You won’t find plastic cups or water bottles at this month’s Outdoor Retailer (OR)—North America’s largest outdoor industry trade show. As a part of a historic pledge dubbed the Plastic Impact Alliance (PIA), business leaders from across the outdoor industry are banding together for the first time to reject single-use plastic at the event. Instead, the 20,000-plus attendees will find water-refill stations and plastic-free happy hours when the show convenes at the Colorado Convention Center, June 18–20.
While this is a big step forward for an event that has long focused on the environment, the longterm goals for OR are even more substantial—to become the country’s first-ever plastic-free, zero-waste trade event; and to teach outdoors adventures how to eradicate plastic consumption, too.
“This is a targeted industry movement, but the scaleability is super massive. We hope companies bring these practices back to their offices and daily lives, and ultimately to their audience members,” says SNEWS Editor-in-Chief Kristin Hostetter, who helped to shepherd the coalition.
At the Winter Market, one of three annual trade shows, Hostetter became hyperaware of the countless single-use water bottles and coffee cups juxtaposed with expert-led panels on climate change. Post-show, she brainstormed solutions with Kali Platt, Catapult Creative Labs (CCL) account manager, and Kelly Blake, CCL’s vice president of client services and strategy, which inspired the PIA.
“We need to model the behaviors that are so important to climate change and sustainability in our daily lives and at our trade show. If we can’t, we’re being hypocritical,” Hostetter says.
Seven million single-use plastic bottles are used each year among adventure tourism businesses alone, reports Travelers Against Plastic and the Adventure Travel Trade Association. “We can do so much better for our environment. There are many great reusable water bottles,” says Jonathan Degenhardt, senior marketing manager of Deuter, a manufacturer based in Longmont that signed the pledge. “We’re not going to clean up the oceans overnight by foregoing disposable water bottles at the trade show. It’s incremental, cooperative progress.”
More than 200 companies and organizations—including publications and public relations companies, government agencies, nonprofits, and international brands—have joined the PIA since the effort launched in March. The agreement maintains that companies should avoid using expendable plastic containers, and those companies hosting booths are directed to install hydration stations, so that show-goers have spots to fill-up their water bottles between meetings, which are scattered across the 584,000-square-foot meeting venue. Booth-holders are dually tasked to provide reusable cups for peers rather than single-use plastic options. And Nalgene has even chipped in, announcing that it will supply 25,000 free water bottles to the show’s attendees.
There’s also a secondary aspect to the pledge, the Plastic Impact Promise, which collects individual’s signatures and ask participants to decline single-use plastic containers and bring their own reusable vessels to the trade show. So far, close to 700 people have committed.
The hope is that creating awareness around single-use plastic will lead folks to identify and eliminate other single-use waste from their lives—including takeout boxes and disposable cutlery. For instance, Steamboat Springs-based Honey Stinger will provide a water station at their booth and recycle product sample wrappers through the TerraCycle program. The pledge even inspired Patagonia to hire a sustainability auditor for the upcoming show, in order to track the brand’s footprint from booth materials to polybags.
“The magnitude of those involved with Plastic Impact Alliance puts things into perspective,” says Sara Tlamka, brand director for Honey Stinger. “As a shared force, we have tremendous power to effect change–we can do a lot of damage, or a lot of good.”