Did you know the trade show industry is second only to the construction industry in the amount of waste it generates? The garbage comes from packaging, samples, handouts, and much more, and it piles up for days, creating endless pounds of unused or barely used materials! As someone deeply committed to eco-friendly practices, I've found my company participating in fewer and fewer shows.
However, in December, I spoke at a unique event called Eco Gift in Santa Monica, Calif. Unlike many trade shows, Eco Gift had a stated goal of being Zero Waste, or as close as they could get! The event featured many CSR companies showing off their products and services. Since I was speaking at the show, and given what I had read about the trade show's environmental commitments, I decided to have TerraCycle participate as a vendor as well. Zero Waste at a trade show is by all practical measures impossible, without putting serious restrictions on what vendors are allowed to bring to the show. Despite all the challenges presented with such an ambitious goal, Eco Gift was able to get to almost 90 percent no waste!
To help reach their goal of minimum waste, Eco Gift setup "Resource Recovery Stations" to help divert every piece of material that could be reused or recycled. The stations included a bin for recycling, a bin for compostable materials, and a bin ominously labeled "landfill" for non-recyclable materials. Because many vendors and consumers might not know the difference between recyclable and compostable, they actually provided trained volunteers to stand by the Resource Recovery Stations to help people get their material to the right bin! I loved Eco Gift's efforts and organization in trying to tackle an issue with many moving parts.
As an eco-entrepreneur, I find that trade shows represent an interesting collision of what is best for business versus what is best for the planet. What do you think? Is it irresponsible to be a vendor at consumer and trade shows unless they have a Zero Waste policy like that of Eco Gift? If so, if you participate in trade shows, even as a day visitor, will you take steps to require higher standards of the shows you attend? Or does a company's well-intended end justify an environmentally questionable means?
Last updated: Jan 2, 2009
TOM SZAKY is the founder of TerraCycle, a New Jersey based company that makes fertilizer using worms and produces retail products from recycled goods. The firm was started while he was a student at Princeton University. Tom was named "The No. 1 CEO Under Thirty" by Inc. magazine in its July 2006 issue.