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Three Ways to Engage Vendors for Sustainability Success at Your Next Event

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Jeff Chase
Jeff Chase

Vice President, Sustainability

Sustainability is a hot topic when it comes to events. Everyone’s looking for ways to make a bigger impact at a show while making less of an impact on the earth.

Both long-term green goals and short-term small wins along the way are key for show organizers who want to make their events more environmentally and economically sustainable. But sustainability success is a team effort. It’s important for organizers to engage vendors — from facilities to waste management, food sourcing to logistics — to help reach their event’s sustainable goals.

We focused on this topic at a recent Freeman Thinking Thursday, which featured an expert panel that included Sara Patterson ofU.S. Green Building Council (USGBC); and Peter Shogren from Walter E. Washington Convention Center, host site for last year’s Greenbuild International Conference and Expo. They shared three ways that show organizers can work with vendors to maximize sustainability opportunities at every event.

Ask for It

You won’t know what is possible if you don’t ask, so make a point of reaching out to vendors to see how you can partner together to go green. Include sustainability expectations in your RFPs to gain an understanding of your vendors’ current practices, and share goals and solutions when on-site visits to facilities or calls with suppliers.

For example, most facilities offer standard recycling programs, but be sure to request advanced options, such as composting bins in public areas, to go the extra mile. After all, venues and vendors are in the business of exceeding expectations of event planner clients and their stakeholders.

Make Small Changes for Big Impact

It doesn’t take much effort to make a real change, and that was evident at Greenbuild in 2015. Shogren and Patterson shared how preparation for the event helped expedite the replacement of older waste bins at the center with new, cherry wood, 4-stream recycling stations. All bins, were set up the same way and with clear signage, making it easy to process everything from trash to compost to recyclable bottles and cans.

Another goal for USGBC is the sustainable sourcing of supplies and materials, and they work closely with Freeman to find the best options available. We used TableFlex, a non-vinyl, recyclable material, on all the tables at Greenbuild after doing three years of research. A few years earlier, we replaced styrene core graphics,  which are not recyclable, with a high-quality cardboard substrate called “honeycomb,” which is 100% recyclable.

Plan to Leave Something Behind

Sustainability isn’t just about recycling. Strategizing how materials can be donated for reuse by non-profit organizations can benefit not just the environment, but also the community. Bonus: it can help to strengthen community ties to the event, and help organizations reach their individual goals.

Take Greenbuild’s successful exhibitor donation program: last year, 7,330 pounds of building materials, flooring, cleaning supplies, insulation, batteries, and more were donated to support four local non-profits.

When planning a sustainable event, it is critical to engage — and sometimes even challenge — vendors, exhibitors, and attendees to help reach your sustainability goals. So look for the best ways to partner together to make a difference…and don’t forget to take time to celebrate the incremental success along the way.

For a free copy of the Greenbuild Sustainability Report and ideas on moving toward a zero waste event, stakeholder engagement, sustainability sourcing, performance tracking, greenhouse gas emissions and impacting communities, click here.

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