By Eric Smith

From attendee travel to booth drayage, from the disposable swag that exhibitors give attendees to the single-use beer cups that overrun bins after daily happy hours, trade shows are inherently wasteful.

This is especially paradoxical for any trade show in the outdoor industry, which prides itself on being eco-friendly in the products it manufactures, the policies it supports and the people it employs.

Outdoor Retailer, a division of Emerald Expositions Events Inc., runs three shows each year in Denver, CO—Snow Show in January, Summer Market in June and Winter Market in November—that bring thousands of people to Colorado Convention Center.

Attendees at those shows, however, can no longer buy water in plastic bottles.

That’s because Outdoor Retailer and Nalgene this week introduced a show-wide solution sure to have a sizable impact on the planet—eliminating single-use plastic. On Thursday, as part of the initiative, Outdoor Retailer announced that Nalgene was the Official Bottle of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in 2019.

Through this partnership, Outdoor Retailer and Nalgene Outdoor will provide the first 25,000 attendees at ORSM with a custom, 32-ounce, Wide Mouth Nalgene water bottle. Attendees will be able to fill those bottles at more than 170 water stations located throughout the show floor.

Read more about the partnership by clicking here.

Marisa Nicholson, Outdoor Retailer’s show director, said this was an important step—but not the only one—the show is taking to reduce its environmental footprint.

“This is obviously a very important topic to our industry, especially with so many different vessel companies that are involved in the outdoors,” Nicholson told SGB. “Within the last couple of years, you’re seeing sustainability be more of a topic within our industry—from REI setting new environmental standards to OIA’s Sustainability Working Group to companies wanting to figure out how they can lessen their impact at the show.”

Nalgene is one of those companies. A true “OG” in the outdoor world—the brand turns 70 this year—Nalgene said it was a no-brainer to provide 25,000 Made-in-the-USA bottles for ORSM attendees, according to Elissa McGee, general manager, Nalgene Outdoor.

“For us, it was just about walking the walk and putting our money and our efforts behind the central thing that matters to all of us in the outdoor industry—making sure that we’re being good stewards of the planet,” McGee told SGB. “Sure, our livelihoods depend on all of these really special outdoor spaces, but I think most of us work in the outdoor industry for our passionate connection to the outdoors on a personal level as well. It was just the right thing to do.”

The move is just one of a few sustainability efforts OR has made over the last few years to honor attendees’ calls to be greener. In fact, Nicholson said, the origins of eliminating the sale of single-use plastic bottles at Colorado Convention Center during the show date back to 2005, when Outdoor Retailer initiated a program called Green Steps.

The program charged a fee for participants and then used those funds to offset whatever carbon footprint was used in traveling to and exhibiting at the show.

“That was the genesis behind these movements that we were making as a trade show in support of the industry,” Nicholson said. “Some of the initial things that we were doing also for Outdoor Retailer included trying to identify things in and around the show that can have an effect in reducing our footprint.”

Nicholson shared some other steps Outdoor Retailer has taken to reduce the environmental impact of its shows. These include eliminating 200,000 square feet of aisle carpet, which saves on fuel (and money, of course); using rental booth carpet that is made from up to 50 percent post-industrial fibers and returned to the manufacturer for reuse or recycling; and working with Colorado Convention Center and the contracted waste company to recycle cardboard.

Also according to Outdoor Retailer, past “green” initiatives from OR and/or exhibiting brands in a similar vein as the OR/Nalgene partnership include:

  • Klean Kanteen, Osprey and Patagonia co-partnered on a Bring Your Own Cup campaign at Outdoor Retailer. The brands gave out stainless steel cups at happy hours and sold them for donation at the All Star Industry Jam.
  • Stanley partnered with Outdoor Retailer for the first bottle e-cycle program at the show. Attendees could bring old bottles to recycling donation areas at the show in exchange for a stainless steel Stanley bottle. Stanley took all bottles to a recycling facility and turned into them repurposed items like park benches.
  • CamelBak has provided free water refill areas at the Demo Experience and in exhibit halls.
  • HydroFlask and Mizu have highlighted water fountains as a place to refill in reusable bottles.
  • Clif Bar has partnered with Outdoor Retailer on single stream recycling programs at the shows for several years
  • S’well, Blender Bottle, Avex (now part of Coleman) and others have also served as past bottle partners.

Targeting disposable water bottles throughout the show clearly made sense as another green initiative that would resonate across the floor. And while the decision to remove single-use plastic at OR might have been easy, the process wasn’t, Nicholson said.

For one, Outdoor Retailer had to renegotiate its contract with Colorado Convention Center and food & beverage vendor Centerplate, which, of course, sells bottled water at its concession stands.

“With those contracts that have been in place, it’s been a challenge for us to be able to work with the Convention Center to eliminate bottled water while our show is in town,” Nicholson said. “I am so pleased that Centerplate has stepped up.”

Under the new deal, Centerplate will sell water in only one location at the show, and that will be boxed water as opposed to bottled water.

“We’re now at a point where there is not going to be any single-use plastic bottle sold at the Convention Center, which we’re thrilled about and they’re thrilled about in this partnership,” Nicholson said.

Nalgene is also thrilled. And while McGee wouldn’t disclose the amount they are investing to make, ship and distribute 25,000 water bottles, she did say, “it’s not insignificant.”

McGee also said that while an ROI wasn’t the original intent of providing the bottles (which are co-branded with the company name along with Outdoor Retailer’s and a place to write a name), she fully understands that doing good can be good business in terms of brand recognition. It’s what companies do all the time in this industry.

“Sometimes there’s a convergence of doing the right thing and maybe getting a little bit of positive PR from it too,” she said. “It’s nice when those things happen, but certainly for us, the conversation started around wanting to do something that’s right. It doesn’t hurt that people might hear about it, but the genesis of the idea was ‘Can we just take a stand and do the right thing?’”

Photo courtesy Outdoor Retailer x Nalgene


Eric Smith is Senior Business Editor at SGB Media. Reach him at or 303-578-7008. Follow on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.