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How to Make Your Shows and Events More Sustainable

Sustainability is a growing expectation for events and shows. It has spurred a high level of innovation in the sector, including practices to reduce a show’s carbon footprint, better manage materials, support inclusion, and increase transparency.

Return on Carbon

With new regulations regarding carbon disclosure and climate impact reporting, more organizations are measuring and reporting their carbon emissions. As part of this, they are also setting carbon budgets and using them as a decision factor. As a specific example, many organizations consider the emissions related to participating in events when deciding to attend and whether a sufficient carbon budget is available to support it.

A key and sometimes overlooked aspect of carbon budgeting is understanding the “Return on Carbon” and how it can be improved. Much like return on investment (ROI), return on carbon (ROC) is a profitability measure that allows for comparisons between different opportunities. For example, the carbon emissions from participating in a show may be similar to those associated with traveling to meet a single client. However, the impact of meeting several current and prospective clients in one location could result in much higher profits. 

This raises the question: How can we improve the Return on Carbon for shows and events? One way is to reduce emissions or increase profits. 

A few practical ways to reduce emissions are:

  • Select destinations designed with efficient travel considerations, such as proximity to a large percentage of your attendees, availability of sustainable travel options (such as rail connections), or a high number of direct flights.
  • Encourage lower shipping emissions with efficient packing, leveraging advance warehousing to ship show-to-show, and using freight, shipping, and logistics partners participating in programs such as EPA’s SmartWay.
  • Encourage events to co-locate with yours, increasing consolidation of travel. For example, shows and events can become the place for remote teams to come together by creating turn-key co-location opportunities. This can be as simple as providing boardroom spaces on or near the show floor and making these spaces bookable several months before the event. Consider developing a team meeting package to promote to your exhibitors, including meeting space on move-in and move-out dates and volume-based registration fees.

Providing pre-show training can be particularly valuable in improving exhibitor profits. This is especially important in a post-COVID environment, where the workforce composition has changed, and you may have several first-time exhibitors at your show. Some new exhibitors may have spent much of their formative professional years in a primarily virtual environment and will benefit especially from this training.

Areas to cover in your exhibitor training include:

  1. How to effectively develop new leads and strengthen existing business relationships.
  2. How to use the event technology before, during, and after the event.
  3. How can they make their booth/stand sustainable and accessible to convey their brand’s commitment to sustainability through their design choices?

Materials Management

Many options for sustainable materials management showcase our industry’s innovation and can highlight brands on the show floor. Here are some easy ways that you can reduce waste (and often, costs!) for your next show:

  1. Use reusable stand structures and reduce or eliminate disposable stand elements.
  2. Use materials made with recycled content that can be recycled, and plan how they will be reused, repurposed, or recycled after the show.
  3. Include sustainable stand options in your exhibitor kits and recognize exhibitors who select sustainable options.

Promoting Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging

Sustainability is not only environmental; it also addresses social and economic factors. An important area to focus on for shows is inclusive show design. Some practical ways to foster diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in your shows include:

  1. Consider diversity in your supply chain leadership, speakers, and marketing materials.
  2. Ensure that your show is accessible and that individual booths are also designed with this in mind, such as adding ramp access to raised platforms.
  3. Add quiet spaces near the show floor to support show attendees and exhibitors with sensory needs, or consider a low-sensory hour at the show with reduced sound and lighting effects.
  4. Consider shifting generational alcohol consumption, with Gen Z and Millennials consuming less, and add mocktails to your social events. 


The credibility of sustainability claims is essential for building consumer confidence. Look for suppliers with verified programs and consider certifying your event. The Events Industry Council Sustainable Event Standards program offers third-party certification for events with exhibitions and suppliers. GES has been certified at the Silver level, which is the highest award to date for a general services contractor. EIC also offers a Sustainable Event Professional Certificate for those interested in learning more about sustainable practices. Visit for more information.

Author: Mariela Bazán, CMP Fellow, CMM, MBA
Chief Sustainability Officer, EIC Centre for Sustainability and Social Impact
SVP Industry Advancement, Events Industry Council