On a green mission

Back in October, Catie Owen spoke to Roger Lehner (pictured below), senior operations and sustainability executive at IMEX, about the green initiatives at the core of October’s show in Las Vegas.


What were IMEX America 2023’s sustainability initiatives?

Roger LehnerWe’ve honed our sustainability initiatives over a very long time and have achieved a lot over the years. Now we’re working on incrementally improving the areas that we’ve been working on for so long – the largest of these being materials, resources, and waste. These factors go hand in hand, so having an eye on our waste streams is vital. This is especially the case when it comes to F&B.

Sourcing the food is a huge focus area for us, which means we prioritise our vegan and vegetarian menu. That doesn’t mean that we don’t offer any meat or fish, we just have a higher percentage of vegan and vegetarian options. We limit ourselves to a radius of 500 miles to source local products – which includes our drinks and the water at the show. Being mindful of our water waste is crucial at IMEX America, as Las Vegas suffers from low water levels.

It also considers the vessels that we use to serve the food on the show floor and whether they are compostable. Although some products might be labelled as biodegradable, it’s important to investigate whether the venue can compost those items. We have certain products that we can’t use because they aren’t compostable at the facilities locally available in Las Vegas.

We put a lot of effort into labelling at the show, such as dietary requirements, the carbon footprint and the water impact of our food and materials. This is for inclusivity and improving our communication about our sustainable efforts.

IMEX is also part of the Net Zero Carbon Events initiative, however, our internal strategy is to hit net zero by 2030 rather than the initiative’s 2050 goal. Our internal strategy also includes our work with isla, a non-profit focused on sustainable events. That’s been a game-changer for us in terms of tracking the event’s carbon footprint, as they provide real-time insights. It’s amazing to have a tool like that available which helps us make decisions in real time.


Were any initiatives new for this year?

This year we were able to remove carpet from areas we previously hadn’t been able to. For example, this year was the first where we’d been able to drastically reduce the carpet in the Inspiration Hub, leaving it only in the actual theatres to help with noise absorption – otherwise, it would be carnage in terms of audio. We also need to be mindful of where carpets are used, as removing them can exclude neurodivergent and disabled attendees.

We’ve been putting considerable energy into enhancing our accessibility and inclusion initiatives. This has included making information readily available, such as including accessibility needs on our website rather than making them email or call us for it.

New to this year was the Resilience Room with Google Xi on the show floor. While we’ve implemented quiet spaces before, the Resilience Room was a new addition that addresses the specific needs of some attendees who need a supervised space to decompress. 

Resilience room


Will you do anything differently next year?

We have revamped the whole People and Planet area, but we want to do a similar approach to the space we had previously. We’ve had the People and Planet area in the past but didn’t this year, and we had feedback from attendees who missed having a space to browse, learn, discover content sessions, and find out more about our sustainability initiatives. We also moved our signage around more of the show without reducing it. However, feedback showed that attendees missed having a central hub to find information.

A lot of recommendations will come from the Sustainability Event Report from MeetGreen, a sustainable event management agency, which we’ve worked closely with almost from the beginning of the IMEX shows. MeetGreen surveys and crunches the numbers post-show, which we receive a few months later as an in-depth report.


Why did you establish your partnership with MeetGreen?

We engaged with MeetGreen in 2011 to help our internal sustainable strategy in an organised way. The external assessment is also important to us, with MeetGreen being a body that can hold us accountable, put our sustainability efforts into the context of the industry, and see how we measure up on a general scale. IMEX America and IMEX Frankfurt have achieved MeetGreen’s Visionary Award for sustainability, which recognises our ability to lead the green conversation and practise what we preach.

MeetGreen carpet


How does IMEX support exhibitors’ sustainability efforts?

We have two sustainability-led guides on our website for exhibitors and booth constructors which provide information on sustainable exhibiting, F&B, stand construction and management, travel to the show, and carbon offsetting. It also offers guidance on championing inclusivity, such as using pronoun badges. As we engage with our exhibitors throughout the year, we also provide further information and insights through these regular communications.

The guides also prompt exhibitors to join the People and Planet pledge, with us in return adding their name to the IMEX EIC People & Planet Theatre for attendees to see. Exhibitors who join the pledge also receive a green booth number and green badges for their team. 


What lessons should show organisers take away from IMEX’s green journey?

Ultimately, we hope that all organisers take something away from our progress over the years. Especially for organisers and events that are just getting started on their sustainable journey; we hope that we showcase easy steps that they can begin with. The IMEX ethos is ‘we share what we learn’, which is why we make our sustainability efforts and reports public – it drives conversation and inspires.

If all organisers create strong sustainability initiatives, as we have, the impact would be much larger on the industry than just the efforts of our show alone.