By Kelsie Foreman, Utah Business — For some companies, becoming more sustainable seems like something absolutely impossible. But for those at the Salt Palace Convention Center and Mountain America Expo Center, sustainability has become an incredibly important part of their business model.

And it’s working: The Salt Palace and the Mountain America Expo Center have both been awarded the IMEX-EIC Innovation in Sustainability Award. The award is given to event professionals who drive sustainability forward with collaboration and innovation. This particular award was given to the two jointly-managed facilities for their “creative approaches to repurposing leftover event materials.”

It’s no surprise that there is a surplus of leftover signs, banners, cardboard, and pieces of wood a left behind long after events or conventions have wrapped up. But dumping these items in trash bins and landfills can be terribly costly—both on the pocketbooks of your business and on the environment, said Chance Thompson, Senior Manager of Sustainability and Public Relations at the Salt Palace and Chair of the Green Team Committee.

Salt Palace Convention Center Green TowerBothered by the amount of tossed materials, the Green Team Sustainable Committee at the Salt Palace and Expo Center decided to do something about it. Paired up with major organizations like Visit Salt Lake, Utah Food Services, and PSAV (a global event planning group) the facilities have figuratively “led the charge” when it comes to sustainability in the event industry. The efforts of the Green Team help keep those used or left-behind event materials out of our landfills and integrated back into non-profit organizations and schools throughout the community.

“For example,” Thompson said, “foam core signs are donated to local schools to be reused for art projects, science project displays, theater set designs or costumes. Building materials and carpet go to the Re-Store (Habitat for Humanity) to be sold or to be used in housing projects. Lanyards, bags, and giveaway items go to Camp Hobe, a two-week summer camp for children being treated for cancer and their siblings. There is a use for just about anything. We’ve even donated small carpet samples, like you’d see at Home Depot or Lowes, to a local artist. These otherwise useless piece of carpet will soon be constructed into a picture mosaic of a powerful women figure in American history.”

But their creative and unique efforts don’t end with donated banners, lanyards, bags, or foam signs. The Green Team Committee works hard so that virtually anything left-over after the completion of the convention can be reused or donated, he said, and that even includes the cigarette butts left in ashtrays around the building.

“After donation, dedicated recycling and sometimes creative upcycling is key,” said Mr. Thompson. “Our cigarette butts go into the content of construction materials, such as traffic cones, and fabric banners have been turned into ball gowns.”

These kinds of genius recycling ideas are why the convention centers were awarded the Innovation in Sustainability Award. Besides helping the convention centers be greener, these reused materials have helped save theater programs, like that of Highland Junior High, more than $2,000 in production costs. Additionally, 4,000 pounds of signage were donated to the Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club, where they were transformed into elaborate pieces of armor for their Star Wars Club.

Since the conception of the committee, the Green Team Committee has partnered with more than 70 local partners like Catholic Community Services, Camp Hobe, and Habitat for Humanity. These partnerships have resulted in more than 200,000 pounds of leftover event materials or food being donated to non-profit businesses and redistributed throughout the community.

Sustainability is great for the community and the environment but making an effort to “go greener” as a business may save more than a few dollars. For example, Green Team members at the Salt Palace have added LED lights throughout the facility. This change will essentially pay for itself in two years and will also save the building hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs every year, Mr. Thompson said. These energy savings are equivalent to 2.5 million kilowatts of saved electricity per year, or 50,000 planted trees. It’s savings like these that are often the driving factor behind many companies transitioning toward a more sustainable model, he said. The decision to become more sustainable can be a difficult one for many businesses but is something that can be easily introduced with a slight change in the company’s core values.

“The first is to make sustainability one of your core values as an organization and build it into your daily operation,” said Mr. Thompson. “Using the triple bottom line, meaning people, planet and profit, your team can find ways to contribute to the community, help the planet breathe a little easier, and often, save the organization’s pocketbooks.”

For businesses looking for an easy way to be more sustainable while potentially saving money, Mr. Thompson suggested running an energy and water audit. This audit, provided by local utility companies, can help businesses become aware of the areas where improvement is needed. Mr. Thompson said after the Green Team Committee ran their audit, they identified several opportunities where improvements could be made in terms of sustainability, and they ran with it. Using the information provided in the audit to their advantage—the committee has made changes in infrastructure (like the new LED lighting) that have resulted in a utility savings of around six figures per year, every year. Savings like that will keep budgets breathing easy all year long.