5 Ways Attendees Can ‘Green’ Natural Products Expo West.

Via Jeanne Eisenhaure
on Mar 22, 2013
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Jeanne's Expo West Bag

I recently lost my Natural Products Expo West virginity, and as might be expected, it was a mix of emotions.

On the one hand, I’m thrilled to see more organic and environmentally sustainably sourced products entering the marketplace, as well as all of the hustling entrepreneurs working the booths. On the other hand, I was incredibly turned off on how a ‘natural’ expo could be so far from natural.

Between being inside for 10+ hours at a time, with no fresh air or natural light, to the excessive amount of plastic waste and mediocre attempts at zero-waste mitigation, each day I left the expo a little disheartened by this face of the natural products industry.

With a background in event production (in particular, those with a sustainability focus), I understand just how difficult it is to execute a zero-waste event; it requires a significant amount of manpower during the event, often a higher cost, and time spent educating attendees, vendors and venue staff.

Given that we can all only control our own actions, I wanted to provide a quick list of really easy ways attendees can help reduce the waste they generate at next year’s Natural Products Expo West.

1. Bring a tasting cup.

I brought a really easy re-sealable travel mug. Ask every vendor you stop by to provide a sample directly into your reusable cup instead of a plastic or paper cup. This worked great and prevented hundreds of little plastic cups from going into the trash.

ToGoMug - Jeanne Eisenhaure
My tasting to-go mug
SilkRoadTeas c Jeanne Eisenhaure
Kudos to Silk Road Teas for being the only vendor I saw to offer reusable (and beautifully displayed) porcelain cups for tasting their teas.

2. Bring reusable utensils.

This may sound inconvenient, but companies like To-Go Ware have created lightweight and stylish bamboo utensil sets that can easily be clipped to your bag. I was lucky enough to run into To-Go Ware’s founder Stephanie Bernstein and she hooked me up with an amazing set of utensils that I used the remainder of the event.

To-Go Ware bamboo utensil set
To-Go Ware bamboo utensil set

3. Don’t take everything!

I know it is freebee overload at Expo West, but try to stop and think before you take a sample or sales-sheet  First, did you like the product? If not, don’t take a sample! Second, do you really need a sales sheet or can you just take a business card (less paper) and look at their information online? Better yet, jot their name down in a small notebook.

I may have gone a little overboard with the buttons; by the end of the day, I jingled when I walked. Lesson learned.

4. Ask vendors about their packaging.

For the most part, all of the packaging I saw at Expo West was plastic (not even recycled plastic). There were a few exceptions to this: Superfood Snacks and Evo Hemp Bars are both using compostable packaging films from brands like Innovia Films (who were also at the event). The more demand for non-plastic packaging coming from retailers and customers, the more resources will be dedicated towards product development and innovation.

So start asking! Check out the time-lapse video of Superfood Snacks’ packaging biodegrading in a garden compost pile.

SuperFoodSnacks c Jeanne Eisenhaure
Superfood Snacks compostable packaging


Waylon Lewis learning about the Superfood Snacks’ compostable packaging from the founder Adam Collins
Compostable Packaging
Biodegradable packaging films from Innovia Films and Eagle Flexible Packaging.

5. Be picky about what you put in your body!

I wasn’t (rookie mistake) and each day I left with a stomach ache. Ask vendors about their ingredients and sourcing practices. I couldn’t believe how many completely unnatural products were being hawked at ‘Natural’ Products Expo West. Then I remembered…there is a lot of money to be made by tricking well-meaning customers into purchasing products with the label ‘natural.’ (Hint: natural doesn’t really mean anything.) A few questions to ask: Are your ingredients organic? From where are your ingredients sourced and what is your relationship with the supplier? Are your ingredients GMO free? What is ‘natural’ about your product?

SilkRoadTeas - Jeanne Eisenhaure
Photo of Ned Heagerty, founder of Silk Road Teas, who explained to me in depth the sourcing of his product.

Just a quick list to hopefully help attendees start to transform Natural Products Expo West to be a bit more natural and lower waste. For additional photos of the event, please visit The Kitchen Coop’s Facebook Page

What else could attendees be doing to green Expo West or other conferences they attend?


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Ed: Brianna Bemel


About Jeanne Eisenhaure

A pragmatic idealist with a background in creative production and communications, Jeanne has seen firsthand how for-profit businesses can be vehicles for social and environmental improvement in addition to creating long-term sustainable financial growth. Jeanne works with her creative agency Jett DIGiTAL to produce creative content and strategic commutations strategies for businesses who want to change the world for the better. Why just build a business, when you can build a movement? Learn more about Jeanne and connect with her on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, and her favorite platform YouTube. Discover her latest thoughts on creative production, marketing, and using business strategy for social good on her blog at Jett DIGiTAL. Follow Jett DIGiTAL on Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo for their latest projects.


4 Responses to “5 Ways Attendees Can ‘Green’ Natural Products Expo West.”

  1. DaveTelf says:

    best expo review i've read yet. you nailed it.

    did you get a chance to see the loading docks out back? the waste is more extravagant than anyone would ever want to know.

    One note on cups: every self-respecting organization uses biodegradable sample cups. Whole Foods mandates it, so many vendors are already in the habit. Not perfect, but not all trash either. And though short of perfection, companies like http://www.sustyparty.com/ represent steps in the right direction

    I too wish to eat off nothing but bamboo. thank you for the review.

  2. Rachel says:

    I agree! Was my first Natural Products Expo and couldn't get over the amount of waste. However, was fortunate enough to meet up with someone from the Environmental Working Group who gave me an education about GMO's and the misuse of the term "natural." She said, the public thinks natural means organic which has led to several lawsuits at companies using the work natural in their packaging when they have GMO's. Hopefully, these suits will have some success and get the word natural to have meaning again.

  3. Jeanne Eisenhaure says:

    Dave thanks so much for your comments. Didn't get a chance to see the loading docks was it extravagantly wasteful or green? As for biodegradable, that's a decent option, my only issue was there was a total disconnect between cradle to grave, many folks had bio cups and many folks had plastic, but everyone was using compostable trash bags. One thing I noticed was that there was no guidance for attendees as to what went were. As having done many zero waste events, educating attendees on where to put there trash is very difficult. I would just love to see folk who had recyclable plastic cups using recyclable bins… this is something I would love to work on more in-depth with New Hope to see how we can make it close to zero waste. Glad you liked it and hope more folks like you can help spread the word about greening an event like this!

  4. Jeanne Eisenhaure says:

    Rachel, I think a big part of getting natural to mean anything is by customers demanding it to mean something… easier said than done. Just keep asking! RE: the Environmental Working Group they do fantastic work (I regularly use their products database skin deep http://www.ewg.org/skindeep ) and would love to figure out how they can help New Hope create a greener event.