By Shilpa Gopinath Posted December 4, 2008, 11:00 AM EST
LOS ANGELES Tommy Rosen is the president and founder of Eco Gift Festival, an earth-friendly gift show taking place at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium from December 12 through 14. All products sold at the event are environmentally responsible, and vendors must comply with green regulations. Rosen oversees day-to-day operations and business management as well as production of the event, which is in its second year.
How have you grown the event since last year?
The single biggest thing we’ve done this year is we added a world-class speaker series. Arianna Huffington is our keynote speaker; we have 20 people over three days that are coming to speak about everything you can imagine, including environmental sustainability, changing the world and being fearless doing it, alternative medicine, energy and transportation, biofuels, health, and wellness.
How do you keep show production green?
We’ve hired a company called Green Lotus Events, and we have a waste-management program. At last year’s event, we were 93 percent successful at diverting waste from landfill—what that means is 93 pounds out of every 100 that were considered garbage we diverted away from a landfill in favor of recycling, reuse, and composting programs. We have zero-waste stations, and there’s an educator at each. We require vendors to serve in something that’s biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable. Any material we have in the building has to be reusable in some way. We also work closely with the city of Santa Monica to compost and recycle our waste. In addition, we are very mindful of carbon footprints. We are encouraging carpooling and public transportation wherever possible. Everything that’s available at our show is organic. We only use F.S.C. [Forest Stewardship Council]-certified paper products in everything that we do—basically we have to pay more.
What is your strategy for increasing awareness and attendance?
Our marketing strategy is manifold. On one hand you have traditional marketing methods like flyers and posters, newspaper, radio, print ads, and our PR person—she’s been able to get us a lot of editorial coverage. Our major sponsor, The Los Angeles Times, has really stepped up; not only have they given us promotion in the newspaper, they also come to the show with an eco gift-wrapping station. They do it for free, they bring their staff, have a tremendous amount of fun, and people really love it.
We really try to develop marketing partnerships. For example, Global Green, the beneficiary partner, [gets] a percentage of our proceeds each year because we believe in the work they’re doing. This year we’re focusing on the greening of the L.A. school system.
Have the economy or consumer spending patterns impacted the show?
That’s a question for the day after the show is over. Our attendance is always last minute. In terms of booth sales, we are not tremendously affected. Our proposition to our companies is spend $1,500 to $3,000 with us, and you’ll have a booth presence at our show. It’s not enough money in this economy for companies to get scared. We’re going to have 10,000 eco-conscious consumers coming to buy eco-conscious, sustainable goods. The match is there, so we are able to sell booths. One way you might see something different is our show will be heavy on discounts; that’s really going to bode well for sales.
Is it more costly to produce a green show? How do you offset that cost?
There’s no question about it—to produce an eco-friendly show is more expensive. We spend more money on materials, eco-conscious carpeting, and decor elements. We have bottom lines; there is an amount of money that is right to charge a particular company to have a booth. Thus far, we’re able to have a profitable business based on integrity and creating the right situation. To be honest, our costs are a little bit lower than most green organizations—we do our best to create relationships with companies that will help us offset some of this cost.
Are sponsors more likely to get involved because it is a green event?
The fact that we are a green event and we are catering to the green consumer is a big pull for sponsors. I think the most powerful thing about our event is the fact that we take it seriously.
What are your plans for expansion?
We strongly believe that Eco Gift belongs in many cities. We have every intention of going to the East Coat next year, hopefully New York City. We would look to partner with people in different cities—you have to know the city that you’re in, and we don’t understand other cities like we understand Los Angeles, which is our backyard. We’ll be expanding online in 2009. We look for opportunity beyond Eco Gift, maybe capital investment, consulting on a variety of different business management issues. Hopefully it will be in many cities and have extensions into other areas.