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Environmental change takes time, but we must keep going

Nexus Collections’ Howard Lawton reflects on 12 years of environmental activism.

 

On 19 September 2007, Nexus Collection launched the world’s first green conference bag. 

This was soon followed by an environmentally friendly exhibition bag, and the resultant success of these products changed the face of our business.  Within a couple of years, we had changed suppliers, opened our own fair-trade factory in China and started investigating a variety of different ways to ensure our products, business practices and attitudes all focused on social responsibility and a positive approach to the planet. 

The latest statistics show that this year 30% of everything we produced has been environmentally friendly (up from 11.5% last year) – it is a clear trend and something we expect to continue.

Making an environmentally friendly bag isn’t as easy as you might think.  First you need to decide in what way the bag is to have a positive impact – should it be recyclable, made from recycled products, not use plastics, use jute rather than cotton due to water savings, use fixings made from coconut or wood…the list goes on.  At various points all of the above have been part of our line up or at least spent time in research and development. The very first bag was made of organic jute with coconut fastenings, it was little more than a satchel with a couple of pockets and even that involved a complex manufacturing process.

Now the top end of the range includes bags made from recycled plastic bottles that look no different to products you would find in high street luggage shops.  However, there is still much work to be done.  Like so many other manufacturers working at the cutting edge of socially responsible products we are continually looking for ways to improve.  Though our current bags are incredibly durable and last for an incredibly long time, one day I hope to have a bag made from recycled materials that is 100% compostable – we are close but there is the fastenings issue – zip and buckle materials aren’t there yet!

Like the whole of the event supply chain, the process of becoming socially and environmentally responsible is incremental.  We are currently re-engineering the plastic poppers on our foldaway bags.  To keep them small and tightly packed so they fit in a pocket, briefcase or handbag they need a secure fastening.  Plastic and metal are the most effective and secure methods when it comes to achieving the product quality our customers are used to – but they are not the best choices for the environment, so we are currently investigating sustainable wooden solutions.  Watch this space for a solution in the near future.

As an industry conferencing and exhibitions has taken great strides to clean up our act and improve our social responsibility.  There is still however work to be done across the board.  We need to look at everything from shampoo bottles in hotel rooms to the packaging we use to ship products to our events.  We need to consider the risk of child labour in the factories creating our trade show uniforms and the fair rates of pay received by the coffee growers for our morning pick me up.  We as an industry have incredible influence on our audiences, we gather them in one place and have a chance to educate them on so many topic – social and environmental good must be a part of those stories.

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