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Show stoppers

July 2 saw Liverpool-based events company, Evensis, beat off big name competition to win the environmental category in the Association of Exhibition Organisers (AEO) Excellence Awards 2004. Their win was not a reward for just lip service to green issues but recognition of the sustainability policy the company had developed in a serious bid to tackle the exhibition industrys appalling record in terms of waste.

The strive for sustainability began in May last year with the Public Sector Expo that took place at ExCeL in Londons Docklands. This was a specialist trade show run in conjunction with the Office of Government Commerce for more than 2,200 central and local government buyers. One of the themes of the show involved the Governments sustainability agenda and how buyers should take account of environmental issues as part of the procurement process. It was this that prompted Evensis managing director Richard Weston to think about the industrys shameful track record when it comes to waste. If you think about it, we put together a large collection of temporary structures, invite visitors to travel from all over the country and then a couple of days later tear the whole thing down again and throw it in the skip, he says.

Having made the decision to take a more responsible approach, Evensis approached its trade body the AEO, which had just completed a feasibility study entitled the Sustainable Exhibition Industry Project (SEXI). This assessed the amount of waste that is generated by the UK industry as 120,000 tonnes a year and costing £40,000,000 to dispose of. RWM has been involved since the inception of SEXI and its report was launched at RWM 2002. The RWM operations team continues to be actively involved with the SEXI project.

When we told them of our plans to create the UKs first sustainable exhibition they were keen to see how we got on and have since used us as an example for the rest of the industry, says Weston. We took the view that as organisers we should take responsibility for reducing the amount of waste emanating from our exhibitions. We can control what we build, the materials used and how much is reusable. And we can also exert pressure on our exhibitors to exercise similar control over what they build.

Weston says that beyond the waste issue, sustainability impacts on almost every area of running a show: how it is marketed, how much energy is used, giveaways, literature, travel and transport, and that their strategy looked at all of these. Having a strategy and an action plan forces you to question the way you do things and to find better alternatives, he says. It is very much like conducting a health and safety risk assessment in focussing your attention on activities that are normally taken for granted. For example we have for some years used biodegradable plastic carrier bags. It was only from talking to environmental experts that we realised that a reusable carrier bag is always a better option than a disposable one.

Evensis aim was to follow sustainable best practice as far as it is compatible with running a successful event that works for both visitors and exhibitors. Specific objectives included:

l To support the principle of improving the quality of economic growth

l To minimise the amount of waste emanating from the show

l To maximise the amount of waste recycled

l To minimise energy consumption and promote energy efficiency

l To minimise the environmental impact associated with travel/transport to the event

l To make the event carbon neutral

l To minimise the amount of waste associated with catering

l Ensure exhibitors follow the principles of the sustainability strategy

According to Weston the event was a great success with no adverse impact on the visitor experience or the look of the show. In addition, each of the sustainability objectives was achieved to some degree. For example, care was taken in sourcing materials such as the calico carrier bags that came from a fair t

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