By Carley Porter, Utah Business -- The Salt Palace Convention and Mountain America Expo Center has done a lot to be more sustainable—so much, in fact, that it won a global sustainability award in 2018.

The development of Salt Palace’s sustainability program and goals were in part inspired by the United Nation’s sustainable development goals, according to Chance Thompson, the senior manager of sustainability and public relations for the Salt Palace. Those goals include things like clean energy, responsible consumption, and climate action—as well as things like gender equality, eradicating poverty, and forging partnerships, i.e. making a sustainable community. 

The idea of creating a sustainable community is what stood out most to Thompson and his two-person team, zero waste coordinator Nick Zaccheco and sustainable events coordinator, McKell Nelson. 

“The one (goal) that we really kind of got keyed into and started our big focus and push on was community impact,” says Thompson. “This was not necessarily a new concept, but we recognized that there was an opportunity to take some of this leftover tradeshow material … (and) connect it to our community.”

The Salt Palace sustainability team began building a network of community partners, mostly nonprofit organizations. Now, Thompson estimates the Salt Palace partners with around 100 organizations. Zaccheco said these partnerships have helped divert 65 percent of waste from landfills. 

Sustainability creates jobs
One community partner that has greatly benefited from Salt Palace donations is the Utah Arts Alliance, which used items left behind from conventions as part of an enormous interactive art installation called Dreamscapes.

The idea for Dreamscapes began in 2018. Derek Dyer, executive director of the Utah Arts Alliance, says his team initially took two tons of leftover materials from the Salt Palace and an additional 28,000 pounds or so of materials between January and March of 2019.

The Utah Arts Alliance built and created the 14,000 square foot immersive space with almost zero purchases—besides things like screws and staples to help put it together, says Dyer. 

Not only was the project budget-friendly due to the reuse of materials but it’s had a positive environmental impact as well. Dyer says the impact of using the leftover materials equaled taking a car off the road for 126,000 miles, or an entire vehicle lifespan. It had a positive economic impact as well, bringing in around $500,000 and creating jobs for 12 people, several of which are full-time. 

“This has been an international example of how repurposing upcycling and sustainable practices can be used to save money, to create jobs, (and) to help with our environmental problems and issues,” says Dyer. 

And strong community partnerships
Professional artists aren’t the only ones benefitting from convention leftovers—budding artists and schools reap the benefits as well. Sharee Jorgensen, the Canyons District Arts Chair, estimates she’s worked with Thompson and his team for five years or so. K-12 teachers receive items that can be used right away, while larger items like furniture, doors or even Christmas trees are stored away for teachers to check out as needed.

“My teachers just have loved it,” says Jorgensen. “It’s really helped, especially in our elementary schools.”

The Canyons School District consists of 45 schools and around 35,000 students, and Jorgensen oversees music, dance, theater, and visual arts for the students. Besides appreciating the materials she’s able to obtain for her teachers free of charge, Jorgensen says she’s grateful to be a part of a program dedicated to reducing waste and recycling. 

“It’s a win-win. Because it helps obviously save things from the landfill,” says Jorgensen. “I don’t like seeing things thrown away that are still useful. It’s just, I don’t have a use for them. So then they go to donations, there’s lots of places around, and I just so appreciate the fact that they’ve included schools in that donation cycle.”

Benefiting the local economy and education has been a huge side benefit of working to be more environmentally friendly, says Thompson. 

“It’s gone from just being an environmental thing, to now also being about … the people side of some of this. And now we’ve been able to link all of that stuff together to show that it’s good for our local economy,” Thompson says. 

Jorgensen, for one, hopes that more local businesses will be inspired to follow suit. 

“I think there’s probably a lot of businesses that have material that they’re not selling or no longer use when they remodel and things like that and I would love if people would consider that as a donation as opposed to just throwing it away,” she says. 

Not only is recycling better for the environment, but as the Salt Palace has demonstrated, it’s better for business—and it strengthens the community, as well.

“Sometimes people think that right doing the right thing is not necessarily for the business world. And I think what sustainability is starting to show is that it’s completely the opposite,” Thompson says. “Doing the right thing, and seeing the business reasons for it has just made it so much more powerful.”