by Sarah J.F. Braley | December 19, 2013

When I found out that the U.S. Green Building Council's annual meeting, called Greenbuild, was going to be in nearby Philadelphia, I jumped in my Prius and drove south, so I could take a stroll through the sustainability group's green meeting and exhibition, which featured 739 exhibitors and about 22,000 attendees. On-site, I took a tour with Jenny Niemann, LEED AP, the program planner for the event; Cara Unterkofler, director of sustainable event programs for the Greenview planning firm; and Jeff Chase, vice president of sustainability for Freeman (he was previously interviewed for the Green Standard here). We met up in the registration area, a soaring hall with lots of natural lighting, where even more electricity was saved by turning off any overhead lighting and using backlights to draw attention to the registration desk.

My hosts had plenty to share about how Greenbuild works. Here are some tricks I learned while we hiked through the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

1. Take little steps. When you're beginning your show's sustainability journey, ease your exhibitors into the process, said Chase. Introduce green requirements over three years. "Don't go mandatory right away," he added.

2. Help exhibitors donate leftovers. Include a form in the exhibitor packet. Doing so helped Greenbuild donate 5,000 pounds of food and 12,000 pounds of materials after the 2012 show in San Francisco.

3. Make going green fun for the exhibitors. Make it voluntary, but create a recognition program that will be meaningful to them. "People love awards," said Unterkofler. Recognition at Greenbuild included Most Innovative and Smallest Environmental Impact.

4. Source locally for logoed items. Niemann said the USGBC filled the on-site store with items like T-shirts made from North Carolina cotton and logoed coffee cups made in New Jersey.

5. Showcase what you're doing. Throughout the exhibition floor, signs touted all the small and big things the organizers were doing to make the event sustainable, like recycling the carpeting.

6. Involve everybody. The USGBC assigns elements of the green process where it makes sense. The catering person sources local foods. The person who handles fulfillment sources sustainable bags. The person who handles all the speakers works to green the audiovisual process. They even have an energy-management guy, Joel Housman, solution architect, who essentially goes around turning stuff off (among lots of other tasks).

7. Manage the waste flow.
Greenbuild had more than just garbage and recycling containers; there was also a bin for compost, into which attendees could toss food scraps and liquids; napkins, paper towels and tissues; paper plates and cups; PCC clear cups; PCC utensils (made from cornstarch); paper take-out boxes and containers; tea bags, sugar packets and stir sticks; and milk cartons. Each container had its own colored bag to help the facility's workers keep the waste separated once it left the show floor. Disposal areas were kept locked to prevent contamination; only building employees were allowed to dump the materials.

8. Minimize printed programs. Unterkofler told of working with the Specialty Foods Association, where attendees had to scan their badges in order to receive the program. The organization discovered they had printed twice as much as they needed, as attendees were using the conference app and didn't need the book.

9. Try not to theme everything. Sign panels throughout Greenbuild were made of Falconboard, a high-quality cardboard Freeman is using to replace foam core, and careful thought went into whether each sign should be themed or not. One-time use — signs specific to the 2013 show and its venue — were "themed to the max," said Niemann. Any sign that could be brought to next year's event had only the USGBC logo on it.

10. Have an opt-out program for bags. Sure, the conference bags at Greenbuild were made of sustainable materials, but plenty of people decided not to take one at all.