Experientia s.r.l

We are an international experience design consultancy

With the behaviours and contexts of people driving our designs, we create product and service experiences that really matter.

A road(map) to sustainability:
How an Expo centre can become low-impact

Also see our Event project description.

The Event project, funded by Flanders In Shape (FIS), a Flemish design promotion agency, created a framework for the Kortrijk Xpo centre to become the most environmentally sustainable trade fair and congress complex in Belgium by 2020 and a top five player in Europe. Experientia and Futureproofed created an environmental roadmap to guide Kortrijk Xpo in achieving its ambitious objective.

The roadmap detailed steps to take over a ten-year time-frame, and included a benchmark of sustainable expo centres from around the world, a calculation of the carbon footprint resulting from expo activities, tailored reduction targets, a behavioural change framework, and over 100 carbon reduction concepts.

These focused on reducing travel and providing alternative transport means, harnessing the potential of social networking and building conference communities, and motivating and encouraging all stakeholders, including conference attendees, to participate in the change to more sustainable practices.

As Europe approaches the 2020 deadline for the EU’s European Energy Policy, the roadmap will help position Kortrijk Xpo as a far-sighted leader in sustainable practices for temporary events.

A trade fair is typically a bustling centre of high energy-consuming action: large, well-lit, temperature-controlled spaces, information shown on electricity-eating multi-media displays and companies handing out samples and paper leaflets.

Temporary events like this generate tons of waste, and require people to travel long distances to reach them, with major events attracting fly-ins from all over the world. By their very nature, trade fairs and expositions, it seems, run counter to sustainability principles.

While infrastructural interventions could definitely improve the environmental impact of expositions and trade fairs, it’s the deeper problem of influencing the behaviour of attendees that seems insurmountable. Moreover, the expo centres themselves are often resistant to deep change, as they are concerned that achieving sustainability would require them to lower the number of attendees or could affect the quality of their events.

Some far-sighted event centres however are addressing the sustainability issue head-on, thereby anticipating future legislative requirements and using their sustainability achievements as a competitive marketing advantage.

One such organisation is Kortrijk Xpo, a Belgium exposition centre that has set out the ambitious goal to become the most environmentally sustainable trade fair and congress complex in the country by 2020, and a top five player in Europe.

Driven by a strong ethical desire to adopt more sustainable behaviours, Kortrijk Xpo’s managers wanted to make sure that their approach was more than just lip service to environmentally friendly principles, with the focus on genuine change instead of symbolic gestures. Which is why they — with the support of Flanders InShape, a public design support agency — invited experience design company Experientia and carbon footprint specialists Futureproofed to help them to develop a 10-year strategy.

The process, discussed in this article, involved benchmarking, carbon footprint calculation, creation of a framework for behavioural change, opportunity mapping and idea generation, and resulted in a roadmap containing actions for all expo stakeholders, including attendees, to implement on the road to more sustainable events.

Planning for genuine change

Kortrijk Xpo began its journey to sustainability in 2009, when the organisation’s managers changed its energy supply to green electricity sources, an act which reduced its carbon footprint by 26%*, although at this stage they had no way to measure the impact of their actions. Despite this promising beginning, the Xpo management didn’t know what steps to take next to reach their ambitious sustainability goals. They secured funding from the design support agency Flanders InShape, and began to look for a consultant to develop a sustainability strategy.

Enter Italy-based user experience design company Experientia and Futureproofed, a Belgian consultancy specialised in sophisticated carbon footprint analysis and solution development. The two companies with very different specialities teamed up to create an environmental roadmap for Kortrijk Xpo.

Taking a people-centred approach, Experientia and Futureproofed detailed the steps necessary for the expo centre to become more sustainable, addressing both infrastructural systems and people’s behaviours. The roadmap looks not just at the next few months, but also at the next decade, showing what needs to start happening now, and how it can evolve and progress over the coming years.

Taking the long-term view – the road from here to there

Sustainability is an increasingly growing concern, and will only grow more important in the next decade as we approach the 2020 deadline for the EU’s European energy policy (requiring a 20-30% cut of all greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels, and for public buildings to produce a considerable amount of their energy on-site). Companies that start to put progressive policies in place now will have a strong competitive advantage as legislation becomes more stringent for building codes and practice standards. All industries will be affected, but it’s important to realise that any business can reduce its impact.

A roadmap like the one created for Kortrijk Xpo provides businesses with the information they need in their journey of change towards sustainability. It takes businesses from “point A” — not understanding their real carbon footprint, where emissions come from and how to reduce them — to “point B”, where they can recognise and track sources of emissions, involve stakeholders in reducing them, and become advocates and “lead users” of more sustainable practices. But just what does such a map from A to B include? And how is it created?

Understanding the footprint

In creating the roadmap for Kortrijk Xpo, Futureproofed provided the starting point, by calculating the carbon footprint resulting from Kortrijk Xpo’s activities. CO2 emissions are generally categorised into three scopes.

Scope 1 refers to those emissions that come from sources that are owned or controlled by the institution. In the case of Kortrijk Xpo, these were mostly refrigerants and gas for temperature control, and company cars. Scope 2 refers to indirect emissions generated by electricity purchased and used by the organisation. Scope 3 refers to all other indirect emissions that are caused by the institution’s activities, but not under their control or ownership: for Kortrijk Xpo these included travel of attendees and expo presenters and transport of waste.

When calculating a carbon footprint for an organisation, often only scopes 1 and 2 are considered. This is a rather limited way of looking at CO2 – which is why Futureproofed also uses scope 3 to calculate carbon footprints. This more complete picture of both direct and indirect emissions will give an organisation much more confidence in how to manage costs, limit risks, create new markets and develop brand value.

As expected, Futureproofed found that once scope 3 was added to scopes 1 and 2, the expo centre’s carbon footprint was 36 times larger – 51,442 tons of CO2 emissions, compared to a much smaller 1,402 tons if only scope 1 and 2 were considered. They also found that scope 3 emissions were clearly dominated by transport, with transport of event visitors accounting for a huge 84.9% of the carbon footprint. From an analysis of the carbon footprint, Futureproofed then identified the biggest carbon emission problem areas, and elaborated reduction targets for the expo centre.

Using the report’s 10 most significant sources of carbon emissions as a guide, Experientia began to benchmark best practices in sustainability in expo centres, temporary events, and large transit buildings (e.g. airports, train stations) all over the world. They investigated the most innovative and effective practices in action today, ranging from technical solutions for temperature control and overall building impact, to innovative ways to reduce travel and the impact of transportation, and fresh and contemporary ways to involve visitors and participants in the solution space. The benchmarking process revealed solutions as varied as on-site power production, native plant rooftop gardens, and remote trade fair attendance using robot avatars.

At the same time, Experientia designed a behavioural change framework, based on the latest theories in the area, as well as Experientia’s own previous work on behavioural change that it developed in other sustainability-focused projects. The existing behavioural change frameworks were carefully adapted to refer more specifically to sustainability at temporary settings and events, outlining the process of behavioural change in an expo centre, as well as the roles and motivations of the various stakeholders.

Once these three ingredients – carbon footprint, international benchmark and behavioural change framework – were outlined, the map was starting to become clearer, and the concept development phase of the project began.

Trade fairs in the not-too-distant future

So what does the sustainable trade fair of the future look like?
Concepts focused on four solutions around the themes of travel and transportation, materials and waste, citywide ecosystem, and global connections. They envisioned a trade fair where both exhibitors and attendees could take responsibility for their carbon footprint, and implement simple actions to reduce it, while sharing these actions and values within the wider urban context, and with a global network of ecological event venues.

The travel-focused concept, Virtual Xpo, allows people to attend Kortrijk fairs remotely – possibly at a reduced rate – without compromising the richness of the direct experience of the events, even offering platforms to participate in Q&A sessions with exhibitors and presenters. Social media solutions extended on-site experiences and networking, into trend spotting from afar. This was a direct answer to the overwhelming issue of the high footprint of travel.

Focusing on materials and on raising people’s awareness of their carbon impact, the Booth dashboard idea aims at engaging exhibitors in CO2 and energy reduction by making their consumption information transparent, publicly available and comparable with their peers’ consumption. This includes the process of booth design, production and transport, as well as emphasising how much each exhibitor has saved through more sustainable sourcing techniques. It also visualises the energy consumption of the booths during the event. The concept focuses on local carbon production, and aims to catalyse behavioural change through making companies more responsible for their own impact.

The Living in Kortrijk scenario takes a citywide perspective, highlighting how changes at the expo centre could impact the future of the local ecosystem. It sets out how sustainable tools, facilities, information and services available to people at the trade fair can be made available to the entire city, thereby allowing good practices to spread from their original context, and become embedded in people’s daily lives. This concept looks beyond the fair, imagining the full experience of a person visiting the city for the fair. In order to be fully sustainable, the expo should involve a set of local stakeholders and create a co-ordinated infrastructure, which extends sustainable principles across the whole range of activities a visitor might participate in.

Finally, looking at the global scale, the EcoFair network envisions an international network of expo sites that agree on shared eco practices and actively promote their vision and initiatives and deliver their services to the users. Travel is also addressed here, as the community of attendees can explore alternative, lower-impact ways to reach the event venue. The concept is based on the idea that behavioural change can be triggered, facilitated and reinforced through gradual adoption of new behaviours and collective action, leading to new values and norms at community levels. In this case, a community of EcoFairs creates a forum within which best practice can be shared, comparisons can be more easily made, and reinforcement can be mutual.

Putting Kortrijk Xpo on the map

Although these four ideas were showcased as the strongest arising from the process, they were far from the only solutions generated. In a strongly participatory approach, Experientia and Futureproofed hosted an opportunity-mapping workshop with stakeholders in which over 100 solutions were devised to address specific sustainability problems that conferences and trade fairs face. These were then mapped onto opportunity maps, where the solutions and gaps could be seen more easily, and thematic clusters were identified. These all became part of the final roadmap.

The environmental roadmap for Kortrijk Xpo provides detailed information on implementing the reduction targets within the staged time frames. It acts as a guide to catalysing organisational change, and to triggering change in event attendees. It takes the organisation through all the milestones of the process, from carbon reduction targets, to strategies for achieving them, supporting Kortrijk Xpo on its way to becoming the most environmentally sustainable trade fair and congress complex in Belgium by 2020, and a top five player in Europe.

This will be a considerable achievement for the expo centre, but it is our conviction that in spreading these values to other exposition centres and eventually becoming a standard for what event venues can achieve in terms of sustainability, Kortrijk Xpo will really put itself on the map as a far-sighted leader.

Project partners
Experientia – experientia.com | Flanders InShape – flandersinshape.be | Futureproofed – futureproofed.be | Kortrijk Xpo – kortrijkxpo.com