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Global Trade Show Leaders Address Industry Initiative at COP26

Sue Pelletier, Senior Editor

GLASGOW, Scotland — The full range of the global events industry took to the world stage at the U.N. Climate Change COP26 conference Nov. 10 to provide details on the Net Zero Carbon Events Initiative, as well as the pledge that was recently launched under the umbrella of the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC). Industry leaders from venues, organizers, suppliers and associations went live on the COP26 stage in Glasgow, Scotland, to both talk about the pledge and to illustrate the strides the events industry already is taking to combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions by 50% by 2030.

The Net Zero Carbon Events Pledge

The message from the world stage at COP26 was clear: Whether you’re a major trade independent or association show organizer, a venue that hosts expos, a supplier that serves the industry, or a small mom-and-pop show that plans small events such as weddings, you can be a key player in driving innovation that will reduce carbon emissions and contribute to bringing the world to the net zero carbon emission levels climate scientists say is essential to limiting the effect of climate change.

Representing JMIC on the stage, Kai Hattendorf, CEO of UFI, the global association of the exhibitions industry, led the discussion. Indicating the roster of speakers at the session, he said, “We have the commitment from the largest and most influential organizations in our sector, and we are confident in our ability to drive this change to tackle the challenges ahead.” More than 150 organizations, some of whom were represented on the stage, have already signed the pledge. More importantly, they also have already started taking action toward making their pledge a reality.

The JMIC, with guidance and support from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and with representatives from across the industry, developed the pledge.

Related. Net Zero Carbon Events Pledge Follows the Lead of COP26

Kathleen Warden, Director of Conference Sales, Scottish Events Campus, said, “By pledging to a net zero carbon future for events, we can galvanize the industry together to take responsibility.” She outlined the four pillars of the pledge as:

  1. Before the end of 2023, organizations pledge to publish their pathway to achieve net zero by 2050, at the latest, with an interim target in line with the Paris Agreement’s requirement to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50% by 2030.
  2. Collaborate with partners, suppliers and attendees to drive change across the value chain and become champions for net zero events.
  3. Measure and track Scope 1, 2 and 3 GHG emissions according to industry best practices — “If we don’t measure, we don’t know if we’re making progress,” she said.
  4. Report on progress every two years, minimum.

“We don’t start this race to zero from zero,” she added. “Much great work has been done — we are all just at different points on a journey to the same destination.”

Progress Report: The Venue Perspective

Alan Steel, President & CEO of New York’s Javits Center, outlined some of the initiatives already underway at the center. For example, as part of a 2014 renovation, Javits now has a 6.75-acre green roof that reduces the surrounding temperatures by about 16 degrees Celsius, retains about 7 million gallons of stormwater each year, and serves as a wildlife sanctuary for birds, bats and bees. “Together with our new energy-efficient heating and ventilating air conditioning units, we were able to reduce our energy consumption by 26% as a result of that renovation,” Steel said. The center reports its results to New York State, which has aggressive climate goals of its own. “That reporting required us to hold ourselves accountable and make sure we reported our progress as we go forward,” he said. The center created an energy dashboard to help track progress as well as report that progress to the state.

Javits also has replaced 95% of its lightbulbs with LEDs, has established a recycling program to distribute unwanted show materials to local not-for-profit charities, and has a food recycling program that donates about 100,000 pounds of food to local charities annually.A new diversion plan that should increase the rate from 50% to 80% by 2024, he said. Also in the works is a new truck-marshalling facility that will have a rooftop farm, a new solar plant and flood resiliency plan, and a sustainability clause in the center’s supplier RFPs.

Related. Industry Group Calls for Net Zero Carbon Events by 2050

While not every center can or should do what Javits is doing, “I would encourage every convention center to look at how they do things and what they might be able to do differently,” Steel said.

Monica Lee-Müller, Managing Director, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, also outlined some of that center’s initiatives to reduce energy usage. Among them are an upgrade in its HVAC system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, replacing lightbulbs with LEDs, enhancing its kitchen chiller units to reduce electricity usage, eliminating plastic bottles and serving utensils, and using smart floor-cleaning robots to save water.

The Supplier Side

Bob Priest-Heck, CEO of global production company Freeman, said his company is focusing its zero-waste initiatives on four major impact areas: resources, energy, air and people. The company is reducing its environmental footprint by minimizing or eliminating waste throughout its supply chain, he said. “And we look at how we can use materials time, talent and space to create business models where sustainability is incorporated into every part of our strategy.” Freeman was the first production company to earn both the ISO 14,001 and the ISO 20121 certifications, he said, “which guide us and measure our actions and approach towards sustainability. Further, we’ve also designed sustainability standards that are actually built into our service offerings, ensuring that sustainability is part of every project we produce.”

The Trade Show Organizer Perspective

Charlie McCurdy, CEO of Informa Markets, talked about why it’s important for an independent show organizer like Informa Markets to accelerate its approach to combating climate change. “Our customers, our colleagues and our investors all want to work with and invest in businesses that take sustainability seriously,” he said. “For instance, 80% of our customers tell us they want to work with businesses that are proactive about climate change. Our investors want their investments to raise their game in taking a responsible approach to sustainability. Our colleagues also expect this, and increasingly future talent seeks out sustainable companies.”

Related. Exhibition Industry Leaders Take on Challenge to Combat Climate Change

He outlined Informa’s Faster Forward sustainability initiative, which targets the areas where exhibition organizers can have a real impact. Three of the top areasare:

  1. Reducing the direct carbon impact of shows by eliminating the use of disposable or single-use stands and working with venue partners to use renewable energy to power their shows. “We are working with exhibitors across the world and expanding the use of reusable stands.” “Informa is (in 2022) targeting to have at least 90% of all electricity usage at venues to be renewable while we continue to work with them to reduce our collective carbon footprint” he said.
  2. Reducing the carbon impact of business travel by concentrating commercial activity in one location — the show floor. In a survey of 20,000 attendees of Informa Markets events, “Participants at our shows saved between two and five flights for every trip to an exhibition,” he said.
  3. Accelerating the adoption of sustainable practices across the markets and regions served by the show. “We are a real force for change in our markets as an industry helping many regions around the world to accelerate their own carbon-reduction plans by highlighting the challenges they face and promoting potential solutions.” One example of this is Informa Markets’ introduction of a popular sustainable-sourcing pavilion at its major U.S. fashion trade shows. The company also holds gatherings across the value chains in the maritime and aviation industries, where it provides content and forums for discussions on transitioning to a low-carbon economy.

Also on hand to provide their progress and perspective on how to accomplish the pledge’s goals were Stephanie Dubois, Head of Event Operations, SAP; Miguel Alejandro Naranjo Gonzalez, Programme Officer, UNFCCC Secretariat; Cristina Pace, Chair of the Sustainability Working Group, eSkootr Championship (eSC); Mike Seaman, CEO, Raccoon Events; and Barbara Weizsäcker, Secretary General, European Major Exhibition Centres Association.

As Hattendorf said: “If mankind could find a vaccine that works against COVID in a few months, we can find ways to get to net zero carbon before 2050 if we just put our brains to it. But we do need … to bring together the whole industry, the whole value chain.”


Watch the COP26 session recording here; sign the pledge at


Reach Kai Hattendorf at +40 171 5441198 or;  Alan Steel at (212) 216-2000 or;  Monica Lee-Muller at +852 2582 8888 or; Bob Priest-Heck at; Charlie McCurdy at +440 20 7017 5000 or



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