by Matt Alderton | December 30, 2013
Although the exhibition industry overwhelmingly acknowledges the importance of sustainability, most exhibition organizers have yet to adopt sustainable business practices, according to UFI, the global association of the exhibition industry, which this month published a new report assessing the state of sustainability among exhibition venues and organizers.

According to the report, “Status of Sustainability in the Exhibition Industry,” 99 percent of exhibition organizers, venues and suppliers agree that the exhibition industry is concerned with the issue of sustainability. And while 39 percent of all companies have implemented sustainability across their organization, only one in five (20 percent) exhibition organizers has done so.

Likewise, 64 percent of exhibition organizers are aware of the ISO 20121 standard for sustainable event management, yet only 34 percent believe the standard is relevant to the industry or their company. This compares to 80 percent of venues that are aware of the standard, and 67 percent of venues that believe it’s relevant.

There are many reasons for the gap between appreciating sustainability and implementing it, according to UFI, which documented as companies’ biggest challenges lack of interest/commitment from stakeholders (56 percent), complexity (31 percent) and cost (27 percent).

To facilitate further adoption of sustainable practices among exhibition organizers, UFI’s Sustainable Development Committee has developed a series of actions to inform, educate and promote sustainability among its members, including the development of an online education program and a new awards program recognizing best practices in sustainable development. Additionally, it has released a template designed to assist companies in developing sustainability reporting structures.

“Most people would agree that the world currently suffers from an economic crisis ... or an environmental crisis ... or a social crisis ... or perhaps all three. This is why a sustainable approach — including environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and socio-political sustainability — represents a viable solution to an urgent situation for a growing number of individuals, companies, public and government bodies,” UFI President Chen Xianjin says in the introduction to UFI’s report. “The exhibition industry can and should play a role in implementing sustainability.”