Graphic illustrating how Shepard is working towards a more sustainable events industry

Toward a More Sustainable Events Industry: A Call to Action this Earth Day 

By: Alexandra Coffey, Director of Brand Enablement & Sustainability, Shepard

This year’s Earth Day arrives on the heels of April’s solar eclipse, an awe-inspiring phenomenon that served as a powerful reminder – we all share this planet.  

When you stop to think about it, the events space, as a facilitator of connections and a platform for showcasing innovation, has a huge opportunity to drive positive environmental change through sustainable practices. And while events like trade shows provide undeniable social and economic benefits, we can’t overlook their environmental footprint. 

Surveys show that many stakeholders – from customers and attendees to employees and investors – care deeply about their environmental impact. And these groups are looking to event organizers and venues to deliver sustainable practices across the industry.

The good news is that awareness around sustainability is increasing. Three out of five event planners polled by PCMA last year said they were more intentional about designing events with green initiatives than they were before the pandemic. By taking a clear look at the events industry’s environmental impacts and some of the solutions being pioneered by leaders in this space, we can empower ourselves and each other to make progress.   

Read on to understand our collective environmental impact, see inspiring examples of sustainable events in action, and learn practical strategies to help make your organization’s events more sustainable! 

Understanding the Environmental Impact  

“What can we achieve together that we can’t achieve alone?”  

That was the animating question that brought together a task force of sustainability professionals and other leaders in the events sector in 2018. Shepard was a founding member of this task force, which included event organizers, venues, general service contractors (GSCs), associations and other partners across the industry’s value chain — all committed to solving sustainability challenges that require coordinated action.

In 2022, the task force published an in-depth analysis of the key environmental impacts¹ from U.S. and Canadian B2B trade shows – the first of its kind. The report’s key findings highlighted some major areas to focus on: 

  • Carbon emissions, with 85% coming from participant travel and the remainder from venues and shipping 
  • Waste generated at event venues and General Service Contractor (GSC) production warehouses 
  • The full lifecycle impacts of exhibit booths, from material sourcing to construction, transport, and disposal 

This research gives us a clear baseline to build smart, achievable sustainability strategies moving forward.

Magnitude of environmental impacts relative to industry influence, as ranked by task force members

Magnitude of environmental impacts relative to industry influence, as ranked by task force members

Partnering with Clients on Sustainable Solutions  

As an event partner and GSC, Shepard is uniquely positioned to play a role in educating clients on sustainable best practices. For events where reducing environmental impact is a priority, we collaborate closely to put strategies in action, such as: 

  • Suggesting venues with robust sustainability commitments 
  • Leveraging digital signage over paper signage through our AV services 
  • Reducing plastic waste through water refilling stations 
  • Educating on renting vs. custom builds for exhibitor booths 
  • Tapping nonprofit partners that accept donated leftover materials 
  • Advising on carbon offset programs 

Sustainable Solutions in Action: Associations and Events Doing Good Work 

While there’s still a lot of work to be done, many organizations have already adopted sustainable initiatives that can inspire the industry. 

PCMA went all-in on sustainability at their Convening Leaders ’24, producing an event that met the Event Industry Council’s standard for sustainable and socially impactful events. CL24 was a genuine showcase of sustainable practices, complete with locally-sourced menus, reusable serviceware, meticulous waste planning, recyclable signage, and sustainability guides for vendors.  

As one of the event’s official sponsors, Shepard did our part by providing a hydration station with reusable bottles by Fill It Forward, an organization dedicated to diverting single-use plastic bottles from oceans and landfills. 

CL24 also made community impacts by diverting exhibit waste materials to Habitat for Humanity and supporting local food relief programs in host city San Diego. 

Shepard takes pride in producing sustainable events for associations like International Telecoms Week (ITW), Professional Photographers of America (Imaging USA), and Printing United, who are making impressive strides of their own: 

ITW held their 2023 event at Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, an energy-efficient venue that produces 90% of its own energy onsite. The D.C.-adjacent resort gets extra sustainability kudos for its rooftop honeybee colonies! 

Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center has 10 hives and more than 350,000 honeybees on the roof of its convention center, up from 8 hives in 2017 when it began beekeeping.

As part of their Going Green initiative, ITW also planted 15,000 trees to offset travel emissions. This year they plan on reducing the number of flights booked by co-locating with Women in Tech D.C. at the same venue. 

The Professional Photographers of America’s Imaging USA event featured sustainable elements like recyclable signage, digital displays, a LEED-certified venue, comprehensive composting, and materials donations through their PPA Cares initiative

Printing United has also made strides, providing a Carbon Footprint Calculator for vendors to measure their impact. They also guide vendors on achieving SGP (Sustainable Green Printing Partnership) Certification, a rigorous sustainability credential for printing and packaging operations. (Shepard is SGP-certified.) 

What Shepard Is Doing 

Shepard is also committed to incorporating more sustainable practices across our operations: Initiatives we currently have in place include: 

  • Optimizing logistics to cut costs, fuel use, and pollution 
  • Offering rental and reuse programs for exhibit materials that extend the lifespan of exhibit materials 
  • Measuring the emissions Shepard is directly responsible for, such as shipping and exhibit production 
  • Partnering with suppliers and vendors who share our commitment to sustainable practices. 

We are also actively pursuing more sustainable material sources by: 

  • Prioritizing recyclable graphics over non-recyclable alternatives 
  • Providing 100% recyclable carpet options 

The Path Forward: Collaboration for Lasting Change  

Achieving true sustainability across the events industry won’t happen overnight – it’s an ongoing journey that requires collaboration throughout the entire ecosystem and allied sectors like travel and hospitality.  

That’s why we’re proud to support the industry-wide sustainability task force’s efforts, as well as other collaborative initiatives driving progress, such as Net Zero Carbon Events and EIC’s Centre for Sustainability and Social Impact. By sharing knowledge and working in unison, we can drive meaningful, sustainable progress for the events community – and the planet we all share.

An Empowering Vision this Earth Day  

On this Earth Day, we encourage everyone in the events community to raise their ambitions. Keep evaluating your impacts. Explore creative solutions. Most importantly, let’s empower each other by sharing knowledge and working together to uphold a sustainable way forward. 

If you’re interested in incorporating some of these sustainability initiatives in your next event, Shepard will be right there to make it happen. It’s all about taking those first steps towards lasting change!

References

  1. Finding the future, together: Towards a more sustainable B2B tradeshow industry in the U.S. and Canada

Alex is Director of Brand Enablement & Sustainability at Shepard