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Meeting Green: Community Building Gone Global at IMEX

June 20, 2010

Cross-pollination: Green Awards Supports Green Meetings

2010 marks the 5th consecutive year that Rivanna has created awards for IMEX, the world’s largest trade show for the meetings & events industry. Together with the Green Meeting Industry Council, IMEX runs the only Green Awards program for the industry.

Rivanna is thrilled to support this dynamic industry. We value the bottom-up growth of business that meetings facilitate, and green meetings in particular add a dimension of community involvement well in line with our own community-building business objectives.

The meetings industry is enormous; according to, a study in 2009 found that business travel in the US alone marks $246 billion per year in spending and 2.3 million American jobs depend on it. And a report by says, “The hospitality industry is second only to the construction industry in waste generated.” When you factor in each attendee’s travel footprints and meeting materials, and the conference center’s set-up materials, the meetings industry begins to look like a resource-guzzling, pollution-spewing behemoth. But even just a few small planning adjustments can make a huge difference, and save mounds of money.

A 2004 white paper by the Convention Industry Council gives myriad examples of saving both resources and money. “For example, if a five-day event serves 2200 people breaks, breakfasts, lunches and receptions using china instead of plastic disposables, it prevents 1,890 lbs. of plastic from going into a landfill. That’s nearly one ton!” Meanwhile, “collecting name badge holders for reuse at an event of 1300 attendees can save approximately $975 for the event organizer.” Clearly, green meetings make sense.

Face Reality

Meetings, green or otherwise, provide the direct contact on which so much business is built. According to a recent DMAI (Destination Marketing Association International) survey of meeting planners and industry leaders,

  • Face-to-face meetings build trust and relationships;
  • Both education and training are more effective in a live setting;
  • Live meetings actually save time and money;
  • Live meetings facilitate problem solving through a more effective exchange of ideas;
  • Face-to-face meetings provide the human connection that powers business;
  • Face-to-face meetings create jobs and power the economy.

Green meetings in particular facilitate the grass-roots growth of business partnerships because the social welfare of participants as well as the hosts is often built into the meeting agenda. Examples include charitable donations (often including community service) to the host country, themed competitions for attendees in which the beneficiaries of the competition are charities, and ongoing charitable fundraising after the event has concluded. More often than not, structured team-building exercises allow event attendees to get their hands dirty building something tangible for the local host site.

Cultivate the Bottom Line

Unlike many green awards shows that focus simply on an innovation that may save a ton of carbon or a kilowatt of electricity (wonderful achievements to be sure!), IMEX’s Green Awards also puts the social wealth of business under the spotlight, particularly the Commitment to the Community award.

According to social scientist Philip Ball in his award-winning book Critical Mass (Arrow Books 2005), “The firms that do best are not those that aim to make the most profit. Rather, longevity in a company stems from being able to attract and retain productive workers…If the employees suffer from the profit motive, so does the firm (pp. 334, 5).” In other words, take care of the social welfare of the business and profits take care of themselves.

At Rivanna, we are well aware of the mutual benefit of cultivating relationships with clients, suppliers, the local community and other industry members. Building community is virtually what our business is all about; it creates a wealth that goes far beyond mere profits. Helping to resettle refugees, volunteering for community building and clean-up projects, and donating certain proceeds to a Tanzanian aid organization are just a few of the projects that make our work worthwhile.

 Buck the Trend

Other business leaders appear to see the benefit of the community-building experience, too. Businesses have responded overwhelmingly to the importance of IMEX, proven by allocating their limited resources to attend this event. At a time when most meeting planners are cutting back on meeting budgets and even cancelling meetings, IMEX enjoyed its largest attendance ever, with nearly 9, 000 people attending the 3-day event in Frankfurt, Germany.

Eco Specifics

IMEX takes its own advice and conducts a green meeting. This year they instituted a green education and awareness program, incorporating drop-in workshops offering live case studies and discussions of green meeting industry standards. Plus, those exhibitors that meet certain eco criteria got a green ribbon to distinguish themselves from the crowd. In addition:

  • The badge lanyards are made from plant silk, an organic material manufactured from the waste stems of grain crops. No chemicals are used in the process and the fabric is biodegradable.
  • Hydroelectricity is used for all power during the exhibition including build-up and breakdown. In 2009 IMEX was the first trade show in the meetings industry to offer green energy - hydroelectric power - to its exhibitors.
  • Recycled and recyclable paper badges coated in corn-starch laminate.
  • Recycled and recyclable luggage tags coated in corn-starch laminate.
  • An anti-idling policy for IMEX buses.
  • The use of bio-diesel buses for 20% of the hosted buyer transfers.
  • Reusable recyclable polypropylene visitor bags and jute bags for Association Day.
  • Encouraging hosted buyers to travel by train where possible.
  • A waste reduction program, which resulted in a saving of 34 tons during the 2008 show, a reduction of 20% on the output in 2007.
  • 95% polypropylene carpets are used in the exhibition hall. Polypropylene is a derivative of oil and is recyclable. The IMEX carpets are recycled following the show and made into either carpet again or other polypropylene products.
  • All coffee and tea provided in seminar rooms will be fair trade and sugar will be provided in sugar bowls instead of in individual packaging.

Business to Business

Meetings are necessary, but they don’t necessarily require the earth and all within it to be conducted successfully. We’d like to encourage all of our own business partners to take a (recycled) page from the green meetings industry (vegetable-ink-printed) book and consider how many meetings, from team meetings to global conferences, they could manage differently. You can find inspiration from the case studies of the many previous award winners. Get creative enough and an award may well be in your own future!

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