Green Interview: Sheila LeMaster of GES
Talk to Sheila LeMaster about the environmental movement in the trade show and events industry and it’s clear she has a passion for all things sustainable. As vice president of exhibitor services at Global Experience Specialists in Las Vegas, she is also one of the original members of the company’s Sustainability Council, which works to further the company’s green mission as well as encourage and assist its clients in adopting more earth-friendly practices during their events.
With more than 27 years in the trade show, conference and hospitality industry under her belt, LeMaster has helped produce shows such as the McDonalds Peak Experience, Computer Associates Annual Convention, CES, MAGIC, CONEXPO, MINEXPO, ICSC, IMEX, IMTS, Western Veterinary Conference and the NBA All Star Game, and is a proud member of the Green Meetings Industry Council.
I had a chance to sit down with LeMaster to hear about her work helping events go green and learn why this important industry movement means so much to her.
TSNN: Why is sustainability important to you personally and as an events industry professional?
LeMaster: Personally, it is the right thing to do for our environment. When you read some of these recent reports about global warming, it really starts to make you think what life will be like 50-100 years from now. Professionally, it is important to get out the message and tell the story that (one of the largest) trash producing industries can make a difference in the environment. Our Level 2 APEX/ASTM certification, which we achieved in 2015, is a testament to our customers and our business partners that GES is serious about sustainability.
TSNN: When and why did GES begin implementing green event services and form its Sustainability Team and what has been your role?
LeMaster: GES has had a sustainability focus since I started with the company back in 2007. I was formally at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino as their director of tradeshow operations/convention services, and I worked along their sustainability team as well for the convention center.
When I joined GES, they asked if I would like to participate in their sustainability mission and of course, I said yes. Our Sustainability Council is made up of a group of individuals from across the country who meet bi-weekly to review monthly city show sustainability reports, donations, come up with ways to continue to educate our employees on what we are doing as a company, as well as providing marketing information for our sales teams. We also maintain all documentation that is needed for recertification every two years for our APEX/ASTM certification.
TSNN: What are some of the “greenest” shows/exhibitors you’ve worked with in the recent past and what made them stand out above all the others?
LeMaster: I would have to say the Natural Products Expo West and East, as well as IMEX. Each one is very dynamically different in the ways that they work with us as their official services provider, as well as with the facility.
IMEX works closely throughout the year with the facility to ensure that not only their tradeshow is sustainable, but also other areas that surround their event. They print their graphics on sustainable products and use recycled carpet for their aisles. The Natural Products Expo goes as far as trying to maximize dumpster space, printing their graphics on sustainable materials, as well as providing composting stations for their exhibitor’s food waste.
TSNN: What kinds of environmental services is GES offering now that it didn’t when you first embarked upon this “green journey?”
LeMaster: The industry as a whole has evolved since I first started at GES. In the earlier years, providing a product on a sustainable material would cost more money and our customers were not interested. Overtime, these non-sustainable products now have a sustainable option and that is a win/win for everyone.
Ninety-seven percent of our carriers for GES Logistics are in the SmartWay Transport Program; we offer 100 percent recyclable plush carpet and 99 percent of our exhibitor show kits are provided electronically.
The most interesting offering that is oftentimes forgotten is the “repurpose” item. With the nature of our business, we have a “pack in and pack out” policy. That means everything we bring to the tradeshow location is brought back with us to our warehouses. You do not need to purchase a product that is made from recycled content to be sustainable, but rather avoid shipping items across the country and use a “repurposed” item.
TSNN: The greening of meetings and events has been a growing industry issue for more than a decade now. Where are we now in this movement and what are you seeing with the events you help produce?
LeMaster: I think the movement is all in the messaging and education. We see the same customers keeping the sustainability mission year after year. It’s great that they have it as part of their mission, but we need to find ways to continue to generate awareness through all industry publications, blogs, social media posts, etc. and get more customers to find creative and sustainable ways to produce their shows. I do not believe it is limited to one industry, but society as a whole is not moving fast enough.
TSNN: Are you finding that more exhibitors are asking about green services or are you still seeing a disconnect?
LeMaster: Typically, it’s the show organizer that expresses interest in sustainable options. They are looking at options to make their shows more sustainable and to help their exhibitors make sustainable choices, and one way they’re doing that is by marketing our products (to exhibitors) that are sustainable.
TSNN: For those shows that are still lagging behind when it comes to sustainability, how do you suggest they get started in convincing their stakeholders that greening their events is the right and responsible thing to do?
LeMaster: This starts with a true partnership on all fronts for the event. It not only is the customer and the official services provider, but also the facility and their recycling partners, and most importantly, those exhibiting and attending. The message needs to continue from start to finish advising them that becoming sustainable in your practices does not always cost more money to do so. Think of a creative sustainable solution by reusing, repurposing and recycling anything you possibly can.
TSNN: With the impacts of climate change starting to become apparent around the world, do you foresee the industry speeding up its environmental practices and if so, how do you think things will look in the next 5-10 years?
LeMaster: I think the industry will increase environmental practices, but like I mentioned before, the partnership needs to expand out to everyone and everywhere for us to make a difference in 5-10 years. My hope is that more show organizations and exhibitors will collaborate with their service providers and facilities to ensure they are sustainable through the entire event.