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Sustainability as a Strategic Advantage

Marie Browne
IAEE Chairperson Marie Browne discusses the increased awareness among the industry for creating more sustainable exhibitions and events, and why it matters.

Editorial Note: Originally published in the April 2024 issue of Trade Show Executive magazine.

As we celebrate Earth Day this month, I can’t help but think about how the trade show industry is advancing in the area of sustainability. As we continue to see the effects of climate change, it becomes more important than ever that trade shows – as well as the vendors and venues that serve them – implement sustainable business practices. Our industry must take a united approach to meaningfully impact our environment and society.

We are a work in progress, but we do understand that embracing sustainability is important to the long-term viability and relevance of trade shows. Consumers, businesses and stakeholders are increasingly prioritizing sustainability in their decision-making processes. Case in point: it is no secret that young professionals – the largest segment of today’s workforce – view sustainability not just as an important aspect of business operations, but also as a core value that aligns with their personal beliefs and aspirations.

Incorporating sustainable principles allows stakeholders to enhance their reputation by differentiating themselves as industry leaders which, in turn, can serve to attract a wider audience to their shows, venues, events, etc. We need to think of sustainability as a business tactic that drives innovation, growth and competitiveness rather than a side note to our strategic blueprint.

Implementing sustainable business practices can help show organizers lower their operating costs and improve their bottom line by reducing energy and water consumption, minimizing waste generation, and optimizing resource utilization. There is a certain amount of investment on the front end of establishing these practices. However, the return on investment in the long run contributes to a more resilient business model because of its efficiency. The process invokes the old adage, “you’ve got to spend money to make money.”

The truth is that sustainability plays a significant role in our social responsibility as an industry. Trade shows are known for their large carbon footprint due to transportation, energy consumption, waste generation and other factors. By adopting sustainable practices, we can minimize our environmental impact, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserve natural resources.

And the opportunities are there to be the change we want to see.

IAEE is proud to have achieved its Silver Level Certification in the Events Industry Council’s Sustainable Event Standards for Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition 2023. These requirements were created by the EIC in partnership with industry professionals and leading sustainability practitioners to provide event planners and suppliers with prescriptive actions for producing and delivering sustainable events. Expo! Expo! earned bronze status in 2022 and worked diligently to reach new heights last year. I recommend show organizers join us in making their events certifiably sustainable by adding this certification to their shows.

My company, RX, is proud to be a founding member of the Net Zero Carbon Events pledge, a global collaboration which was launched by the events industry in November 2021 at COP 26 in Glasgow to address the urgent need to limit global warming beyond 1.5 degrees. This pledge commits all signatories to reach net zero by 2050 at the latest and to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. There is no better, single initiative to unite the trade show industry towards more sustainable events. Net Zero Carbon Events brings organizers, venues, associations and contractors together to collaborate on a pathway to reduced emissions. Please consider becoming a signatory if you are not already.

Our parent company, RELX, has made it a priority to reduce its environmental footprint. In 2021, it signed up to The Climate Pledge, which commits us to reach net zero no later than 2040.

I encourage executive leaders to take actions that empower others to make informed decisions and adopt practices that drive a more sustainable – and, ultimately, prosperous – future for our industry.

Marie Browne
2024 IAEE Chairperson
Group Vice President

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