Like the Obama for America campaign, which received the inaugural RISE award in this category in 2009 for its “unprecedented ability to utilize meetings and events to accomplish change,” Washington, D.C.–based USGBC is breaking ground with its conferences. In addition to using meetings to educate the hospitality and building industry on green design and construction standards, its annual event, the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo is setting new standards for a green exhibition industry.

As vice president of conferences and events at USGBC, Kimberly Lewis manages the direction of Greenbuild, a meeting that MPI describes as “one of the most impressive in the entire meetings industry because it is an event that shapes the direction of an entire movement [and] … creates a lasting legacy in the cities it visits.” For Greenbuild’s November 2010 conference in Chicago, Lewis and her team will be pushing even harder, with new minimum green standards for its exhibitors, something unheard of in the meetings industry.
Mandatory Green Standards

Greenbuild has grown from about 4,000 attendees and 200 exhibitors in 2002 to more than 27,000 attendees and 1,800 exhibitors in 2009. It has been honored as one of the greenest meetings in the country, and its dedication to the environment extends to every supplier and partner.

Greenbuild 2009, in Phoenix, was a great example, from the cleaning-services vendor that had employees dive into dumpsters to pull out recyclables that didn’t belong, to the 33 tons of aluminum and plastic and 24 tons of cardboard that were recycled, to the chef who arranged for 41 percent of the food to be locally grown, to the convention center staff that developed a new composting program that delivered 12.3 tons of food waste from the show to a local farm.

But perhaps the most radical thing about the 2009 conference was the announcement regarding the 2010 conference: minimum green standards for exhibitors. While the convention centers and hotels USGBC works with must agree to green contract language, Lewis says exhibitors have never been held to a standard. The Greenbuild Mandatory Exhibition Green Guidelines—standards that must be met if exhibitors want to be in the show—was a bold step, but the long waiting list of exhibitors gave Lewis the leverage to push her vision through.

Shawna McKinley, project manager at MeetGreen, Portland, Ore., has not seen standards for exhibitors anywhere else. “It’s quite revolutionary,” says McKinley, whose company serves as a sustainable events consultant to Greenbuild.

The new standards go into effect this fall for the November 17–19 meeting in Chicago:

• Exhibitors must submit a report on the materials used in their booths.
• Signage must be created from sustainable elements (salvaged, recycled-content, or recyclable materials).
• Exhibitors must either eliminate print and promotional giveaways, limit the quantity of handouts to 5,000, or provide collateral made from sustainable materials.
• For shipping, exhibitors must do at least one of the following: avoid use of polystyrene; reuse padding material; consolidate shipments; use crates made from sustainable material; purchase carbon offsets; or use a logistics partner that participates in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay program or a similar program.
• Exhibits must use sustainable elements in exhibit flooring.
• To address indoor air quality, booths using new materials must use nontoxic paints, varnishes, and glues.
• Exhibits that use water must have a water reclamation process in place.
Companies that don’t meet the requirements (a percentage of booths will be audited) could be ineligible to exhibit the following year.

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