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When All Things Organic opened at Chicago's McCormick Place on May 5, all 600 booths featured organic cotton back drops—a detail that helped to diminish the amount of pesticides and herbicides released into the environment, said David Gagnon, chief operating officer of the Organic Trade Association, which owns the annual show.

Samples were served in biodegradable packaging, and show marketing materials were printed with soy-based ink on recycled paper.

Attendees also had the option to purchase carbon credits to offset the fossil fuels used to transport them to the event.

"These are the ethics of the folks who are involved in the industry," Gagnon said. "For us it's been a natural fit. They just expect it."

Environmental ethics are not isolated to the organics industry, show organizers said, and are changing the way trade shows are run.

At the Action Sports Retailer Expo held in the San Diego Convention Center in January, event producers invested in renewable energy credits, stepped up waste-management efforts and installed recycled aisle carpeting.

The initiatives, part of Nielsen Business Media's Green Steps program, got a logical start in the company's sports group, where environmental issues have long been championed by companies affiliated with athletes and outdoor enthusiasts, said Andy Tompkins, ASR show director.

Aspects of the Green Steps then migrated to Nielsen's other properties, which include the ASD/AMD shows, he said.

"You're going to have to invest more on this," Tompkins said. "You're also potentially going to be penalized if you don't adopt it. The economics are working in the environment's favor. Companies who don't [get involved] are going to be penalized eventually by consumers."

ASR increased the number of recycling points throughout its 130,000-square-foot show, used recycled paper for show materials and in its concession stands, recaptured badge carriers and pushed cardboard and plastic recycling to 50%. "If you're not mindful, you can have compactor after compactor of trash out of the trade show," Tompkins said.

The initiatives drove the cost of paper products and waste management up about 10% to 15%, he said.

ASR and the four other shows within the sports group also partnered with 3 Phases Energy, purchasing enough renewable energy credits to replace seven shows worth of standard electricity with wind energy.

The shows don't literally run on wind, Tompkins points out—rather the energy credits fuel the production of alternate power sources.

"They have to invest in the infrastructure to get these wind turbines going," he said.

All Things Organic first made that investment three years ago, declaring itself carbon neutral. This year the show gave attendees the opportunity to offset their own travel with energy credits purchased from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

These types of energy initiatives make a simple first step, show organizers said, basically requiring a partnership with an energy company like 3 Phases or Bonneville and a check.

For example, producers put together the inaugural Green Hospitality Conference over a matter of months but still found time to incorporate energy initiatives, said Ed Watkins, editor of Lodging Hospitality, a Penton Media publication that partnered with two environmental companies to host the 175-attendee conference.

"The carbon neutral was just kind of a throw in," he said, noting that organizers next year likely will look for other ways to make an impact.

An operations team can best survey green opportunities, Tompkins said. At Nielsen, he said, the team takes stock of behaviors at in-house shows and also looks at environmental initiatives taken on by other show producers, he said.

"Every show, we want to improve what we're doing," he said.

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