Green Interview: Lacey Gautier of Natural Products Expo East and West

February 7, 2020

When Natural Products Expo Group Show Director Lacey Gautier joined New Hope Network (now a division of Informa Markets) more than eight years ago, the two natural products trade shows she now oversees had already established their fair share of extensive sustainability practices. In fact, Natural Products Expo East and West have been quietly reducing their environmental footprint since the early ’90s – long before event sustainability was in vogue. Since then, the show has built upon a strong foundation and expanded its sustainability program, an effort in which Gautier has played a key part. TSNN sat down with Gautier to learn how she and her team have been working to create the greenest shows possible, including implementing a single-use plastics ban

Which of NPE’s biggest sustainability initiatives are you most proud of?

With a show of our size and so much product being sampled and shipped in, having a zero-waste event isn’t entirely possible yet, but we’ve had networking functions within the larger show that are zero-waste, and that’s been exciting to help coordinate and witness. 

Through those zero-waste events, we’ve been able to build upon our partnerships with Aramark, Centerplate, GES and the cities of Baltimore, Philadelphia and Anaheim, and have seen true collaboration. For example, in Baltimore, we had a zero-waste breakfast for several thousand people that we were really proud of. Everything was either consumed or composted. We've been able to build upon [that success] to try to implement some of those practices throughout the show at large. 

Is zero waste possible on a trade show scale?

I think it’s possible, but it is challenging. If we could come together as an industry and look toward plastic and Styrofoam alternatives, we can work toward [zero-waste] being feasible for a very large trade show. It gets challenging with all the Visqueen, carpet and plastics involved, but there’s so much we could be doing collectively to reduce those materials, then work on eliminating them altogether and coming up with alternatives that allow us to achieve the same goals.

NPE East and West will be eliminating single-use plastics by 2022. How long has this initiative been in the works, and what kinds of challenges has this presented?

We’ve been discussing this going on three years now. Both shows have banned Foamcore, and we haven’t produced any Styrofoam signage in probably 15-20 years, but we’d see it pop up here and there through partners or exhibiting companies. We addressed it every time we’ve seen it [on-site] and then communicated an outright ban, so no one is able to order it through the general service contractor or any of the on-site services. In my opinion, there shouldn’t be Styrofoam anywhere at trade shows anymore, and we’re in a position as an industry to say we expect alternatives, because they do exist. 

[Regarding single-use plastics], we’re not allowing any of our hotel, restaurant or catering partners to provide plastic straws, stirrers or utensils, and that’s been the case for a couple of years now. We also expect compostable cups in serviceware at any function that doesn’t have reusable plates and cups. We work with partners including United Services, GES, Aramark, Centerplate, the city, the hotel and Honeycomb Strategies on the baseline expectations. We’re confident that our partners and team members will rally around this next step knowing that there is so much beyond single-use plastics that we’ll be working on. 

A lot of shows, venues and hotel brands have talked about eliminating single-use plastics. Why isn’t that as easy as it sounds? 

Part of our challenge as a society is our packaging, and that’s something we’re working to address with the natural products industry. We’re pursuing new initiatives to move the sustainable packaging movement forward by providing the industry with its first comprehensive resource. Through a series of collaborations and content pieces, we are striving to equip the natural products industry with the tools it needs to pursue innovative packaging solutions. So many vending machines, hotel services and travel accommodations use plastic, but we can all reduce the plastics we use while requesting alternatives from general service contractors and hotel partners.

That’s where our biggest opportunity lies: [in] encouraging our attendees and exhibitors to not rely on single-use plastics by, for example, traveling with a reusable coffee cup and water bottle. That’s what a lot of our efforts have been in recent years, providing exhibitor and attendee sustainability tips and guides, and encouraging them to become involved. The more people realize [how harmful plastics are to the environment], the more willing they’ll be to take advantage of various sustainability initiatives that so many other events are pursuing. 

What other new or expanded sustainability initiatives have you been working on?

Our shows are heavy sampling events, so one of the more recent ones is we’ve partnered with an organization that provides reusable sampling cups and washes them on-site. That was rolled out at Expo East in 2019 at the Harvest Festival, which is a smaller, outdoor tabletop event within the larger trade show.  

We’ve also dedicated time and resources to composting and recycling facilities, and ensuring that if we’re telling our attendees that the items they’re putting in a particular bin are being composted and recycled, that [that’s] exactly where they’re ending up. That’s been some exciting work, getting to know the municipalities, waste-sorting systems, facilities and processes so that we feel confident in our overall offsets and waste management systems.

Why does sustainability matter to you personally and as an events professional?

Sustainability and regenerative systems are critical to the continued health of our planet and generations to come. We must shift our mindsets and start taking the appropriate steps as a society to reduce our environmental impact and reverse the damage that we have allowed. As events professionals, we are in a unique position to not only improve our own industry practices around waste diversion, plastic alternatives, carbon offsets and community engagement, but also to engage the verticals we serve and provide resources and education to the millions of individuals that represent trades across the globe. With dedication and collaboration, I truly believe the trade show and events industry’s reach and impact are limitless.


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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.