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I want to avoid “greenwashing,” so I’m looking for good information resources to help my events team go Green. Can you recommend any certifications that we should follow?
 
This is a great question. Think back just a few short years to 2007 and 2008 and you’ll see why.

In the years before the Great Recession, public interest in sustainability was peaking. Exhibitor published “An Inconvenient Booth” and launched this online column, APEX began working on Green meeting standards, and the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association (EDPA) compiled a directory of sustainable materials.

It was an exciting time because there was so much energy around going Green. Think of those years as Phase 1—we were just getting started and there was a whole lot more energy than knowledge. A great many exhibitors and industry suppliers were experimenting and it was easy to get caught in blind alleys.

Times Are Changing

While the Great Recession turned our attention elsewhere, something big was happening inside corporate America. Chief Financial Offers were pulling the Green mantle away from marketers. Concerned about rising costs for energy and natural resources, and about disruptions from costly natural disasters, CFOs started seeing Green in pragmatic, operational terms.

Their focus brought your question into focus because you build a solid business case for sustainability on urban myths. You need facts.

For example, the first scientific study of food-related carbon pollution stated, “We find that although food is transported long distances in general . . . the GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions associated with food are dominated by the production phase, contributing 83 percent of the average U.S. household’s . . . footprint for food consumption.”

In other words, the popular focus on local foods only addresses 11 percent of the problem. The authors of the study advised that choosing different foods would make more sense. This why backing good intentions with hard data is so important.

Phase 2: From Myths to Measurement

But gathering data has largely been the responsibility of individual exhibitors. Those who are willing can adopt an Environmental Management System (EMS), such as ISO 14000, ISO 20121 or the new APEX/ASTM standards.

The good news is that these systems really work, albeit at significant cost. An EMS won’t tell you which choices to make. Rather, it will create a system for measuring where you stand, setting priorities, implementing corrective actions and documenting the results. Every company I know that uses an EMS has a Director of Sustainability on staff to help managers, plus outside consultants to assist with the metrics.

Measurement for Everyone

Clearly, the EMS route isn’t for everybody. Another approach is to rely on the measurements, guidelines and certifications that other organizations have already put together. This approach might not be perfect, but if you embrace these certifications across the board you can rest assured that you are moving in the right direction based on real results.

Here are a few Green certifications to look for.
• SmartWay Transportation Partnership — an EPA partnership with the transportation industry that reduces pollution and improves energy efficiency
• Green Label Plus® — a certification by the Carpet and Rug Institute that improves indoor air quality by minimizing emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
• Sustainable Forest Products — certifications by the Forest Stewardship Council, American Tree Farm System and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative are designed to preserve forest ecosystems and support healthy local communities
• Sustainable Green Printer® — certifies that a printing facility has adopted an environmental management system and taken steps to reduce its footprint by using Greener processes and materials
• Green Meetings Industry Council — establishes an international community of hotels and hospitality venues that are operate more sustainably
• Energy Star — a joint program of the EPA and U.S. Department of Energy that identifies products that achieve best-in-class efficiency
• USDA Organic — this familiar moniker specifies agricultural products that actually promote healthy ecosystems and reduce pollution

Choosing certified suppliers and products is a good step toward a sustainable corporate events program. You can put them to work—and take another step—by adopting the Greenbuild Mandatory Exhibition Green Guidelines.

The Greenbuild show is sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council, which established the LEED standards for sustainability buildings. Greenbuild publishes these excellent guidelines to help exhibitors think about going Green in a more comprehensive way.

Many of your fellow exhibitors are still chasing the elusive Green exhibit program. Perhaps we’ll get there in the years ahead. In the meantime, we can combine the good work being done by experts in various parts of our business.

Greenbuild: http://www.greenbuildexpo.org/Files/Greenbuild_Mandatory_Exhibition_Green_Guidelines.pdf





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Tom Bowman, president of Bowman Global Change in Signal Hill, CA, works with national institutions on climate change and sustainability communications and is a frequent speaker on improving public engagement in climate and energy issues. As a green business consultant, he advises companies on cost-effective sustainability actions and has won multiple awards for developing and implementing his own firm’s successful green business plan. tom@bowmanglobalchange.com
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