Running a Sustainable Exhibition: What You Need to Know

Sustainability is essential for the future of exhibitions. Not only are sustainable exhibitions vital for the environment and a long-term events programme, but they’re key to attracting new visitors. Prospective attendees are beginning to expect a level of sustainability and environmentally-responsible practice from the exhibitions they choose to attend, which means you need to reflect this in your exhibition planning. 

To help you out, we’ve created this guide to putting on sustainable exhibitions (and what to include in your sustainability strategy). Keep reading to learn more… 

Key elements of a sustainability strategy 

Fortunately, as awareness builds, it’s becoming easier to incorporate sustainable techniques and accommodations into your exhibition plan. Below we’ve picked out some of the key sustainability measures you can make to improve the sustainability of your exhibition. 

Note: you won’t be able to control every aspect of your exhibition sustainability. The list below is made up of options that you can directly change, or at least influence, to improve your sustainability rating. 

Choose a greener venue 

The first thing you can do as part of a sustainability strategy is to choose a venue with the appropriate ‘green credentials’. This could include any of the following qualities: 

  • Venues exclusively powered by alternative and renewable energy sources. 
  • Venues with carbon offset measures in place. 
  • Venues with comprehensive waste recycling and disposal methods. 
  • Venues who are visibly working on reducing their carbon footprint, with achievable sustainability strategies in place. 

Working and collaborating with sustainable organisations helps you to prioritise environmentally-friendly solutions to common problems. Plus, any ‘greener’ venues and locations you work with will have more experience that you can draw from during planning stages. 

Here at Exhibition Centre Liverpool for example, (and indeed across the ACC Liverpool events campus), we’re a proudly Carbon Neutral Campus. Additionally, we’ve set out a comprehensive Sustainability Strategy designed to help us reach our goal of net zero by 2030. This document sets out our six fundamental aims to improve and ensure sustainability stays at the heart of what we do. 

We’re keen to reduce our impact on the environment – while still offering a home to some of the best exhibitions and experiences in the UK. 

Top tip: working with ‘greener’ venues also gives you an avenue to promote awareness and educate your guests about sustainability, and how they can change aspects of their behaviour for the collective betterment of the planet. 

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle 

Many people are surprised by the amount of materials needed to host an exhibition, tradeshow, or other large-scale visitor event. From booths and signs, to advertising materials like flyers, pamphlets, and business cards (and much more besides), each of these contributes to the overall material use of your exhibition. 

As part of your sustainability strategy, you should look at how you can reduce, reuse, or recycle these materials to lower, or eliminate, the negative environmental potential of your exhibition. 

For example, when it comes to trade shows and exhibition booths, there are ways for you to easily reuse or recycle certain large items, like parts of the display – or reduce your reliance on single-use plastics and paper materials. Ask yourself: 

  • Are there elements here that can be repurposed or reused at another exhibition?  
  • If not, is there a way to present your display without it, or ensure it’s made from a more sustainable material? 
  • Can I make a digital copy of this pamphlet to reduce paper waste? 
  • Is there a way to avoid using single use plastics and cardboard (which can be harder to recycle)? 

Top tip: reduce waste by finding ways to donate excess materials to charities or other causes who can make use of them. 

Exhibition venues are incredibly versatile, and often have a stock of resources that can be reused time and again. When you’re planning your displays, make sure you consult with your venue team to discuss what they already have, and how you can work together to make the best material choices possible. 

Here at Exhibition Centre Liverpool for instance, we use Biodegradable Cups across our campus. This is just a small change that can have a positive impact on reducing the amount of plastic produced and used within our venue. 

Choose sustainable take-home freebies 

With this in mind, you should also make an effort to offer more sustainably-minded take-home gifts to your guests. This helps to reduce the amount of waste you may produce, as well as offering visitors a valuable, reusable gift to remember the conference by. These could include: 

  • Sustainably-made tote bags. 
  • Fairtrade, organic, and/or locally-sourced food and drink gifts. 
  • A reusable water bottle (preferably metal, bamboo, or recycled plastic). 
  • Notebooks made from recycled paper. 
  • Gift-bags from small businesses, local suppliers, and sustainable organisations. 

Improved planning to reduce waste 

As we mentioned above, one of the ways to host a sustainable exhibition is to reduce the amount of waste produced during the course of the event. This could be some simple measures like donating excess materials, reusing props and stands, or recycling single-use objects. 

Whilst this is valuable, what about reducing the amount of waste overall? Part of your logistics involves ordering in enough supplies for everyone (with a few spares in case of emergency and for future proofing). By overordering at this stage, you’re making it harder for your exhibition to meet your sustainability strategy goals. 

Instead, it’s worth trying to be more accurate with your ordering systems. One way you could do this is to use a predictive AI to collate, analyse, and identify patterns in previous exhibition datasets. This can help you be more accurate with your resource allocation, and reduce the waste produced by your exhibition. 

Go digital 

Another option we mentioned briefly was the option to offer digital resources. Using QR codes for maps, itineraries, and other useful documents reduces the amount of paper copies you need on hand – and therefore the amount of waste produced by your exhibition. 

Top tip: make sure you have some paper copies available for people with additional needs, in case of emergency, or those who may not have the devices to access online information. 

Another benefit of using online or digital materials is that you can get valuable data from sign-ups, which can help you forecast more effectively for future events. 

Use sustainable resources 

Sustainability strategies are decided by choices – and another important decision you can make to prioritise sustainability is around the resources you use. 

We’ve already explained how a ‘greener’ venue is one of the best ways to make your exhibition more sustainable. But, within your venue, you need to make more informed decisions about resources and logistics, including: 

  • Lighting: lighting is essential for safety, and so your visitors can see what you have to offer. But, are your lighting options energy efficient? Is there a way to maximise the natural light and reduce your dependence on artificial sources? 
  • Catering: catering and food supply can play a big role in your sustainability strategy. For example, can you use seasonal products or those from local suppliers to reduce the shipping emissions? If not, do members of your supply chain have carbon offsets or sustainable practices in place? 
  • Electricity: obviously, you need power to run your exhibition. Outside of discovering whether your venue uses renewable energy sources, you could look for ways to reduce your electricity consumption – like hosting events outside during the day (as you won’t need lighting). 

Encourage sustainable transport  

Whilst this is less directly under your control, you should always try and take time to encourage visitors to use more environmentally-friendly transport options. Driving to exhibitions is usually the most convenient, but there are alternatives that can help make your overall exhibition more sustainable. 

These include: 

  • Signposting public transport connections in advance of the event – from bus timetables, to train schedules. You should also provide clear directions from these transport hubs to your venue. 
  • For tradeshows, encourage visitors to carpool to reduce the number of drivers needed for your exhibition. 

Top tip: try to choose a location with plenty of electric car charging ports, either directly at the venue, or in nearby car parks. 

Of course, you can’t forget to practise what you preach. You’ll likely be using a lot of logistics transport for supply delivery before, during, and after your event (for deconstruction and moving elsewhere). Where possible, make sure to work with ‘greener’ logistics companies, like those with electric vehicle fleets. You could also explore companies that offer joint shipping with other businesses to maximise space and reduce the number of trips needed to transport goods. This not only reduces total emissions, but also makes trips more efficient. 

Organise your next sustainable exhibition with Exhibition Centre Liverpool 

At Exhibition Centre Liverpool, we’re dedicated to improving the sustainability of our campus – and helping you host more sustainable exhibitions in the future. Find out more about our Venue, and take a look at the Services we have on offer to help you make your next exhibition a success.  


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