Taking Sustainability Seriously At The PPAI Expo 2023
Thousands upon thousands of people converge on The PPAI Expo every year to engage in, celebrate and push forward promotional products. An estimated 70,000 hours of work goes into planning and executing one of the largest in-person trade shows in the United States, and in recent years, an additional amount of work goes into making sure The PPAI Expo is environmentally sustainable.
Fortunately, PPAI doesn’t take on this task alone. They are bolstered by MGM’s director of sustainable operations, Brittany Price, who works year-round to help the resort company put together events that reduce wastefulness.
“We are very lucky in that MGM as a global company has a sustainability team,” says Alan Peterson, PPAI senior vice president.
You may not notice some of the measures taken, but they will indeed be happening all around you. Every bit of trash, from coffee grounds to non-recyclable plastic, will be separated and delegated to its most sustainable next life, among many other eco-friendly practices.
Along with helping The PPAI Expo 2023 run a sustainable event, Price will also speak at The PPAI Expo Conference about the steps that individual companies and the industry as a whole can take to become more sustainable. Recently, Price spoke with PPAI Media about her role, working with PPAI and where to begin making a large event sustainable.
PPAI Media: Director of sustainable operations seems like a unique (but essential) title. How do you usually describe your job to people who ask?
Brittany Price, director of sustainable operations, MGM: In my role as the director of sustainable operations, I oversee our company’s materials and waste program, with a heavy focus on managing food waste and food donations, as well as working with our convention clients on sustainable event planning. Working in meetings and events is one of the areas that I enjoy the most. Earlier in my career, I was a small meetings manager, selling convention space at one of our resorts. It has been so refreshing to see the growth in social impact and sustainability initiatives over the past 5-6 years in this space.
PPAI Media: Have you worked with PPAI prior to The PPAI Expo 2023?
Price: I have had the opportunity to engage with PPAI on their sustainable event planning processes in years past, but I would say this year I had the opportunity to engage at a higher level.
PPAI Media: Have you enjoyed working with PPAI?
Price: It has been a pleasure partnering with PPAI through their planning process. I am always very excited when I have the opportunity to partner with the core meeting planning team in talking through ideas to increase the levels of social and environmental sustainability of an event. When discussions around sustainable event planning are integrated into the overarching planning discussion, with the core planning team, that is where you can have a real impact.
PPAI Media: I’m sure a ton goes into it, but could you describe a few of the small and large things that are required in order to be able to make an event the size of The PPAI Expo sustainable?
Price: One of the most important elements of hosting a sustainable Expo is understanding materials that will be coming on site, which items will be taken back and what will be available for donation. Material selection is also key in understanding what items we can expect in the waste stream and how they can be diverted from the landfill. At Mandalay Bay, we have an on-site recycling manager that has been included in the PPAI site visits. He has been working closely with the client to understand what opportunities there will be to divert and donate items after the Expo, so we can maximize the overall material diversion rate from the program. The other small but large element of hosting a sustainable event is education. Many attendees are unaware of the sustainable practices that are already taking place at the resort level and why the event is sustainable itself, just by being at our venue. Partnering with PPAI on education is a great way to ensure the attendee base is aware of our sustainable operating practices.
PPAI Media: PPAI is encouraging and helping lead the promotional products industry to take continuous steps toward sustainable measures and avoid being associated with “brandfill.” Have you worked with other industries that may have had to shift practices and policies to prioritize sustainability? What is something you perhaps tell companies who take an approach that suggests they can’t really make a difference?
Price: I think every industry can make a difference. And sometimes, it is a matter of starting small and taking steps to improve on practices. That is why it is exciting to work with clients who are multiple-year contracts. We can trial and learn things together and improve practices over time. Through learnings with convention clients, our operations have tested and scaled sustainable operating practices beyond our convention space. Our clients also push us to do better. Many brands have their own social impact and sustainability goals, and they want those commitments to translate over to the meetings and events they host with us.
PPAI Media: Are there any new initiatives or measures that will be taken this year that will make The PPAI Expo more sustainable?
Price: One of the initiatives with PPAI that I am excited about this year ties back to that idea of education. I have been asked to talk about sustainability at the general session. What an honor! I will also be hosting behind-the-scenes tours to PPAI attendees. The attendees invited to the tours will learn about MGM’s sustainability journey with renewable energy, water conservation, responsible operations and see a recycling dock in action.
PPAI Media: Is there anything else you’d like to mention in regard to your role or sustainable practices?
Price: My role in sustainable operations is everchanging, as the topic of sustainability evolves. While I focus specifically on environmental sustainability, the term “sustainability” is actually much broader. It includes areas like diversity, equity, inclusion, volunteerism, philanthropy and community outreach. Through partnerships with our convention clients, we have been able to encourage ideas in the event planning process that support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals that help advance efforts to ensure a sustainable future. Sustainability roles in organizations are vital to support and take actions to drive positive change.