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Everyone is greening and you can too. The Planner explores efforts being made in this regard and talks to the experts on how to best green your exhibition.

The world of exhibitions has always held appeal – from sheer size and variety, coupled with exquisite and eye-catching exhibition stands, to potential business prospects and networking opportunities that can be established as a result of being in the right place, at the right time and with the right people – exhibitions have proved to be an important platform for industry engagement.

It is a very exciting time for the exhibitions industry and while we may have understood the important role we play in being able to facilitate a day during which business can come together under one roof, the impact made is unfortunately not always a positive one, or even immediately obvious to anybody in attendance.

By their very nature, exhibitions are hugely resource-intensive; without careful management, they can be excessively wasteful; however, Dr Harold Goodwin – professor emeritus at the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University as well as managing director of the Responsible Tourism Partnership – says this presents us with a golden opportunity.

“Event organisers now have an excellent opportunity to engage both their clients and the attendees in the effort to achieve triple-bottom-line sustainability – South Africa needs to see all organisers raising their game and getting closer to the best; given that the best are securing business, it is difficult to argue that the burden of sustainability is a crippling one. On the contrary, sustainability can provide a commercial advantage and raise quality,” he says, with the triple bottom line, or 3BL, referring to the sustainability of the three Ps: planet, people and profit.

Picking up momentum

There is growing awareness within the exhibitions industry of the impact certain practices and processes can have. Grace Stead from Steadfast Greening is a prominent figure in the sphere of greening and sustainability. Through her consultancy, Steadfast Greening, Grace banded together with Justin Hawes, owner and managing director of Scan Display, to establish the Event Greening Forum (EGF), with the key objective of promoting sustainability within the exhibitions industry.  

Among its other areas of focus on greening and sustainability within the events industry as a whole, the EGF, along with other key players, is working to ensure that green stand adjudication not only becomes its own feature at each exhibition but also that the guidelines issued and recommendations made are followed.

“We encourage every exhibition that provides stand awards to include a category for green stand awards, or alternatively to ensure that sustainability criteria form a core part of the overall awards.  The EGF provides various educational opportunities to encourage change, while working with industry role players to encourage the use of more sustainable materials,” says Grace.

Green Stand Awards

The introduction of the adjudication of stands in particular has meant that businesses who are exhibiting can now be recognised for their work in the area of sustainability. It is hoped that this will further bolster and encourage greening and sustainability efforts, as has been done at the previous annual Meetings Africa events, in the form of the Green Stand Awards.

“We have tried to determine the key areas that need to be focused on to ensure that they are addressed through various mechanisms such as the Green Stand Awards. We encourage all exhibitions to adapt the criteria to their needs, but consider the 3BL approach,” says Grace.

The Awards first took place at Meetings Africa in 2016 and have made significant strides, with Meetings Africa 2019 being its greenest yet; with the assistance of the EGF, organisers were able to purchase renewable energy certificates. This took a load off the local grid supply and allowed the event to be powered using much cleaner and greener means.

“The easiest way to grasp the concept of greening lies in applying the following three words: reduce, reuse and recycle. Going green does not always mean cutting back on the good times. Green events still enable one to enjoy events, while being healthy and environmentally friendly at the same time,” highlights Justin.

Exciting times lie ahead for the future of the industry, and any change we hope to effect begins with each of us.