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The Association of African Exhibition Organisers Advocates for Environmentally-conscious Events Amidst Africa’s Business Tourism Growth

According to The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), business travel and tourism in Africa is projected to grow at an annual rate of 7.6% by 2028. With growing investment and attention toward events throughout the continent, prioritising environmentally-responsible gatherings has become increasingly imperative. In fact, research conducted by the Events Industry Council highlights that integrating sustainability into event organisation not only yields a notable 20-30% decrease in expenses but results in a substantial 60-80% reduction in waste.

“A myriad of factors contribute to waste, spanning from disposable plastics to excess food. Surprisingly, the average event discards 15%-20% of its food, while the industry as a whole squanders 10% of its output. On average, each attendee generates a staggering 1.89kg of waste daily, of which 1.16kg ends up in landfills.[1] These figures underscore the importance for prioritising sustainability in event management across Africa, integrating it into the very beginning stage of planning,” says Devi Paulsen-Abbott, Chairperson of AAXO.

Considering the significance of sustainability within the events industry, numerous AAXO members and stakeholders are championing the implementation of eco-friendly practices tailored to their specific niches within the sector:

Scan Display

Justin Hawes Managing Director at Scan Display

Scan Display, specialising in award-winning exhibition stands, exhibition and event infrastructure, mall activations, roadshows and displays, leads the charge towards sustainability in the South African exhibition and events industry by integrating eco-friendly practices into their service offering through a range of green solutions such as green exhibition infrastructure and eco-friendly products like LED lights and re-usable fabric branding. For instance, their Fabric Pop-up System and Tension Fabric System provide lightweight, reusable alternatives to traditional displays, significantly reducing waste; whilst their Fabric Shell Scheme enables clients to print reusable fabric graphics, minimising the need for disposable materials.

In past events, Scan Display has pioneered initiatives like the Sustainability Village at the International Federation of Exhibition & Event Services’ (IFES) annual congress in Cape Town in 2013, promoting locally-made products and offering sustainable gifting solutions to delegates. Notably, the concept was used at Meetings Africa 2014 and has been used at every subsequent Meetings Africa show since.

Scan Display also minimises waste generation during events by encouraging the use of their sustainable products, which are designed for reusability and donate any old fabric graphics to organisations that upcycle materials. Moreover, Scan Display’s commitment to sustainability is evident through its partnerships and initiatives, such the Event Greening Forum  – which was founded by Scan Display’s Managing Director, Justin Hawes – to promote sustainability practices within the events industry.

“Sustainability has been an important part of Scan Display’s company ethos for a long time. We’ve been developing sustainable products and solutions long before sustainability became a hot topic, and are always on the look-out for new sustainable solutions and more eco-friendly ways of operating,” adds Hawes.

dmg events

Joshua Low Vice President of dng events South Africa

dmg events is actively driving sustainability through a multi-faceted approach that integrates sustainability practices into its service offerings, with their commitment to the three pillars of sustainability central to this endeavour: Reduce, Re-use, and Recycle. This commitment involves collaborating with suppliers, and helping to shape attendee behaviour by raising awareness and education., In 2023, the company formed  a sustainability committee to assess and mitigate environmental impacts, with their strategic roadmap including targets to cut emissions and waste by 50% by 2030 and to achieve net-zero status by 2050. Additionally, they focus on minimising waste generation during events through various measures such as recycling efforts, re-using event elements, waste separation at venues, digitising elements of the event such as showguides, among other initiatives. 

At dmg events, the company will start to measure its environmental impact through a newly developed set of metrics, utilising a carbon accounting platform to benchmark emissions and track progress.  The company is also a signatory to the Net Zero Carbon Events pledge, dedicated to leading the industry towards a more sustainable future.

“I believe the primary obstacles to adopting sustainable practices in events include a lack of understanding about what sustainability involves and challenges in changing organisational habits and behaviours. To overcome these challenges, we are enhancing our training and awareness initiatives concerning sustainability and motivating individuals to adopt new behaviours. Additionally, the company has integrated sustainable business practices into our KPI framework, requiring us to prepare sustainability reports for every one of our events,” says Joshua Low, Vice President of dmg events South Africa.

Century City Conference Centre

Bernard Abrahams Operations manager at Century Conference Centre

From water management to energy-saving measures, Century City Conference Centre has implemented practices aimed at minimising its environmental footprint. Notably, the Conference Centre utilises non-potable water in all restroom facilities and makes use of on-site water filtration and carbonation systems to decrease packaging waste from bottled water; whilst the installation of a solar energy system comprising over 800 photovoltaic modules has significantly reduced carbon emissions by 17%, exemplifying the commitment to sustainable operations. Additionally, the Centre aligns its practices with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), incorporating elements such as sourcing sustainably, offering vegetarian and vegan food options, and adopting responsible waste management processes.

In line with their holistic approach to sustainability, Century City Conference Centre ensures that sustainability extends throughout every aspect of their operations – not solely during events but as an inherent part of their ethos.

“When the Conference Centre was constructed, we partnered with the Green Building Council of South Africa to ensure that the latest developments in sustainable architecture and infrastructure were implemented, such as our dual plumbing and solar energy panels. In our operations, we partner with Pandae, who sort our waste on-site and assist with recycling used goods and turning our food waste into vermi-compost. We also work alongside Zanita, to offer our event organisers a sustainable solution for building exhibition stands. Our latest partnership is with Weeva, a Sus-Tech company that helps us to record the results of our initiatives and consults with our management to ensure that we are constantly improving our efforts,” says Bernard Abrahams, Operations Manager at Century City Conference Centre.

Century City Conference Centre strongly endorses the notion that sustainability encompasses various dimensions and demands a thorough strategy, which is why they have adopted Weeva’s all-encompassing framework, which acknowledges sustainability through the “4Cs”: Conservation, Commerce, Culture, and Community.

“The commitment demonstrated by AAXO members and other industry stakeholders underscores a collective determination to prioritising sustainability in event planning and execution. As Africa consolidates its role as a pivotal centre for business tourism, the importance of environmental responsibility holds undeniable significance with collaboration, innovation, and facilitating ongoing educational efforts key to the growth of sustainability in the sector,” concludes Paulsen-Abbott.

About The Association of African Exhibition Organisers

The Association of African Exhibition Organisers is a collaborative platform primarily representing exhibition organisers in Africa. This collaboration guarantees an investment in the growth and development of exhibitions as well as industry challenges being addressed. Having earned the acclaim as an association that delivers on its obligations, AAXO is committed to promoting the industry, encouraging businesses to invest and participate in exhibitions, affording members tools and resources for successful exhibition management, and encouraging world-class industry standards. This dedication is evident in AAXO’s commitment to linking organisers to a network of suppliers and opportunities to ensure growth in the exhibition industry.

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