Years ago, I met Jeff Chase, Vice President, Sustainability, Freeman Companies, while he was supporting the sustainability efforts of his client, American Wind Energy Association.  He had called us in to assess their event and make recommendations.  As the event’s general services contractor, Jeff had taken it upon himself to find a donation stream in the Dallas area for the show floor discards.  He worked hard to make it happen, supplying extra time, labor and resources so the items could end up in the hands of those who needed them most.

Fast forward to 2015, Jeff continues to propel an industry toward finding sustainable solutions.  A 27 year veteran of the trade show/event industry, his energy and enthusiasm are unwavering, he is a true believer in the power of business to make a difference.  We recently had an opportunity to ask Jeff about his important work as a change agent.

Has your industry changed dramatically in the past five years? What have you seen from inside your company?

In 2006, there was a great movement to find sustainable solutions for tradeshow signs but it was not a full program for ALL the types of waste generated at shows.  In 2008-2010, with the economic downturn, everyone pulled back and lost some focus. But since 2011, I have seen a great up surge in corporations and some associations willing to find more complete solutions to the environmental impact at their shows.  At Freeman, we have always been client driven so the sustainability efforts were very client focused.  In 2011, we made a corporate decision to not just service the needs of clients that ask for sustainable solutions but to look internally at what we could do to help change the industry to help ALL clients.

What changes do you anticipate in the next five years? Are there any trends that concern you?

Our world is adapting to change faster and faster with all the technology and social media outlets to keep us informed on what is happening on a global scale.  I see the tradeshow and event industry is changing right before our eyes, with all the venues and hotels setting up standard environmental practices like energy, water and waste reduction and seeing the benefits of recycling everything.  Several exhibit booth construction companies, including Freeman production, are all finding ways to offer and use more sustainable/renewable materials that advance a corporate client’s larger environmental goals and demonstrate more transparency to their customers.  In this connected world, consumers are more focused on buying from corporations that care about people and planet, and doing all that  while making a profit is a good thing. Brand loyalty is huge in today’s marketplace.

Which stakeholders are the driving forces in your CSR/sustainability initiatives?

Freeman is a family owned privately held company with 33% of the ownership held by the employee owners through an ESOP (Employee Stock Options Program).  Because of this unique position in the industry, we are very lucky that the Freeman family have fully embraced the concept to focus on environmental and sustainable practices, as not only the right thing to do but also good for business.  Also the employee owners are completely behind the CSR/Sustainability initiatives in several channels.  Every Freeman local office holds an annual community give back program that they feel best supports the local community.  By participating in walk-a-thons, fundraisers, supporting charities, and in-kind services, Freeman contributes in many ways.

What is the biggest obstacle still to be overcome?

Educating our clients that they can find creative solutions to help reduce their environmental footprint for their event by partnering with Freeman and other vendors without it impacting their budget.  They might even save money!  The belief that going green costs more is still the number one obstacle I encounter with both clients and also internally.  Sustainability in the events industry continues to evolve. As more companies develop new ways to be both economically viable and environmentally responsibility, we are seeing more innovate solutions carry over to the events industry such as supply chain managing and understanding the source or lifecycle of materials that our industry has used for decades. The key is to stay on top of the changes and communicate them broadly to bring a range of internal and external stakeholders together to meet each show organizer’s sustainability goals.

What do you wish you knew when you first started in this role?

After several years of being a sustainability evangelist at a market leader like Freeman, I wish I knew that there were many resources available, and that there are some very smart people that have already been through this!  Many individuals and organizations have good solutions to offer if you just reach out.  There are so many resources both in print and in personal connections of very committed people that want to help you; finding those connections was key to finding the right path.

As a change agent and hero in your organization, what inspires you?

Every time I meet someone here at Freeman that is working very hard on their day job, where they are already completely busy, and they take time to call me or email me a great idea about sustainability and innovation.  They totally inspire me when they care so much to reach out to help us all do a better job to clean up this planet!  There are many individuals out there that give me hope that we can change!

Jeff works with many Fortune 100 companies like McDonalds, Oracle, Salesforce, SAP and Autodesk to help them produce green events.  Thanks to Jeff, who daily makes a significant contribution our industry and our planet, it gets easier and easier for meeting organizers to hold sustainable events.