Fueled by the Foundation: The Greening of Meetings

Author: David McMillin       

Learn how one of the recipients of the PCMA Education Foundation’s Visionary Awards is lightening the load in trash cans at the end of meetings and trade shows.

Few things say “excess” like a tractor-trailer load of waste leaving a convention. And few things give Jeff Chase, vice president of sustainability, Freeman Company and the PCMA Education Foundation’s 2018 Community Advocate of the Year, greater satisfaction than seeing those trucks — filled with food, furniture, stationery, flooring, you name it — headed to local organizations that can put them to good use.

“Most shows send 40, 50 percent of their waste to landfills. But if you do the advance planning and proper thinking, you can donate a lot to the community, put things in the right recycling bin and do the right thing,” Chase said.

At the monolithic CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, where “the volume of waste is huge, the biggest waste show we have,” Chase works to make waste into a more manageable 75 percent reclaimed materials. And with Greenbuild International, a show dedicated to sustainability in the construction industry, that figure soars to 90 percent.

Chase has been head of sustainability for Freeman since 2011, when the global events company bought Chase’s planning firm, including its portfolio of green-focused clients. In those seven years, Chase has seen the demand for green operations soar. “In the beginning, it was hard to identify really how many environmentally focused clients Freeman had,” he said. “Many people do want to do the right thing, but after putting so much effort into planning a show, don’t want to put the time into the end of the show — what will happen with all the things used. But a little time makes a huge impact.” Chase estimates that green-minded clients now represent $400 million of Freeman’s business.

Some of the things he’s helped repurpose: Tools, tile, hardwoods, carpeting, countertops, and flooring used in exhibits at a hardware show were diverted to industry interns and building organizations like Habitat for Humanity. Truckloads of unopened, small packages of food from displays at a convenience store association convention were sent to multiple locations of Ronald McDonald houses. Playthings from a massive toy fair that needed to be unboxed and constructed for display — but don’t lend themselves to going back into boxes — hello, Toys for Tots. “Whatever your show is about, whether it’s medical or fancy food, you’ve brought all these things: tables and chairs for booths, carpeting and décor to make the booth special,” Chase said. “And in so many cases it’s just thrown away.”

Click here for a look back at the PCMA Education Foundation’s Visionary Awards, an evening that honored Chase and the other stars of the business events industry.

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