Creating A More Sustainable Trade Show Industry

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Since it came to light that the trade show industry is among the largest producers of waste  on the planet (second only to the construction industry), businesses and organizations around the event planning and management industry have been making efforts to reduce this footprint. It’s been a long time coming, but significant strides are now being made towards greater sustainability for exhibit display services and administration. One of the largest catalysts of this change has been the establishment and increasing adoption of standards for environmental sustainability.

Sustainability standards were created to facilitate the reduction of waste and carbon emissions in the context of events, including trade shows, expos and exhibition services. The first comprehensive standard to be established was the British standard BS 8901 which layout a sustainable management system not only for trade shows and large expos, but for event planning more generally. The standard was first published in November of 2007 and subsequently re-issued in 2009. It shared common management system principles and processes with international standards on Quality Management and Environmental Management (ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 respectively) which makes it much easier for organizations which already conform to those standards to adopt.

More recently, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) developed its own standard for sustainability, which is designed to be applied universally and efficiently. It is known as ISO 20121 which was “designed to address the management of improved sustainability throughout the entire event management cycle.” Large expos like the recent CES 2013 could massively reduce their carbon footprint and material waste by adhering to standards like this. Although CES touted various sustainability initiatives including recycling badges and some waste, the event did not adhere to the recent standard.

Some may say that it would be difficult or cost prohibitive to adhere to a sustainability standard like ISO 20121 for exhibition services and administration at large expos like CSE, but although there are certainly costs associated with ensuring greater sustainability, there are also benefits to be had in terms of efficiency and waste/energy reduction. And arguments that it is impossible to apply to larger events are moot after the 2012 London Olympics was one of the first events to be planned with the ISO 20121 standard in mind. It was independently certified as adhering to the standard by a third-party.

Although steps towards sustainability are always challenging if one is sincere and dedicated in the pursuit, event planners at the 2012 London Olympic Games are to be commended for this significant success. Hopefully trade shows will be next in line to follow the example.

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