How sustainable is IMEX?

How sustainable is IMEX?

Paul Colston stays on in Frankfurt to witness first-hand the sustained green approach by IMEX and its venue partners, in the breakdown of the Lord Mayor’s show.


IMEX Frankfurt 2019 was as busy as ever when the industry converged on the city for the three-day show, and for the extra EduMonday, too.

The traditional Asparagus Festival was in town, too, but they were not the only green shoots showing. CMW stayed on an extra day, after the Lord Mayor’s Show of the main event, to see some of the hard work behind the organisers’ reputation for leading the way towards greener tradeshow practices and sustainable waste management.

Surveying a wasteland of stand detritus left the morning after the night before, I ask IMEX COO Nalan Emre about the huge clearing up and breakdown effort. She highlighted three big claims immediately:

• Zero waste from the show is sent to landfill
• The show is 100% hydro-powered (which is carbon neutral)
• Messe Frankfurt have recently announced that from 2020 they will use renewable energy for all their events

Aside from the zero to landfill, Emre notes that 90% of the waste is recycled and the remaining 10% incinerated in the vicinity with the resultant energy supplying a local community.

The IMEX management first started using hydro power itself back in 2006, and now that practice is universal across the show. “We took away the regular option in 2017, so all exhibitors had to use the hydro power option. It is slightly more expensive but we didn’t experience any pushback,” says Emre. “In 2018, this led to a CO2 saving of 148.8 tonnes compared to a conventional electricity mix,” she notes.

There is also a method in the breakdown madness, with items left beside stands for collection, while materials within the stand footprint to be collected by the constructors, of whom there are 120 companies.

“We ask the contractors to take away all their own materials and we ask exhibitors to donate any leftover giveaways, paper, etc. There has been a significant reduction in what is left over as a result,” says Emre.

What have been some of the more surprising items left behind, I ask?

“Laptops, iPads, a whole range of things really, even a hearing aid once!”

Again, although the breakdown scenario may look a mess on an industrial scale, there is tight security with only accredited people allowed access to what was the show floor.

“From the first day on every entrance is manned by security,” notes Emre. “In fact the security has been increased to meet the heightened alerts of our time.”

Not to mention undercover security, sniffer dogs and a system of bag checks.

“This year we didn’t print any delegate bags,” adds Emre. She says the ones used previously were sustainable but still represented waste. Sustainability does not always come cheap: Emre puts the economic impact of ditching the bags and their sponsorship opportunity at around €12k. “Last year we also had printed catalogues and we got rid of that this time and extended the thinner show guide. That saved several tonnes of paper.” There were also savings on PVC, card, wood and carpet.

Another initiative on the show floor, Emre explains, is the refill campaign for water. “We asked exhibitors to put water coolers around the showfloor instead of single use plastic bottles, and to let their contacts know. This year we built on just the few we had in 2018,” she says.

IMEX published a report of its 2018 show sustainability highlights which included the following key statistics:

• 8,828 show visitors (all hosted buyers and trade visitors)
• 3,500 exhibiting companies from 160+ countries
• 45,552sqm of exhibition space
• 1,952 badges collected
• All hosted buyer flights offset (thanks to a partnership with Cost Rica Tourism)
• 100 kg of material and furniture donations
• 90.2% waste diversion achieved
• Zero waste sent to landfill
• €3,000 gifted to local non-profit organisations in Frankfurt

The venue is actively partnering with IMEX for the future, too, with Messe Frankfurt commiting to providing 100% renewable energy for all its customers from 2020.

There are also some ‘soft power’ touches with visitors to IMEX being encouraged to use public transport to and from the show and offered a walking map to navigate the city by foot. And where IMEX provides bus transfers there is now an anti-idling policy. Bio-diesel is used for 20% of hosted buyer bus transfers.

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World. Write Paul an E-mail

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