Trade Show Industry Task Force Develops Framework to Support a More Sustainable Future

September 20, 2022

On Sept. 14, a cross-industry task force of event industry stakeholders released a collaborative research report that identifies key focus areas to support the B2B trade show industry’s transition to a more sustainable and low-carbon economy.

The result of a two-year independent research program, the report, “Finding the Future, Together: Towards a More Sustainable B2B Trade Show Industry in the U.S. and Canada,” details the industry’s most significant environmental impacts and creates a data and knowledge foundation for decision-making, knowledge-sharing and action. It also showcases steps the industry has already taken to address those impacts and identifies 30 near- and long-term steps it needs to adopt to secure a sustainable future. 

“The B2B trade show industry delivers enormous social and economic benefits and is an essential engine for connection, knowledge transfer, trade, education and employment,” said Heather Farley, chair of the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO) Sustainability Committee and COO at Access Intelligence. “Like all industries, we know that our impact extends to the environment as well and that through working and partnering in a collaborative way, we can keep progressing towards a more sustainable, lower-carbon future.”

To support and inform these efforts, it was important to conduct authoritative independent research to evaluate the U.S. and Canadian B2B trade show industry’s biggest material environmental impacts, she added. 

These impacts are:

  • Carbon: Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from participant transport, particularly flights, as well as energy use at venues and logistics, focused on the shipping from the warehouses of general service contractors (GSC) to the venue.
  • Waste: Generated at venues (for example, showfloor and catering waste) and at GSC warehouses where many of the materials and booths are built and supplied.
  • Booth construction: Inclusive of booth materials (such as carpet), construction methods, transport, reuse and other variables.

The task force then explored 30 actions for industry-wide adoption that will help improve the industry’s collective sustainability. They include:

  • Transitioning to renewable electricity at all parts of the transportation supply chain.
  • Creating time-bound targets to reach net zero carbon and move to a more circular model by phasing out unsustainable materials.
  • Implementing industry-wide agreement on the design and material specifications of booths and commonly used equipment and materials.
  • Optimizing logistics, saving fuel, time and money, and reducing air pollution.
  • Collaborating with host cities and key partner industries, such as airlines and hotels, to transition to a lower-carbon transport system and reduce generated waste.
  • Investing in infrastructure to support waste recycling and energy efficiency.
  • Optimizing industry standards for sustainable design, data and metrics.

According to task force officials, the hope is that the report and its foundational research will help contribute in a significant way to other collaborative sustainability programs that support a transition to a net zero carbon, circular economy-led and more responsible events industry, including:  

The report consolidates and simplifies a series of internal research reports into the environmental impacts of the U.S. and Canadian B2B trade show industry, conducted by sustainability consultancy Little Blue Research with the support of strategic consultancy A Bird’s Eye View (referred to in the report as LBR). Their insights and evidence were supplemented by direct contributions from 40 industry stakeholders and by thousands of responses to two industry surveys conducted by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) and UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry. 

Created in 2018, the task force is an informal collaboration between 14 organizations from across the events sector including event organizers, venues, GSCs and associations. The task force’s sponsoring organizations and their nominated representatives include:

  • Ben Wielgus, Informa
  • Cathy Griffith, Emerald
  • Christian Druart, UFI
  • Courtney Muller, SISO Board Representative (left Nov 2020)
  • Heather Farley, SISO Board Representative (joined Nov 2020)
  • Helen Sheppard, RX (joined Nov 2021)
  • Katarina Tesarova, Sands
  • Kevin Bird, Shepard
  • Mariela McIlwraith, Events Industry Council
  • Marisa Heller, Freeman (joined July 2020)
  • Melinda Kendall, Freeman (left June 2020)
  • Nalan Emre, IMEX (left February 2022)
  • Nancy Drapeau, CEIR
  • Rita Ugianskis, SISO Board Representative (left Nov 2020)
  • Roger Lehner, IMEX (joined February 2022)
  • Scott Craighead, IAEE (left August 2022)
  • Sheila LeMaster, GES
  • Jyoti Chopra, MGM Resorts (joined 2021)

“We are passionate about building a sustainable future for the industry and helping the markets we serve embed sustainable practice into their own communities and activities,” said Charlie McCurdy, CEO of Informa Markets. “Through collaborative efforts, we have made great progress. And through the task force, we now have a platform to showcase emerging best practices and continue to innovate and evolve together. This is only the beginning, and we look forward to more industry stakeholders joining this effort.” 

SISO was the majority underwriter of this study. Download the full report here.

Task Force key findings


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