What It Takes To Make IMEX America a Zero-Waste Event

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Skift Take

Minimizing the carbon footprint of a 12,000-attendee trade show requires long-term supplier partnerships and a willingness to deal with challenges at all levels.

Meeting Zero-Waste Event criteria is no easy task, particularly for an event with more than 12,000 participants. Of course, you can’t improve something if you don’t measure it. Therefore, reporting on sustainability criteria is key to following a path to net zero. With its latest IMEX America sustainability report, IMEX reinforces its commitment to its own net zero roadmap and the Net Zero Carbon Events industry initiative.

While sustainability and ESG reporting is increasingly common, IMEX started this process right from the event’s inception in 2011. What the report now measures and the report itself has changed dramatically. The reports reveal the results and offer a fascinating insight into IMEX and its partners’ efforts to minimize its carbon footprint.

Achieving Zero Waste

MeetGreen is the report’s author and IMEX’s long-time sustainability consultant. It defines a Zero-Waste event as an event that keeps 90% or more of waste away from landfills. In other words, events that reuse, recycle, compost, donate, or otherwise divert 90% or more of their waste away from the trash are zero-waste events.

Following this rationale, IMEX America’s 2022 edition diverted 92% of its waste from landfills. This is not the event’s best result, it achieved higher marks in 2018 (93%), 2019 (94%) and 2021 (95%). The average since 2012 sits at a respectable 86%. 

Based on overall results, IMEX America 2022 received Meet Green’s highest level of achievement, a Sustainable Event Visionary. Meet Green describes a visionary event as one​​ that “leads within their own industry, prioritizes measurement and works to move the sustainability dial. Researches and develops new initiatives to improve environmental performance and uses the organization’s buying power to drive change with venues and vendors.”

Key Partnerships

The results are impressive, and the details of achieving this are fascinating. Partnerships are crucial to be able to measure and track sustainability efforts. One key supplier is the host, Mandalay Bay Convention Center, and parent company MGM Resorts. IMEX shares some of the details involved and how it benefits from the venue’s investment in solar power, which already accounts for 30% of the electric power used at the event. Other key suppliers are GES, PRA, Show Gear, Spring Valley Floral, and HADCO Staffing Solutions.

Beyond partnerships with key suppliers, IMEX has also played a key role in highlighting sustainability efforts in the meetings industry through its education program and by presenting a dedicated industry award. Initially created in partnership with the Green Meetings Industry Council (GMIC) (now part of the Events Industry Council (EIC)), the IMEX-EIC Innovation in Sustainability Awards have been awarded since 2002. The latest recipient was Destination Canada, recognized for its impressive Business Events Sustainability Plan in May.

Small Details That Make a Big Difference

More than just reducing waste, IMEX also looks at ways to reduce its direct and indirect carbon footprint further up the chain. One simple feature is ensuring that all food outlets have at least one vegetarian/vegan option and a waterwise and low carbon. 

IMEX has made impressive efforts to reduce plastic usage around food consumption. There are no single-use plastic drink options available. Waters and sodas are available only in easily recyclable aluminum cans and bottles. This measure alone eliminated almost 20,000 single-use plastic bottles. 

Plates, cups, and cutlery are compostable, further reducing plastic waste. More than 6 tons of this type of compost was recovered and used as feedstock locally. It’s worth noting that ensuring these items are composted requires hand-sorting of trash behind the scenes.

IMEX makes great efforts to donate chairs, desks, rugs, and other furniture to local charities. In 2022 it donated over 7 tones, with more than 57 tones of event materials donated since 2012. It returned 81% of its carpeting and kept areas like the food court uncarpeted. Name badge holders were a focus, with just over a fifth of the total badge holders and lanyards collected at the end of the event. Some were returned to the supplier in a pilot program; the rest were donated.

Looking Ahead

IMEX makes no secret that its events create waste, and there is a long way to go to net zero. It uses Isla’s TRACE carbon calculator to obtain a detailed measurement of the event’s carbon footprint. A further report, the first of its kind, will soon be released covering the complex and nuanced indirect emissions related to supply chain, transport, and materials across the event.