An exhibition or conference brings all the different parties from a sector together: developers, producers, distributors, scientists, policy makers and consumers. This is why these events are the ideal opportunity for innovation and development, especially in the field of sustainability and social themes. By taking up an active role in these areas as an organiser, you will increase the relevance of your event and contribute to a future-proof sector that takes its responsibilities seriously.
Sustainability is often associated with limiting negative impacts such as the reduction of waste, pollution or emissions. You could also turn it around: how can you create a positive impact? A conference or exhibition showcases the issues that are at play in the sector and these increasingly involve sustainability matters and social themes. As an organiser, you can make a positive contribution by creating a platform for these issues and actively bringing people together to work on solutions. This is in your own interest, too, as it increases the relevance of your event and helps the sector remain healthy and grow. So how can you achieve this?
Defining the issue
Start by analysing the social challenges at play in the sector which is the focus of the event, and where the event may have an impact. An excellent guideline in this framework are the 17 sustainable development goals formulated by the United Nations to help secure an eco-friendly future for all. They involve putting a stop to various types of poverty, fighting inequality and tackling climate change, asking countries and companies alike to take action. For our own events, we use these 17 goals to check which social issues are relevant in the sectors involved and where they can make an impact. We then research how we can provide an effective platform for exchanging knowledge and creating solutions. Allow me to illustrate this method with a few examples.
Aquatech: sustainable water supply
Aquatech Amsterdam is the world's leading trade exhibition for process, drinking and waste water. This is a theme that is, by definition, in line with the UN sustainability goal ‘Clean water and sanitation’. The exhibition has a strong focus on water treatment and making water widely available. The event’s intrinsic programme, the Amsterdam International Water Week, actively brings parties together for knowledge exchange and cooperation.
By checking the other goals on the UN list, we discovered additional relevant topics such as ‘Clean and affordable energy’. The intrinsic programme explicitly highlights the generation of energy via water treatment processes. Another major UN goal is creating a safe living environment. The side-event Floodex Europe launched in 2017 revolves entirely around the minimisation of flood risks.
ReMaTec: reuse is hotter then ever
ReMaTec is the international trade event for the revision sector in, primarily, the automotive and heavy-duty industries. Remanufacturing is focused on extending the lifespan of mechanical components; in vehicles, industrial machines and consumer electronics. As well as being economically interesting, the sector is also the backbone of a sustainable circular economy. Reusing products and parts instead of having them end up in the material recycling cycle prevents unnecessary waste. The ReMaTec organisers stimulate a strong focus on innovation, education and knowledge development within the event, and in doing so contribute to the further development of the sector.
Cleaning or hygiëne?
An exhibition like Interclean is all about professional cleaning; a typical sector that requires water and chemicals and which accommodates innovation to work in a more sustainable way. If you look beyond these basics, there are further opportunities and perspectives at play. For example, issues related to the UN goal ‘Good health and well-being’, which is strongly linked to hygiene. This will be a special focal point during the upcoming edition of Interclean by means of a Healthcare Cleaning Forum, focused on preventing infections in healthcare. In addition, the exhibition will feature a Zero Waste LAB, developed in cooperation with the Zero Waste Foundation, which will show which raw materials can be reclaimed from company or office waste.
Sustainable production, waste prevention, using local products; the hospitality sector recognises the importance of such issues and has taken them on board. This is in line with the UN sustainability goal ‘Responsible production and consumption’. The hospitality and food service exhibition Horecava actively looks for innovative developments and new inspiration for each edition, involving partners and exhibitors at an early stage to determine the relevant themes together. One of the main themes of the Horecava Innovation & TrendLAB 2018 was circularity, while the programme on the exhibition floor and the intrinsic programme also had a broad focus on sustainable themes. This resulted in inspiring presentations, such as a worm hotel, a refugee restaurant and education on regional gastronomy and future farming.
Consumer exhibitions also have plenty of opportunities. By introducing communities to sustainable options, one can directly influence how people think and act. Moreover, the event can have a knock-on effect: new and unique experiences will be discussed after the event itself and outside the community. An event like the Huishoudbeurs, the largest lifestyle event for women in the Netherlands, welcomes a cross-section of the Dutch population. What can be better than inviting them to try something new, looking at things from a new perspective and providing inspiration?
The challenge is to develop a model that suits the target group. For instance, this year’s Negenmaandenbeurs (Nine Months Fair) for new and expectant mothers featured the Vegetable and Fruit Square, with workshops on making fresh snacks for children using fresh produce. Providing inspiration is one of the prime objectives of exhibitions and, due in part to the high visitor numbers, can have a significant impact.
Creating a new event
In some cases, market developments may even create an opportunity to completely renew an event. In October 2017, for instance, the RAI featured the first ever MobiliteitsRAI. This new business platform for the mobility sector is the innovative successor to the BedrijfsautoRAI show (road transport and logistic services). It welcomes professionals from the road transport sector and focuses on the mobility of today and tomorrow. Innovations and new products, mainly related to sustainability and CO2 reduction, were the theme of the event and conference segments. The exhibition was attended by major transport companies, retailers, utility companies and regional government bodies, and the exhibiting companies were very pleased with the first edition of the new setup.
Although the UN sustainability goals are ambitious – as they should be – they mainly serve as a positive impulse to get things done. As nobody can do this alone it is crucial to itemise these topics whenever the parties that can contribute to the solution come together. Exhibitions and conferences provide the perfect opportunity.
As an organiser, you can actively contribute by:
Identifying the social challenges in the sector and determining how your event can make a positive contribution. Where the sector faces challenges, such as emissions or pollution, you can detail how to deal with these issues. In addition, there will be topics on which the sector can proactively make a positive contribution, such as sustainable innovations in water and energy technology. Use the UN list as a guideline.
Entering into a dialogue with partners and exhibitors to itemise these topics.
Providing platforms that facilitate inspiration, knowledge exchange and coalitions, such as organising sustainable routes on the exhibition floor, a thematic conference programme with experts, a sustainability award or round tables for the largest players.
The options are endless, so use them! It will benefit your event, the sector and eventually the world in which we all live.