Chance Thompson, senior manager, sustainability and public relations and Green Team Committee chairperson for Utah’s Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City shares why shares why he thinks the pandemic will have an effect on sustainability at meeting venues.
MeetingsNet: What changes do you think will happen to face-to-face events due to the pandemic?
Chance Thompson: In many ways, I think this is all about sustainability because we have long been talking about how preparedness and social responsibility are components of sustainability. Salt Lake County has managed its finances well and didn’t immediately hit the eject button on our full-time staff. We are trying to keep things intact so that when events are up and running in August or September, we are ready. It’s hard to ramp up to 100 miles an hour if you have layoffs, so many of our staff are still working. I know a lot of people have not been as lucky and that could impact events when things reopen. Also, in the short term, while live events are at a standstill, virtual conferences will take over. One silver lining is that while social media can connect people as an emergency stand in, everyone now sees it doesn’t really satisfy human needs. There is still that spark of creativity you get when people are in the same room. One thing I have noticed on virtual meetings is that the chat function blows up with questions and is very interactive compared to people raising their hands. In the future, face-to-face meetings might want to adopt this type of interaction because it makes for a more collaborative environment.
MeetingsNet: What do you hope won’t happen?
Thompson: I am very concerned about the zero-waste movement. There will be a ton of stigma around personal items, like reusable mugs; people are now worried about contamination, so they want throwaways. The program we are most proud of is zero waste for event materials and our donation partners. First and foremost, we encourage clients to take things back and reuse them, and we have partners we donate items to. Outside of events, in my town, people are no longer allowed to bring their own grocery bags to stores. They are going back to paper and plastic. And there are many more take-out orders and use of delivery packaging, so I worry there will be landfill issues in the future. We need to think about how to sanitize and reuse everything.
MeetingsNet: What opportunities do you think the pandemic may present to the industry?
Thompson: At the Salt Palace, we are working to improve existing programs and come up with new ones. For the industry as a whole, it is a chance to focus on circular design rather than linear design, which is take, make, dispose. We shouldn’t be taking resources to make single use items for events and then dumping them afterward. Economic disruption is so often transformative for business.
In 2018, the Utah Arts Alliance used our donations from past events to create a popup art installation called Illuminate. Seven of the eight rooms of this immersive art event were created from things trade shows left behind. It is now a permanent installation called Dreamscape in a mall near the convention center, and over six months this little nonprofit generated $500,000 of revenue and 12 full-time jobs in the art sector.
Conventions have a wonderful economic impact in the community, but they take a toll if they contribute to landfill. We all need to be thinking about whether we need an item for an event, and if so, what happens to it after.