IMEX 2023  had a clear sustainability agenda that influenced everything from event design, exhibitor and delegate interaction and right down to the bamboo cutlery and paper cup.  

What was so ESG?

During the First Timer’s walk-through, we learnt about IMEX’s philosophy on sustainability, diversity and inclusion and how the tradeshow encouraged exhibitors, sponsors and delegates to consider the options. As a result, 50% of exhibitors opted for sustainable booth builds. Communication prior to IMEX reminded attendees to bring their own water bottles for refillable stations and provided updates on the various initiatives pre, during and post.

Visitors like me had the opportunity to choose how much or little they chose to engage because Associations, suppliers, and industry were encouraged to leverage the tradeshow such as topping and tailing it with their own activities and events, increasing the choice of engagement significantly.  Events such as ICCA Week opening with the Association Expert Seminar on Saturday 20 May, the International Association of Convention Centres (AIPC) Sales Conference on Sunday 21st, plus many of the destinations and suppliers hosting activities, dinners or client engagement in the week/s leading up to IMEX.  There were plenty of efficient ways to maximise travel miles, time and investment.

I would classify my experiences as intermediate – not too little, not too much, just right.


Image credit : IMEX

  • ICCA AES – the theme of the program was “Impact for Associations” – specifically in relation to their legacy, whether that be social, environmental or based on their core area of speciality. Key to this was the role destinations play in supporting that impact for the long term – well after the business event has left
  • Association Focus – the opening panel, “Sustainability – less talk more action”, moderated by Genevieve Leclerc included a robust conversation about how the industry can take action to address sustainability, with some differing views.
    • From Nika Kurent Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIARB) stating they have and will continue to cease in person events (opting for virtual), to Anne-Laure Leuba discussing delegates lack of take up of carbon offset options at a Cardiology Congress, to Guy Bigwood suggesting that we consider diversifying our investment portfolios. We should consider the same with our approaches to environmental impacts (i.e. don’t put all your eggs in one environmental basket). And a closing statement from Kai Hattendorf, CEO, UFI which resonated the most for me: “We don’t have the answer for the whole journey. But that’s no excuse not to start.”
  • Net Zero Carbon Events press conference provided an update on the work that the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC) and NZCE have been working on and in particular the updated manifesto. The document provides 10 steps the industry/meeting planners can follow to support the focus of business events as a mechanism for transformational change. The objective being we need many organisations to amplify the industry message. The manifesto identifies 15 ways Business Events create transformational change (image below).
  • Policy Forum – with a theme of “Uncomfortable Conversations” – table thought provocations revolved around various topics, with sustainable destination development being one.
  • She Means Business – had a comprehensive program throughout IMEX. I attended a session called “Future Skills: Women Bridging the Generation Gap” with speakers representing the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 60 year olds. The audience also had the opportunity to provide input. The panel from Oman, China, Canada and Belgium provided different insights reltative to age bias as well as opportunities – asking the audience to think about their own age bias or gaps.
  • People and Planet Pledge – the booth on entry to the Education Hall was a clear message from IMEX on its objective for the tradeshow and sector. From the opportunity to undertake a personal pledge, to education options, to the #IMEXrun which was fundraising for women in need to sustainability options onsite.
  • Hygiene and not so hygiene factors that is, what were some of the expected elements as well as the surprising additions:

The expected:

      • Water stations, badge recycling (though possibly could have been at the exits and near the shuttle bus stations for greater impact), locally sourced food options.
      • Takeaway cups for hot drinks were paper based and can be recovered and recycled.

The unexpected:

      • Carpet recycled and recovered – carpet made from polypropylene.
      • Timber in Hall 9 – almost every piece was re-used.
      • IMEX signage printed on Redboard (100%) cardboard material.

Did IMEX’s Sustainability Approach Resonate?

Absolutely! Within a week of returning to Australia, we workshopped food conversation education and exhibitor displays with our client Laissez-faire Catering and how IMEX highlighted sourcing local produce, menu curation for food truck options, as well as waste management. Laissez-faire Catering already undertake several sustainability initiatives for events and using the IMEX example, they are investigating better ways to inform delegates at the point of consumption/purchase – in addition to their existing communication to meeting planners.

As a first time visitor, with a climate change conscience, I was impressed that I had the options to educate myself, participate and be provoked in thought and action throughout the tradeshow – as much or as little as I chose.

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Deanna Varga

Author Deanna Varga

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