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Freeman's sustainability efforts set standard for tradeshow general contractors

Efforts to promote environmental sustainability have been growing in prominence among the various factions within the tradeshow industry, but Freeman is setting a high standard for general contractors.

Freeman likely is the first firm in the tradeshow industry to have a dedicated executive tasked with ensuring everyday operations are as environmentally sustainable as possible. The position of sustainability director reflects Freeman’s dedication to improving its recycling and other efforts to protect the environment while reducing costs.

“Freeman has had a lot of sustainability for years,” said Jeff Chase, sustainability director, Freeman. “It’s really become one of the pillars of our operational excellence.”

While sustainability has been part of the firm’s emphasis on operational excellence for some time, much of the effort was on either a part-time or voluntary basis. After nearly two years with Freeman, Chase has worked with about 80 corporate and association clients that represent about $400 million in revenue annually to Freeman to help them to support green initiatives at their shows, and it is growing every day.

Chase is in charge of Freeman’s national green task force, which ensures each of the firm’s 70 facilities closely adheres to recycling and other sustainability efforts. The effort has been so successful that Freeman’s Las Vegas operation recently won accolades for its green initiatives, which generally occur on two levels: at the warehouse and office. Freeman has created a green toolkit, which helps exhibitors measure their freight and fuel costs, reduce energy consumption, recycle more wood and metal products and reduce the waste and cost from printing.

“In the last four years, the Las Vegas operation has diverted millions of pounds of waste,” said Chase. “One dock worker suggested the program four years ago and came up with a plan. Now we call it the ‘Vegas model.’”

The Las Vegas model relies greatly on recycling efforts to reduce waste as well as cost. At show sites, that means using recycled paper product and ensuring anything that can be recycled is done so at the end of the event. That takes teamwork and coordination as well as outside assistance.

On each green client show we work with the local Union labor to help train them on the recycling goals for the show,” said Chase. “There are several recycling streams at the show: PVC, carpet, cardboard and others. Some facilities do a great job, like the Moscone Center in San Francisco.”

The Las Vegas model has earned Freeman local recognition of its environmentally sustainable efforts. The firm won the Best Recycler award during the 2012 Green Awards as determined by the Las Vegas business press. Over the prior three years, Freeman diverted about 85 percent of rubbish destined for landfills, up from about 10 percent three years ago, and recycled about 2 million pounds of materials, up from some 116,000 pounds.

Floor coverings and printed materials generally create the greatest amount of waste for exhibitors, according to Chase. But Freeman has initiated a recycling program for carpeting and switched from using foam-backed signs that cannot be recycled to using signs backed with Falconboard, which is recyclable. Chase said Freeman produces more than 10 million square feet of graphics each year for our clients and we are working to produce as much as possible on recyclable substrates that do not go to the landfill.

Recycling at the show site as well as at Freeman’s various facilities has reduced the cost of trash services.

“We used to have 200 to 300 dumpster pulls. Now we are down to one per month,” said Chase.

Freeman’s recycling efforts have proven so successful, it has eliminated the prior cost of hauling away tons of rubbish each year and become revenue-neutral by saving the firm an estimated $400,000 per year. Freeman executives are excited with their green efforts and are working to duplicate them all across the enterprise.

“We are doing a lot of behind-the-scenes research where we can find more products that can be Earth-friendly,” said Chase. “We are looking to the future.”

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