Despite commendable strides towards sustainability made by many of our largest conference and expo centers, there is a reluctance to address waste generation by event organizers and exhibitors. While many facilities offer recycling, it is merely a temporary solution. Reducing waste upstream is critical to reduce emissions and conserve resources. However, venues appear hesitant to request exhibitors consider reducing their energy consumption, using sustainable booth materials, and distributing less printed materials and plastic swag; perhaps they fear losing business. Consequently, their claims of being sustainable venues can come across as greenwashing to attendees who see no reduction in waste generation.
Exhibitor waste poses a significant challenge to sustainable venues as it not only increases the overall waste footprint but also undermines the efforts made by the venue to reduce its environmental impact.
Based on data from Emerald's Elastic Suite, it is estimated that approximately 184 billion double-sided catalogue pages are printed annually for B2B catalogues across 16 industries. As calculated by the EPN Paper Calculator) this amount of paper consumes 46 million trees annually, disrupting a land area more significant than the state of Rhode Island every year and using enough energy to power 67 million residential refrigerators for one year. The CO2 emissions equal to almost 4 million cars driven annually.
Exhibitors often distribute countless promotional materials, brochures, and flyers at events, most of which are in the trash after a glance. Additionally, exhibitors frequently use single-use plastics for giveaways or food and beverage services, further adding to the waste stream. North Americans throw out 1.6 billion single-use plastic pens annually (EPA). This excessive waste generation harms our environment and tarnishes the reputation of venues claiming to be sustainable.
It is praiseworthy that event venues take measures to minimize their environmental footprint. However, their responsibility goes beyond their actions. By disregarding exhibitors' waste generation, venues are inadvertently promoting greenwashing. Event venues can only honestly claim to be sustainable by holding organizers and exhibitors accountable for following sustainable guidelines and enforcing them.
One way venues can address this issue is by implementing a comprehensive waste management plan. This plan should include guidelines for exhibitors regarding sustainable practices, such as minimizing print materials, using eco-friendly packaging, and reducing single-use plastics. By actively promoting and enforcing waste generation guidelines, venues can create a culture of sustainability throughout the event industry.
Furthermore, venues have the opportunity to work together with exhibitors to come up with creative solutions for decreasing waste. One way to achieve this is by advocating for digital marketing and communication tactics instead of relying solely on printed materials. Moreover, venues can offer exhibitors the necessary resources and assistance to facilitate the implementation of sustainable practices.
Excessive print materials, single-use plastics, and packaging waste generated by exhibitors contribute to the staggering 1115 Metric tonnes of waste generated per venue on average (Green Venue Report on Waste in Convention Centres).
However, this fear-driven approach
perpetuates greenwashing and undermines the venue's credibility as an eco-friendly establishment.
It is important to note that sustainability and profitability are not mutually exclusive. Embracing sustainability can attract a new segment of environmentally conscious exhibitors and attendees who value eco-friendly practices. By taking a proactive stance on exhibitor waste, venues can position themselves as leaders in the industry and attract like-minded partners. Furthermore, venues can leverage their influence within the event industry to promote sustainability as a standard practice. By collaborating with industry associations and organizations, venues can advocate for sustainable guidelines and encourage exhibitors to adopt more environmentally friendly practices. This collective effort can bring about systemic change within the industry.
Enforcing eco-friendly guidelines for exhibitors at conference centres offers many benefits. These guidelines can lead to significant cost reduction through energy-efficient practices, resulting in lower energy bills, fewer waste disposal costs, and potential materials savings by promoting waste reduction. Implementing exhibitor sustainability guidelines can also improve the brand image of a venue, making it more attractive to organizers and attendees who prioritize sustainability. With the implementation of stricter environmental regulations in many regions, having these guidelines can help ensure compliance and avoid potential fines or penalties.
In addition to reducing energy consumption and waste production, implementing sustainability guidelines can positively impact our environment and boost employee morale and retention rates. Many staff members value working for organizations that prioritize sustainability. Businesses prioritizing sustainability may also be interested in sponsoring or partnering with conference centers that share their values. By implementing and enforcing these guidelines, conference centers have the potential to set a new industry standard, which could ultimately contribute to broader energy reduction and sustainability efforts across the industry.
One of the main reasons venues hesitate to address the issue of exhibitor waste is the fear of losing business. Many industry shows bring in significant revenue for venues, and they are reluctant to risk alienating exhibitors or organizers by imposing strict sustainability standards.
Educate and Communicate: Make exhibitors aware of the environmental impact of exhibitions and provide them with information about sustainable practices through pre-event communication or workshops.
Provide Guidelines: Establish clear guidelines for exhibitors on making their booths more sustainable, including suggestions for energy-efficient lighting, using recycled materials for booth construction, or minimizing single-use plastics.
Incentivize Sustainability: Introduce incentives like discounts on booth fees for exhibitors who adhere to sustainable practices. Alternatively, create a recognition or award system for the most sustainable exhibit.
Sustainable Materials Suppliers: Collaborate with vendors who supply eco-friendly materials for booth construction, making it easier for exhibitors to build sustainable booths.
Sustainable Marketing Suppliers: Partner with sustainable agencies who can help exhibitors reduce marketing waste through better targeting, CTAs and metrics. They should also be able to suggest sustainable swag options.
Encourage Less Printing: Promote digital alternatives to printed materials, such as apps that deliver digital brochures or catalogues while segmenting leads.
Exhibitor waste is a significant challenge that undermines the sustainability claims of event venues. By allowing excessive waste generation without consequences, venues perpetuate greenwashing and fail to live up to their potential as leaders in sustainability. However, venues can create genuinely sustainable events by taking a proactive stance, implementing comprehensive waste management plans, collaborating with exhibitors, and leveraging their influence within the industry. It is time for event venues to step up and address this hidden impact for a greener future.
Making conferences and exhibitions more sustainable can be a challenging task. Here are some strategies to encourage exhibitors to reduce their energy use, consider sustainable booth construction, and reduce their use of printed materials and single-use plastic swag:
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