For Conventions and Trade Shows, Waste Not, Want Not

Annual meetings, trade shows and conventions are an excellent way for members to market their products or services and expand their networks. The downside is that bringing hundreds of people into one space for a period of time generates a considerable amount of waste.

A recent report by Washington-based Smash Hit Displays, which contained data from sources including Repurpose America, found that trade show and convention attendees generate approximately 600,000 tons of trash annually. Further, of the estimated 60 million people who attend trade shows each year, each person generates approximately 20 pounds of waste, resulting in more than 1 billion pounds of cumulative waste. The good news is that meeting planners, event attendees and exhibitors can adopt many easily implemented measures that will significantly reduce an event’s carbon footprint.

Take proactive steps to go green. Even before an event, associations can take measures to reduce or offset their carbon footprints. For example, Kimberly-Clark Professional calculates the carbon dioxide emissions generated by their employees’ travel to a show as well as shipping of trade show booths and promotional materials, among other things. Then it offsets that carbon footprint by donating to one of the reforestation carbon projects initiated by

At the convention level, Repurpose America is dedicated to showing event planners how they can repurpose trade show or convention materials to help better the environment. The organization recommends that planners donate old promotional materials and products to local schools and nonprofit groups, who can then use the materials for educational and fundraising activities. Materials from the International Association of Exhibitions & Events’ recent Expo! Expo! were repurposed this way, resulting in an art show involving at-risk youth.

Another example of how meeting planners are proactively helping protect the environment can be found at the Green Middle East Environmental Management & Technology Exhibition & Conference. The show promotes itself using electronic means instead of paper and urges attendees to minimize their carbon emissions when traveling to the show. It also advocates conserving energy and water, recycling show materials and applying other environmentally sound practices. The show utilizes state-of-the art waste disposal equipment including sweepers, mobile and static compactors, a waste transfer station and an underground waste collection system.

Reduce. Repurpose. Recycle. One of the simplest ideas for event managers and exhibitors to adopt sustainability practices is to promote events electronically—through the use of email, mobile marketing, QR codes, social media and websites—which eliminates the need for printed pieces. At the event, well-placed digital signage, video walls, plasma displays and kiosks are effective and environmentally friendly ways to inform and engage exhibitors and attendees.

Today, technology often replaces paper for pre-event marketing, on-the-floor communications and event follow-up. Digital document libraries, for example, allow exhibitors to deliver critical content on-demand, which can later be reviewed, downloaded to a USB drive and emailed to those who need it. Other ways planners can incorporate sustainable practices include:

• Booths constructed of recycled materials

• The use of energy-efficient lighting and appliances

• Offering green promotional items such as eco-friendly canvas bags

• Providing ample, well-publicized recycling stations throughout the venue and encouraging participants to use them

Follow the latest guidelines. Planners and exhibitors can take a stand regarding green practices with “Greenbuild Mandatory Exhibition Green Guidelines,” developed by the U.S. Green Building Council in conjunction with the Greenbuild International Conference & Expo.

By institutionalizing green practices and policies as part of any association’s trade show, convention and event-management strategy, meeting planners will be doing their part to help sustain the environment. These efforts are likely to be noticed by not only attendees and vendors but the host community as well, promoting a positive image and ideals for others to emulate.