How to be a sustainable exhibitor

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From 17 to 21 January 2020, the Event Greening Forum hosted free event greening training in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, in association with Meetings Africa and Africa’s Travel Indaba exhibitor briefings.

The training was sponsored by South Africa National Convention Bureau as part of their strategy to promote sustainable event practices within the local MICE industry.

One of the training modules unpacked was what Meetings Africa exhibitors can do to improve their chances of winning a Green Stand Award at the show.

Meetings Africa is unique in that it only gives Green Stand Awards, instead of the typical Best Stand Awards, in a bold effort to motivate exhibitors to be more sustainable.

The presentation was delivered by Morwesi Ramonyai, who is an impact entrepreneur with 9 years’ experience in the green economy, and who has carried out eco-audits for Meetings Africa, and assisted with the judging of the show’s Green Stand Awards.

While her advice was specific to winning an award, it is fair to say that the principles and practices she shared apply to all exhibitors who would like to be more sustainable. Here they are.

Design a green stand
Ask your stand builder to design a re-usable stand, incorporating, for example:
Robust structure;
Modular design to adapt to different exhibition spaces;
Easy to pack and assemble;
Easy to transport. (Less is more – fewer walls or components helps with this.)
Following on from this – ensure that you do reuse it. Look after it. You may require occasional touch-ups, but the aim is to get the maximum use out of it.

Use sustainable materials
Build your stand out of materials that are sustainable, such as:
Locally sourced;
Made from renewable resources (e.g. bamboo, wood, paper);
Free of harmful chemicals (e.g. eco-friendly paints);
Can be easily re-purposed when the stand is no longer needed (e.g. raw wood) or recycled (e.g. Xanita board) or upcycled (e.g. fabric or vinyl graphics can be used to make shopping bags).

Green your operations
Reduce the amount of energy your stand requires:
Use energy efficient lighting and appliances (such as screens, fridges, etc.);
Avoid heavy energy-use appliances such as coffee machines.
Reduce the amount of waste your stand will produce:
Skip visitor gifts;
Don’t purchase anything with single-use plastics (such as bottled water);
Avoid having printed brochures and marketing materials and go digital. If you have to print – go smaller, and opt for recyclable paper and vegetable based inks.

Manage your transport
Have an efficient logistical plan:
Ensure your stand is compact, lightweight, and easy to transport;
Make arrangements for staff to lift share or use public transport;
Travel is usually the biggest contributor to an event’s carbon footprint, so you consider offsetting your travel-related greenhouse gas emissions. There are many organisations that can help you calculate your carbon footprint and offset it through the projects they work with.

Communicate your efforts
Make people aware of your sustainable efforts:
Teach your staff about what you are doing and why – this is critical to getting their buy-in for things like lift sharing, but also means they can tell your clients about it too;
Have accessible information on your stand, highlighting your company’s sustainability policy and what you are doing to live these principles.

Have a positive social legacy
Look for opportunities to have a positive social impact, throughout the exhibition process:
Prioritise local procurement;
Find a local charity to partner with – for example, to donate goods to or to make the benefactor of your carbon offset project.

Be innovative
Find other, unusual ways to be more sustainable. Offset your carbon footprint by purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates and planting trees, for example. Look at the sustainability problems and challenges you keep coming across at exhibitions, and find a way to solve them. Explore the benefits of new technology.