The complete guide to running a sustainable exhibition

Sustainable exhibitions are a hot topic in the events industry right now. In an era where carbon reduction is a key global focus, every single business and individual has a small part to play in doing all they can to minimise their impact on the environment.

Event planners and organisers are no different. In a technology-driven world where every action is visible due to smartphones, social media and rolling news, events are under more scrutiny than ever before. People aren’t afraid to call out organisers and exhibitors if they aren’t doing their bit to help. Improving sustainability across the global events industry is a key priority at the highest levels of power. 

Miguel Naranjo, Programme Officer of the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat, recently stated that “…the events industry has an enormous opportunity to ‘build back better’ as we seem to finally emerge from the pandemic. 

“Only through a renewed focus on sustainability will the industry ensure its continuity and demonstrate that it is doing its part in facing the biggest challenge of all – climate change. We encourage all stakeholders in the global events industry to renew their efforts to find effective, collaborative, urgent solutions for the climate and sustainability.”

But, if you’re an event organiser or planner, how do you make your conference, expo or exhibition more sustainable? What are the key things to consider to reduce your event’s carbon footprint without compromising on quality? Here, we share our thoughts.

Why sustainable events matter

In this day and age, every industry has a responsibility to do all it can to mitigate its environmental impact. The events sector is no different.

The figures about the impact even small to mid-sized events have on the environment are stark. 

According to research, an average conference delegate will create more than 170kg of CO2 emissions per day. And a three-day expo for 1,000 guests will generate more than five tonnes of waste, more than 50% of which will go straight into landfill.

Transport and technology, waste management, air quality, energy efficiency and water conservation are all significant considerations when it comes to planning a sustainable event.

The challenge for event organisers is how to get to grips with it all and make the right decisions. Knowing how to plan a sustainable exhibition is an essential skill.

You might be passionate about helping the environment yourself (and if you’re not, why not?), but you may also have exhibitors or guests asking you to boost your sustainability credentials. Either way, as an event planner or organiser, you have a key responsibility to do all you can to lower your event’s carbon footprint and mitigate its impact on the environment.

As with all things, making your event sustainable starts at the planning stage. The decisions you make here will impact every part of your event, so getting things right first time is essential.

Sustainable exhibition best practices

When it comes to planning a sustainable exhibition, every decision you make must have an environmental focus to minimise the event’s impact on the environment by using fewer resources and creating less waste. Here are a few things to bear in mind:

Reuse & recycle

As mentioned above, waste accounts for a significant part of an event’s environmental impact, so you should choose reusable materials wherever possible, especially when creating exhibition stands and other event spaces. Single-use exhibition stands produce a vast amount of waste and are challenging to dispose of. They mostly end up in landfill.

However, display systems such as Exhibit Cube provide the perfect solution by using UK-manufactured materials with recyclable tension fabric graphics to create a high-quality seamless finish that’s as close to zero waste as possible. Their cube design also makes for easy storage and transportation, and they are easier to assemble on-site, reducing the time workers need to be at the venue. 

There will, of course, be some materials that can’t be used again. In these cases, you should aim to use recyclable materials such as plastic, cardboard and paper wherever possible, rather than single-use or disposable items.

 Every little helps here. While collecting plastic name badge holders at the end of your event and creating recycling points may seem minor considerations, they can make a significant impact.

Use a sustainable venue

There are plenty of sustainable venues across the UK to help you create and deliver a green experience during your event or exhibition. Look for venues with an international sustainability accreditation, like ISO 20121. Certified sustainable venues have systems and processes in place to help you save power and water, minimise waste, provide sustainable catering and offset your event’s carbon emissions.

Work with sustainable event partners

Many stakeholders are involved in creating a successful sustainable exhibition, from suppliers and sponsors to venues and exhibitors, so choose your event partners wisely. Choosing suppliers who align with your values and share similar sustainability credentials will help ensure everything you do is environmentally friendly. Also, choosing event partners that are centrally located and within easy reach of most parts of the UK will help cut down on transportation costs and emissions.

Think about transport

Carbon emissions produced by transformation can have a huge and damaging impact on the environment, so try to keep these to a minimum wherever possible. As we mentioned above, selecting the right venues and event partners will help keep your emissions relating to creating the event – building and setting up equipment, exhibition stands etc and transporting them to and from the venue – to a minimum. However, ensuring your event delegates and exhibitors think about their own transport is also essential. Enabling group transportation wherever possible, laying on shuttle buses to and from the venue and encouraging delegates to find greener alternatives than cars will all help.

Go digital

One of the major benefits of digital technology is it removes the need for print. This means you can send out tickets and pre-event information by email and direct your delegates to a web portal to register. It also helps exhibitors cut down on the amount of printed materials they need to bring. Touch screen technology on stands and around venues cuts down on waste and production costs, and any information can be sent straight to delegates’ laptops or mobiles, meaning they don’t need to carry bulky brochures or leaflets around with them all day. The added bonus here is you can capture delegate contact details and see who’s opened emails or unsubscribed, which you can use to up your marketing game.

Green catering

Food into landfill is a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions, with one-third of food produced globally being wasted or lost. So, when it comes to catering for your event, try to be as sustainable as possible. Don’t over-order – try to estimate your catering requirements as accurately as possible, based on delegate numbers. This will also help you keep your costs down, which is a bonus. Use local caterers wherever possible to cut down on food miles – most venues will have an in-house team. Also, think about the impact of disposable consumables – single-use plastic plates, drinking straws, cutlery and coffee cups are all bad for the environment, so try to supply more sustainable alternatives. And ensure that any uneaten perishable food has been safely handled, so it can either be reused at future events or donated to homeless or food salvage charities.

Give Exhibit Interactive a call

If you’re planning an event or exhibition and want to make it more sustainable, Exhibit Interactive can help you deliver a memorable green experience to your exhibitors and delegates. From help and advice with planning and logistics to creating environmentally friendly exhibition stands which minimise waste, we can help. Give us a call on 01568 610522 or drop us a line at hello@exhibitinteractive.co.uk to see how.