Event Innovators 2016: Kate Hurst

The vice president of community advancement, conferences, and events at the U.S. Green Building Council is on a mission to bring sustainability to events.

By Mitra Sorrells May 17, 2016, 4:20 AM EDT

Photo: Courtesy of Kate Hurst

The Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, presented by the U.S. Green Building Council and owned and produced by Informa Exhibitions, is synonymous with best practices for sustainable events. Kate Hurst could be called the face of that narrative. Hurst, 36, joined the council in 2004 as a “workshop assistant,” and her responsibilities for the nonprofit’s meetings and events have been growing ever since.

Since 2014, Hurst has served as vice president for community advancement, conferences, and events, leading the organization’s mission to improve the sustainability of Greenbuild as well as more than 100 smaller meetings and events it hosts each year.

“Because I had very little event experience before I came here, sustainability and events go hand in hand for me. It’s a part of our brand, it’s who we are, it’s our mission,” Hurst says.

The organization made it clear that sustainability at Greenbuild is not optional when, in 2010, it made its green guidelines for exhibitors mandatory, followed by similar requirements for sponsors. To encourage others to follow their lead, Hurst and her team produce a detailed sustainability report every year with data about the event’s green efforts and environmental impact.

“We always want to share the event practices with others that are interested because we know the hospitality industry can only move forward if there’s a demand,” Hurst says.

Waste diversion is a critical component of the council’s plan for Greenbuild—each year it gets closer to the goal of a zero-waste event (the 2015 conference reached a diversion rate of 84 percent). To make it easier for others to join the green movement, Hurst gives the waste plan to the host convention center so it can be shared with other planners using the same facilities.

New for 2015, Greenbuild introduced tabletop covers made of recyclable materials, touch-screen displays to educate attendees on sustainability at the event, and new guidelines for caterers requiring labels to assist attendees with food allergies.

As part of the community advancement aspect of her job, Hurst also coordinates service projects in the conference’s host community. One initiative is a legacy project that is funded by a $25 fee paid by anyone who submits a call for proposals, which Hurst says usually results in about $12,000. For the 2016 conference in Los Angeles, that money will fund the creation of the Eco-Tech Maker Space, a permanent site to help students from five high-poverty schools in the area become sustainably minded problem solvers. The projects advance the movement while leaving a lasting impact.

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