Natural Products Expo Sets a Strong Example for Trade Show Sustainability
In an industry known for producing a substantial amount of waste, some trade shows are working to turn the tides by gradually adopting practices to reduce their environmental impact. Then there are other shows, such as Natural Products Expo East and West — the world’s largest natural products trade shows — that have been quietly driving the event sustainability movement long before “green” became a buzzword.
Held biannually at the Anaheim and Baltimore convention centers (NPE East will be moving to Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia in 2020), the NPE shows have incorporated sustainability to such an extent that it’s become part of the brand’s identity. In fact, the events were among the earliest adopters of environmental initiatives, with practices that have grown and evolved over the past three decades, says Lacey Gautier, natural products group show director at New Hope Network (a division of informa Markets, which produces the two shows).
“The natural products industry and sustainability go hand in hand,” Gautier says. “While Natural Products Expos have prioritized sustainability practices since the inaugural West event in 1981, we’ve had an official program in place since the mid-’90s that we’ve built upon and refined over the years to meet evolving challenges and growth.”
When NPE initially launched its sustainability program, it was primarily focused around reducing energy, water and carbon. Show organizers worked with environmental agencies to help measure and offset the electricity and water usage throughout the partner hotels and convention centers, as well as calculate the airfare impact of attendees and exhibitors.
“We’ve grown those features, and they still exist with the shows, but they’ve evolved with a much more extensive program and commitments from various sponsors, participants and partners,” Gautier says.
Sustainability is also a central feature of NPE’s venue and supplier RFP process. While the shows’ chosen venues each have extensive sustainability programs, the NPE team partners with the venues in an ongoing effort to push the green envelope and find new ways to make even greater impacts.
“We’ve worked with Anaheim in developing their sustainability programs,” Gautier says. “Their practices have helped us refine our program at large, and it was a central focus when we began the RFP process for NPE East.”
She continues, “We expect all of our partners to operate their businesses in a sustainable and respectful manner, and form new partnerships with organizations that prioritize this and can contribute in a positive way to our greater efforts.”
It can take a village to achieve meaningful event sustainability. At the East and West shows, planning and executing those ambitious efforts come down to tremendous collaboration between the NPE teams, host cities, convention center teams, catering and hotel partners, attendees and exhibitors.
To keep the shows moving in the right direction, NPE also works with event environmental consultancy firm Honeycomb Strategies. Behind the scenes, Founder Lindsay Arrell and New Hope/ informa Show Coordinator Ashley Scruggs lead the charge with NPE’s operations. They show teams how to create operational improvements and sustainability resources for attendees and exhibitors, including sustainability toolkits for West and East. Other operational initiatives Honeycomb has helped put in place include:
· Waste Management: implements bin systems, back-of-house sorting, waste ambassadors, and elimination of items that are out of alignment with NPE’s sustainability plan, such as straws and foam core
· Metrics Tracking: tracks and measures year-over-year data around waste diversion, donations and energy, water and carbon offsets
· Exhibitor Resources: provides sustainable exhibitor survey, booth porter services for composting and recycling, and sustainable booth packages
· Donation Programs: makes donations of left-over booth materials and food samples to local organizations
· Offsets: offers staff travel and venue offsets, and offset options for attendees and exhibitors at registration
· Sustainability Kiosk: provides attendees and exhibitors with information about NPE’s sustainability initiatives and examples of sustainability in action onsite
Honeycomb also helped NPE form the Expo Sustainability Task Force. This is designed to engage key stakeholders — including exhibiting brands, informa staff, vendors, venue partners and non-profits — while working to source new ideas, explore the feasibility of new sustainability initiatives and empower stakeholders, Gautier says.
“A major focus for both East and West is waste diversion, and that’s something that we’ve dedicated a lot of time and energy to over the past few years, including improvements in our on-site sorting practices,” Gautier explains. “We partner with UnitedService, Anaheim, Baltimore, Philadelphia as well as GES and various other participating partners to streamline those practices on-site. [This helps us] gain a deep understanding of where the waste is going and how we can most effectively sort it and compost or recycle it.”
Another key feature of NPE’s sustainability program is its exhibitor program, which places strict parameters on what exhibitors can bring to the show. In addition to incorporating more sustainable booth material options through GES, the program is also focusing more energy on encouraging change within the natural products industry itself. For example, brands making more environmentally friendly packaging choices are then celebrated at the shows via on-site promotional opportunities.
At the upcoming NPE East 2019, to be held Sept. 11-14 at Baltimore Convention Center, the show will not only be continuing and expanding upon its sustainable policies and efforts, but also working toward its long-term goal of eliminating single-use plastics by 2022. In addition, NPE will broaden its support of and two-year partnership with the Climate Collaborative, which works collaboratively with the natural products industry to reverse climate change.
Meanwhile, NPE’s sustainability team is looking ahead to an even greener future for the shows. According to Gautier, NPE will continue to build upon its existing partnerships and successes to up the green ante while challenging its host venues, suppliers and clients to invest more time and resources in moving toward a healthier ecosystem.
“Sustainability is a focus for the shows because we all must do our part in offsetting the impact events have on the environment, and with shows of our size, our awareness and efforts are critical and we have an opportunity to pave the way for others,” Gautier explains. “It’s important that every show organizer does what they can to prioritize sustainable practices, as events have a major impact on the environment and future health.”