Signature Boston

Sustainability Initiative

As an industry, we have an opportunity to improve our efficiency, reputation, legacy and environmental impact through sustainable practices.

IAEE is partnering with the Events Industry Council to raise awareness and promote more sustainable exhibitions and reduce the carbon footprint of our industry.

Creating Sustainable Exhibitions

IAEE, in collaboration with the Centre for Sustainability and Social Impact, an initiative of the Events Industry Council, recommends the following guiding principles for sustainable exhibitions:

Minimize carbon emissions with a sustainable freight, shipping and transportation strategy.
With a significant amount of an exhibition’s carbon footprint coming from transportation, this is an important focus. Fortunately, there are several easy ways to do this. In North America, select SmartWay partners and affiliates. These companies have partnered with the US EPA to reduce their carbon emissions. Other best practices include shipping show-to-show, minimizing empty space in trucks, opting for vehicles that use renewable energy and adopting no-idling policies.

Focus on materials resource management.
Materials resource management is a comprehensive approach that goes beyond landfill diversion. It begins with using less, making the best choices of materials and life-cycle planning. From there, it moves to reusing, donating and upcyling, and finally to recycling and composting. For more information on each of these steps, see this waste management how-to-guide from Centre for Sustainability and Social Impact.

Select suppliers and partners with sustainable practices, policies and infrastructure.
By far the easiest way to make your exhibition more sustainable is to work with partners with existing infrastructure (such as renewable energy sources, recycling, donation and composting practices, energy efficient lighting and equipment, etc.) and a commitment to sustainability.

Develop policies for your exhibitors and vendors.
Exhibitors and vendors (such as concession operators), play an important part in helping an exhibition to achieve sustainability goals. Developing policies and verifying compliance during the show will amplify your impact. Policies may include materials that are to be used (such as electronic promotional materials, and recyclable or reusable signage), materials to be avoided (such as styrofoam), or participation in post-show donation programs.

Ensure that your exhibition is accessible.
Selecting accessible venues and ensuring that the show floor is barrier-free will help you to not only meet legal requirements, it will improve your reputation and increase your potential audience.

Adopt a sustainable food & beverage policy.
Confirm that food choices and service ware available for your exhibitors and attendees will meet a wide range of dietary needs and meet environmental objectives. For specific guidance, read Easy Ways to Shrink Your Event’s Food Waste Footprint from Centre for Sustainability and Social Impact.

Measure, report and share your story.
To successfully innovate, our industry needs ideas and best practices to be shared. We encourage you to measure your results, and share your successes and future opportunities with your stakeholders and our industry community

Finding the Future, Together

Towards a more sustainable B2B trade show industry in the U.S. and Canada

The global exhibitions industry delivers enormous social and economic benefits. It’s an essential engine for connection, trade, learning, and employment creating millions of jobs and billions in economic activity worldwide.

Like all industries, we are working towards being a more sustainable, low-carbon industry – but we recognize we need to do more, faster, and we wanted to understand in more detail where the real areas for focus should be.

Leading businesses and stakeholders from across the industry have sponsored a three-year independent research project to gather authoritative baseline data on, and analysis of, the current environmental impact of the US and Canadian B2B trade show industry.

This report – produced by independent researchers Little Blue Research and A Bird’s Eye View and overseen by a task force made up of representatives from more than a dozen of the leading businesses and associations in the sector – summarizes the research’s insights. The report identifies six areas of greatest ‘Material Impact,’ quantifying each impact, highlighting the progress already made to reduce that impact and looking towards ways of further reducing the impact in the future.

  • Carbon emissions from participant travel
  • Carbon emissions from venues
  • Carbon emissions from logistics
  • Material waste from venues
  • Waste from GSC warehouses
  • Booth materials

The report highlights the many good sustainability practices already in use by many of the industry’s key players – associations, venues, organizers, and service providers, such as:

  • Venues and organizers working together to encourage exhibitors to create highly reusable ‘pipe and drape’ booths and to construct custom booths from reusable and easily recycled materials, as well as to specify use of recyclable and reusable materials throughout venues for e.g. carpeting and signage.
  • Organizers and venues agreeing energy management plans to optimize the use of lighting, heating, and cooling before during and after the event is taking place; venues installing solar power arrays to provide a source of renewable energy.
  • Innovating to enable, complex booth structures to be made from reusable and 100% recyclable materials which are also lighter and so produce lower carbon emissions from their transportation.
  • Recommending more sustainable travel options to event participants, and offering high-quality carbon offsets to attendees as part of the registration process.

The report also sets out a high-level roadmap for change covering 30 ‘quick wins’ and longer-term actions the industry can take to move towards a more sustainable future.

But the report – and the research it summarizes – is primarily designed to provide the data and analytical bases on which the industry can confidently establish priorities for action and develop sustainability policies.

The report’s sponsors look forward to every industry organization joining them to help set actionable plans toward common sustainability goals through initiatives such as Net Zero Carbon Events Initiative and the EIC’s Centre for Sustainability and Social Impact.

Download the report here.


Did you know?

  • Travel to events by participants produces the largest environmental impact by a significant margin.
  • The events industry is already undertaking multiple initiatives with many stakeholder groups – visitors, exhibitors, venues, hotels, public transport providers, and host cities – working to reduce the environmental impact of travel.
  • However, there has to be recognition that travel is a fundamental part of how the trade show industry generates the vast positive economic and social value it contributes to society.
  • Events are the modern-day market square, providing a vital place where commercial communities come together to trade and purchase, build and renew relationships, to learn and to share information.
  • Our shared experience of COVID reinforced our innate understanding that face-to-face contact is a fundamental component of human relationships.
  • The task force has continued to recognize the power of the B2B trade show industry to convene people, create human connections and solve problems in an efficient way. There is growing evidence that B2B trade shows allow many goals to be accomplished during a single visit to a trade show. Further work is needed to quantify the long-held belief that trade shows can be consolidators of travel, allowing many meetings to be held in one place, but early studies by the global association for the exhibitions industry, UFI, have confirmed that the majority (>80%) of attendees to trade shows do report that they save travel time and money by attending.

Helpful Resources

Case Studies

  • ReFED 2022 Food Waste Summit (ReFED/MeetGreen)
    • The ReFED 2022 Food Waste Summit made an impact on their food waste goal by engaging the catering department, creative menu planning, and careful management of the food that was ordered for this event. This resulted in keeping the food waste under 30 lbs for this three day event.
  • IMEX America 2021 (IMEX America/MeetGreen)
    • The IMEX America 2021 sustainable event report is out now! Here’s what you’ll learn about:
      • How we achieved a zero-waste event rating
      • Sustainable food and carbon emissions menu coding
      • Industry standards benchmarking
  • Freeman and Cardinal Health – Style, sustainability, and savings (credit: Freeman/Cardinal Health)
  • USGBC Sustainability Case Studies (USGBC)
    • Leaders across the globe have made LEED the most widely used green building rating system in the world with 1.85 million square feet of construction space certifying every day. At the core of USGBC’s organizational mission is sustainability. Through LEED strategies, we help people build greener spaces that use less energy and water, improve air quality and reduce waste. LEED buildings emit 34% less carbon dioxide and use 25% less water than conventional buildings, on average.