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Anecdotes of the Greater Good: Corporate Social Responsibility in the Tradeshow/Events Industry

Pictured: Absolute Exhibits’ Toy Drive in Tijuana, Mexico

by Amadeus Finlay

A rising tide lifts all boats, and as adages go, what goes around comes around. Corporate Social Responsibility is the art of combining the two, and with endless ways to get involved in the practice, CSR remains the best method for companies to demonstrate that the greater good comes before profits.

Absolute Exhibits of Tustin, Calif., has long understood the importance of giving back; in fact, Senior Marketing Manager Catherine Hess describes the firm as having CSR “embedded in its DNA.” “As a company,” Hess explains, “we calculate every bit of wood we use to construct our exhibits and donate trees to ensure we give back to the environment and provide a sustainable future.” That’s not all, either. The company’s CSR policy is flexible, meaning it can respond to social issues and natural emergencies at a moment’s notice; over the past two years, Absolute Exhibits has provided support to communities hit by hurricanes in Puerto Rico, and Houston. As recently as December 2018, the firm donated more than 1,500 toys and 3,600 items of clothing to underprivileged children and their families living in the slums outside Tijuana, Mexico.

But this being California, Absolute Exhibits isn’t alone in their philanthropic efforts and the San Diego Convention Center is there with the best of them. Stating a belief in “being good neighbors,” the SDCC connects meeting planners with non-profits and charities so they can create altruistic partnerships. The center also regularly works with local community organizations in the support of volunteer opportunities, all of which is designed to reflect the value that the facility places on the concept of service.

“Service applies to both internal customer service as well as external service to our community,” explains SDCC Public Affairs Manager Rita de La Fuente. “Our staff has always been willing to donate their time to events, but over the past two years we’ve really made a conscious effort to volunteer outside of our offices and have devoted more time to looking for other organizations to volunteer with.”

And the venue has been exhaustive in their efforts. Throughout the past year, the SDCC has participated in a host of volunteerism activities, including cleaning San Diego Bay via “Operation Clean Sweep,” marching in the San Diego LGBT Pride Parade, and joining the Susan G Komen 5K Race for the Cure. The center was also involved in wrapping gifts at the USO San Diego benefit for military families, and has a long-standing relationship with the San Diego Rescue Mission and Partners for Hope, to which it has been donating leftover food from conventions and events for more than 15 years.

beMatrix planting treesLeaving the SDCC behind, a leap over the Atlantic shifts the focus to beMatrix, one of Belgium’s leading producers of modular components. Like California, the EU was a pioneer of corporate social responsibility, and that sentiment is reflected in every move that beMatrix takes. In their publication “be anything. and above all be sustainable” the company states that “sustainability is one of our key drivers and a core theme in every department of our business,” explaining “we actively contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.” And just like Absolute Exhibits, beMatrix reflects CSR in its products; for every five aluminum frames sold, the company sponsors one square meter of new forest growth. (Pictured left: beMatrix employees planting trees)

At the helm is Edwin Van Der Vennet, and the award-winning entrepreneur lives and breathes CSR. As CEO of exhibitdesign, Mark Bendickson, comments, “You know, I don’t think I know anyone more passionate about green manufacturing and the environment than Edwin Van Der Vennet.”

Keeping the attention on Europe, the ExCeL London is a convention and event center in the east end of the British capital, and just like their neighbors in Belgium, Excel London considers CSR an integral component of their identity. As a participant in the UN Global Compact Scheme (the world’s largest CSR initiative which creates relationships with companies which share universal principles on human rights, labor, the environment and anti-corruption), ExCel London takes the concept of corporate social responsibly to a whole new level. “At ExCeL London, we are passionate about creating a meaningful and inspiring legacy,” explains Lucy Merritt, head of marketing and communications. “CSR forms an important part of our strategy, from working with charities to address the increasing need for food donations or sponsoring community events, through to responding to the growing global crisis of managing single-use plastic by identifying ways in which our venue can reduce the amount of plastic waste generated whilst making it easier for our guests to make sustainable choices.”

Recycling and general use trash cans are located throughout the venue, with cardboard, plastics and paper segregated on-site. Excel London even recycles food waste at their very own commercial wormery (and with more than 300,000 worms, it is also the U.K.’s largest). But that’s not all; every drop of used vegetable oil is converted into bio fuel.

“Our waste metrics are reviewed on a monthly basis” reveals Merritt, “and we set annual targets to continuously reduce waste and we undertake annual audits, certified to both international environmental standards ISO14001 and ISO20121.” And there is real value to the fine toothcomb approach taken by Excel London. As Merritt comments, “events by their very nature can be wasteful entities, with leftover stand materials, packaging, brochures, delegate bags, promotional items and food waste. One of our main priorities is to ensure our customers are aware of our sustainability objectives and that they help to uphold our policies.”

But not everyone can compete with Excel London. In fact, some entities are just beginning their journey. Highway 85 Creative is an exhibit house in Glendale Ariz., and 2019 marks a new direction for the firm as they begin to focus on the place of CSR in their business.

“We work in such an international industry,” explains Joe Anderson, marketing and business development, “meaning we all flock to certain cities where our presence puts a strain on local resources. It was then that we realized it was important to give back to those communities affected by our work. As a result, one of our big priorities for the coming year will be employee volunteering days.”

“The idea actually came from one of our team members,” continues Anderson, “and together as a company, we brainstormed programs that will include working with children’s charities, local food banks and Habitat for Humanity.”Highway 85 Recording Studio

However, this isn’t Highway 85’s first foray into the greater good. Following the success of the firm’s podcast studio at last year’s EXHIBITORLIVE, the creative minds at Highway 85 decided to rebuild the space in Glendale for use by the local community, free of charge (pictured right: Highway 85’s recording studio). The facility has been a hotbed for local recording artists ever since.

And speaking of studios; sitting in the heart of Providence, R.I., the Dunkin Donuts Center is a live music hub complete with a 100,000-sq.ft. convention hall and 23 meeting rooms. But for all its size, the intimate nature of life in ‘lil Rhody’ means the center is closely connected with the needs of the local community. Just under two miles away sits the Hasbro Children’s Hospital, and its mission is one of the most difficult in the state. In March 2018, the staff at the Dunkin Donuts Center brought the Harlem Globetrotters to visit the hospital’s brave young patients and perform some of the finest tricks in basketball. The visit was a sensation, bringing light and hope to those who need it the most.

“We believe in community and a commitment to spread the wealth,” explains Cheryl Cohen, director of marketing, public relations and booking. “In addition to supporting the children at the hospital, we work with Toys for Tots and the Marines, as well as the local chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.”

“Event organizers often ask us what charitable activities they can get involved in,” continues Cohen, “and we are more than happy to help. To date, philanthropic activities have included working with Rhode Island Community Food Bank and the Providence Animal Rescue League to donate pet food and supplies.”

Far from the shores of The Ocean State sits the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Each Christmas, NOLA hosts the ChristmasFest, an indoor, family-oriented holiday festival featuring ice slides, ice skating, themed inflatables, rides and a spectacular light show. Last year, local nonprofit organization “Son of a Saint” was the beneficiary of the event’s annual fundraiser, with the charity for fatherless boys being awarded with a check for $5,164.

Keeping matters in the south, OCTANORM is a veteran supplier of exhibition construction systems based in Atlanta, Geo. Despite its reputation, OCTANORM is a relatively small company, but that does not prevent the firm from engaging in positive CSR activities.

“It’s often difficult for a small company of less than 50 employees to engage in meaningful CSR,” explains President and CEO, Norm Friedrich, “However, we have always advocated for – and produced – sustainable and reusable products in our industry as the essence of our existence. From a philanthropic standpoint, we are actively involved in the EDPA Foundation as well as the Randy Smith Memorial Golf Classic. In terms of our business practices, we have always paid for 100 percent of the health care benefits for all our employees and their families as a means of social responsibility.”

“I can testify with certainty,” continues Friedrich, “that good people are attracted to good companies. There are advantages for both employer and employee when the company engages in environmental sustainability initiatives, philanthropic giving and ethical business practices. The employee feels that they are making a difference and it’s not just a job. The employer benefits from loyalty and increased productivity. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Another company that takes CSR seriously, Orbus Exhibit and Display Group, one of North America’s leading wholesale suppliers and manufacturers of display, exhibit, graphic and event solutions, won Gold in “Company of the Year-Midwest” and Silver in “Most Environmentally Responsible Company of the Year” in the Best in Biz Awards 2018 out of an impressive 700 entries from companies of all sizes. “We are thrilled to have been awarded gold and silver in the 2018 Best in Biz Awards,” says Giles Douglas, president and CEO of Orbus. “It is an honor to be recognized for our strong commitment to the environment and to our employees.”

Cobo Center Living Green RoofIn Detroit, the Cobo Center balances its status as an international convention center with an intensive CSR program. Operating under the mantra, “Sustainability Lives Here” the Cobo Green initiative includes partnerships with My Green Michigan, Detroit Ecoworks and Forgotten Harvest, as well as a 10,000 sq.ft. space on the convention center roof that has been covered with vegetation planted on a waterproofing membrane (pictured left). The wondrous little ecosystem also includes irrigation systems alongside four honeybee hives and a herb garden. Inside, Cobo Green has also seen the installation of induction lighting in exhibit halls that save 40 percent on standard electric usage, as well as computer controls to turn off lights throughout the facility when there is enough sunlight to illuminate the building.

But there is more. As Claude Molinari, general manager of Cobo Center explains, “part of insuring that Cobo Center is an industry leader is creating financial sustainability through strong community relationships and ethnical business practices. Our vendors are vetted for fair and sustainable practices. Our labor unions work under an efficiency agreement that guarantees fair treatment for employees, visitors and customers. Working together with all parties strengthens the industry and provides a high-profile platform to champion the importance of social responsibility.”

A similar story can be found at the Javits Center in downtown New York City, where CSR activities are central a focus of the facility’s operating ethos. Striving to be a model of sustainable practices for the exhibition industry, buildings across New York City and the surrounding community as a whole, Javits Center works with several institutions to study the impact of their conservation efforts while introducing elements designed to have a positive impact on the environment. These improvements include the installation of more than 100 energy-efficient HVAC units across the center, as well as energy-efficient lighting and the placement of recycling containers throughout the facility. Javits Center also invested in a cutting-edge energy dashboard that allows designated engineers and employees to monitor consumption levels for electric, gas and water. As a result of their initiatives, the facility was awarded a LEED Silver certification for exceeding New York State’s mandate of reducing energy and water consumption by 20 percent by the year 2020.

And just like Cobo Center, Javits Center also boasts a state-of-the-art green roof, with this particular design allowing the garden to absorb up to seven million gallons of storm water run-off per year, while also serving to reduce heat gain throughout the building. As a result of all of the facility’s initiatives, Javits Center’s annual energy consumption has been reduced by 26 percent.

From recording studios to pet food and bio fuel, the international convention and tradeshow community takes its responsibility to society seriously. This isn’t an industry that dresses-up PR opportunities with philanthropic façades, but actively seeks ways to make the world a better–and happier–place through heartfelt earnestness.

So, take a bow, everyone. By doing what you do, you are improving life for everyone you reach, today as well as tomorrow. You’re all superstars.

This story originally appeared in the March/April issue of Exhibit City News, pp. 36-39. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecn_flipbook_marchapril2019?e=16962537/67925242


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