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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