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Thomas Schueneman headshot

Green Meetings: International Sustainability Standards for the Convention and Exhibition Industry

Like most readers of TriplePundit, I've attended enough trade shows and conventions to realize that, to a large extent, the main thing produced at these events is garbage.

In fact, in terms of industry size, the convention and trade show industry is among largest producers of waste, second only to the construction industry, generating 600,000 tons of garbage every year. It adds up quickly, all those unread brochures and useless plastic schwag destined for landfill. Each of the 60,000,000 million people worldwide that attend a consumer or industry trade show produces, on average, 20 pounds of garbage, totaling more than 1 billion pounds annually.

Under the weight of all the garbage, things are beginning to change. As sustainability issues become a core value for more companies, the convention industry that serves them is following suit.

Paper and plastic ephemera is the most obvious first line of attack on reducing that yearly billion-pound mountain of waste. White sheets and brochures for exhibitors' products and services are increasingly offered electronically while participants navigate their trade show experience with a mobile app built for the show - design and build one app or hand out 10,000 maps. The advantage is clear. Even the displays themselves are potentially greener with companies offering eco-friendly booths made from recycled material for purchase or rent.

Tying all these initial efforts together is a set of voluntary sustainability standards incorporated into APEX, or the Accepted Practices Exchange, an initiative of the Convention Industry Council (CIC). Earlier this year, ASTM International endorsed the APEX  Environmentally Sustainable Meeting Standards.

There are nine "sectors" at the core of the Sustainable Meeting Standards. These nine sectors encompass the entire footprint of a trade or consumer event:

  1. Transportation

  2. Onsite Office

  3. Meeting Venue

  4. Food & Beverage

  5. Exhibits

  6. Destinations

  7. Communications

  8. Accommodations

  9. Audio-Visual

Within each sector, eight impact areas are targeted:

  1. Staff and environmental policy

  2. Communications

  3. Waste

  4. Energy

  5. Air Quality

  6. Water

  7. Procurement

  8. Community Partners

This voluntary set of standards and targets areas was developed for APEX/CIC by the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC). In association with GMIC, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) provides an "Event Organizer's Supplement" to help enable event organizers a verifiable means of measuring and reporting sustainability performance.

It will take time and concerted effort to effectively reduce the enormous waste produced at trade shows and industry events. But the work done by APEX/CIC, ASTM International, the Green Meeting Industry Council and the Global Reporting Initiative is setting the course toward sustainable meetings, events, trade shows, and conventions.

And for attendees like you and me, just say no to the endless piles of paper and plastic junk. The real value of these events is information and networking - not trash.

Image credit: Women's International League for Peace and Freedom


Thomas Schueneman headshot

Tom is the founder, editor, and publisher of GlobalWarmingisReal.com and the TDS Environmental Media Network. He has been a contributor for Triple Pundit since 2007. Tom has also written for Slate, Earth911, the Pepsico Foundation, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, and many other sustainability-focused publications. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists

Read more stories by Thomas Schueneman