IMEX America Moves Toward a Sustainable Events Future

IMEX America 2022 was the greenest one yet. A detailed report prepared by MeetGreen explained how the largest industry event made progress toward its Net Zero Carbon Events goal while pointing to even more improvements IMEX and other event organizers can make in the future.

Counting the Sustainable Event Measures

chart showing average 86% landfill diversion rate at IMEX America conferences since 2012IMEX America 2022, which took place Oct. 10-13 at Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas drew 12,068 attendees from 180 countries. Working with the United Kingdom-based sustainability consultant isla, a total of 92% of event waste was recovered by diverting it into recycling, composting or donation channels, meeting the threshold for a zero-waste event.

Usage of aluminum water bottles and refill stations eliminated 19,499 single-use plastic bottles. All compostable serviceware was hand-separated and routed to Terra Firma Organics to be composted into topsoil. A pilot program with pc/nametag’s badge holder take-back program recycled some 1,350 badge holders. The goal was to divert more than 90% of event waste from landfills and at the end of the three days, 92% had been successfully recovered.

Read More: IMEX22 Welcomed Record Number of Attendees

By moving the event to Mandalay Bay Convention Center, IMEX was able to tap into MGM’s renewable solar energy initiative, which produced 191,258 kWh of renewable energy to keep the lights on at the trade show floor. Nearly all water used inside Mandalay Bay Convention Center for restrooms and food preparation is treated and returned to Lake Mead through Southern Nevada Water Authority programs. Republic Services Apex Landfill, which serves event activities for Mandalay Bay Convention Center, captures and treats its methane gas to renewably power nearly 11,000 homes in Nevada each year. Significantly, 81% of event carpet was returned directly to inventory for reuse and the food court was uncarpeted, saving an estimated 4,184 pounds of CO2, earning MeetGreen Calculator’s Visionary designation.

IMEX is not new to the quest for more sustainable events. Since 2012, the conference has been tracking diversion, recycling and reuse and has averaged an 86% diversion rate. A total of 14,557 pounds of food has been donated in that time. And 946 books have been donated since 2017.

Carina Bauer with new IMEX logo
IMEX CEO Carina Bauer

IMEX CEO Carina Bauer credited the people working behind the scenes, sorting and diverting waste from landfills and suppliers collaborating with the IMEX team to make positive progress. “Thank you to every attendee and exhibitor who supported our People and Planet pledge, refilled their water bottle or simply opted for a waterwise meal,” she said in the introduction to the report when it was released.

“I hope sharing what we’ve learned helps you to put some of these ideas into practice at your own events,” Bauer said.

Green Event Educational Goals

Bauer outlined her goals to educate attendees, exhibitors and hosted buyers on sustainable best practices, measure and decrease IMEX’s environmental footprint and to give back to destination communities. During last year’s event, 97 education tracks were offered under the Respect for People and Planet umbrella topic, 155 attendees pledged to champion social equity and environmental responsibility by taking the People & Planet Pledge and 112 booths committed to exhibiting more sustainably.

Read More: IMEX Came Back Big Time

The education was also woven into the Maritz Global Events Sustainability Challenge presented by Caesars Entertainment and powered by Heka Health. Attendees participated in a sustainability-focused scavenger hunt on the show floor while tracking their steps. As a group, participants walked more than 4.2 million steps in two days—the equivalent of reducing fossil fuel emissions from a standard car driving from Reno to Las Vegas.

Sustainable Food and Beverage Trends

Sustainable food vendors at IMEX 2022Feeding 12,000 people on the trade show floor was another opportunity to demonstrate sustainable F&B best practices. For the second year, IMEX America offered vegetarian/vegan options and a waterwise and low-carbon meal option. Vegetable-based meals are orders of magnitude less taxing on natural resources than animal-based meals. “Did you know if every attendee selected just one low-carbon main course during the show, we’d save the emissions equivalent to driving a standard fossil fuel automobile the distance from the IMEX office in Brighton, UK, to Las Vegas 18 times,” the report queried.

Read More: Sustainability Efforts Lauded

New in 2022, World Wildlife Fund’s Hotel Kitchen program sponsored a Misfit Juice Bar in the exhibit hall that raised awareness of food waste by making juices from imperfect produce. In addition to reducing waste, 249 pounds of excess food was donated to Three-Square Food Bank, a quantity that translated to about 208 meals for community members in need. More than 40,000 pounds of food—largely kitchen scraps and meal prep waste—that couldn’t be donated to humans were routed to Las Vegas Livestock to feed pigs rather than going to landfills.

Giving Back to the Local Community

IMEX Sustainability Report 2022 cover blue with pink, orange and green shapesBecause the environment and social issues are intertwined, the report also shared results from corporate social responsibility initiatives at IMEX America 2022. Some 600 Clean the World hygiene kits were assembled by attendees from upcycled room amenities, bringing the total of donated kits since 2012 to 6,358.

More than $1,000 in financial resources were donated to The Shade Tree, providing safe shelter to homeless and abused women and children in crisis. Another $1,000 went to Noah’s Animal House, dedicated to removing the No Pets Allowed barriers at women’s shelters and $1,000 went to Opportunity Village to benefit employment training centers in Southern Nevada.

Continuous Waste Management Improvement

education kiosk at IMEX 2022“Waste management is a process of continuous improvement and refinement,” the report concluded. “Through year-round conversations with our supplier team, IMEX works to find more environmentally preferable substrates as well as innovative sustainable design strategies.” In areas where the event producer has less direct control—exhibitor booth construction, the show floor and outside F&B, suppliers are encouraged to enroll in the IMEX America Sustainable Exhibiting Guide and People & Planet Pledge.

The highest priority outlined for 2023 is revisiting alternatives to single-use creamers and condiments in cash concession settings along with deploying 100% paper compostable coffee cup lids.

Additional improvements could include a consolidated donation pickup point near the vehicle entrance to the expo hall to make it easier for charities to recover materials the day of load out.

Long-range plans include offsetting air travel impacts and increasing renewable energy at Mandalay Bay Convention Center to 100%.