its operations. Messe Frankfurt, where IMEX in Frankfurt, Germany, takes place, uses 100 percent hydro power, for example. Read more about renewable energy here
• Look into a carbon-offset program or sponsorship. See some useful ideas here
• Consider additional recycling opportunities at the show site — divert badges, surplus supplies and signage to local organizations that will re-use them

Make an Impact Through F&B

Tracy Stuckrath, president and chief connecting officer of Thrive! Meetings & Events, notes that "planners spend about $50 billion on food and beverage in the U.S. Multiply that figure by 40 percent, and the resulting $21 billion is what we waste."
She adds, "If we can reduce the waste, we could probably end up feeding a large number of people who are food-insecure. Additionally, you can improve some other aspects of your meeting using the money saved from the unnecessary food and beverage that was ordered and wasted."
Here's an interesting statistic: A traditional cheeseburger uses 460 gallons of water to produce. At IMEX America, we offer a blended burger (half mushroom/half beef) that uses 50 percent less water, a huge saving of 230 gallons. This is part of the water-light menus at the show — all low-water options are highlighted with a water symbol. You can be sure you're contributing to sustainability efforts when you choose any of these options.
Stuckrath has these suggestions for minimizing your event's food and beverage waste:
• Check the history of previous events to evaluate any items offered that didn't get consumed

• Be mindful of guarantees — adjust for numbers according to arrival and departure times

• Check out the World Wildlife Fund's new platform, called, which includes WWF: Sustainability Works — the Future of the Buffet

• Be on the lookout for a 2019 sustainability-standards report from the Events Industry Council
We're also committed to encouraging sustainability throughout the industry. The IMEX-EIC Innovation in Sustainability Award, for example, celebrates those driving sustainability forward through innovation, collaboration and idea sharing. We've learnt so much already from previous winners — Carlson Rezidor and SMG Salt Lake: Salt Palace Convention Center & Mountain America Exposition Center.
Applications are due March 1, 2019, and we encourage everyone making milestones in sustainability to consider applying. For more information, see past winners and apply here.
The upshot: We can all learn from each other to expand and build on efforts to help ourselves, our resources and our planet.
Geraldine Gatehouse is the Western Region Marketing Consultant for IMEX America; she lives in Southern California, is a passionate believer in giving back and writes on a wide range of subjects.