Building Sustainability at Expo West

Natural-Product-Expo-West-Color-Logo-2013Expo West is one of the the United State’s largest natural food and products trade shows. From their website: “Natural Products Expo West continues to be the leading trade show in the natural, organic and healthy products industry, attracting over 60,000 industry professionals and 3,000 exhibits to the Anaheim Convention Center. Rated as one of the top 200 trade shows in the US by Tradeshow Week, Natural Products Expo West continues to help attendees reach their business goals.”

Expo West participants push ‘conventional’ business boundaries to build sustainability. With thousands of products and people engaged over three days – and a few breakdancing bananas, end-of-day happy hours, and the occasional Americana marching band – the event is a sight to behold.

LoaCom, the consulting arm of LoaTree, had the privilege of attending Expo West on behalf of esteemed clients, 1% For The Planet, as they seek to build up their network of progressive companies committed to donating 1% of their annual sales to conservation causes. The Loa team was on the scene to preach the 1% gospel, with the goal of introducing a few businesses to this unique model of strategic philanthropy.

Here’s how we spent our time.

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Michael Franti strums in front of 100 outstretched yogis.

We arrive at 7:30am on Friday morning to our first meeting. There’s a band setting up outside the Hilton right next to the Convention Center. We’re curious as to why anyone would play so early – poor guys. As we get closer, we notice 100 yoga mats spread out on the the floor, followed by a very soft ‘sound check’ from the stage. Low and behold – one of the most socially conscious and progressive musicians of our day, Michael Franti, was about to play a live set to a bunch of yogis. ‘So this is how it’s gonna be?’ We power through our meeting and run outside to catch the end of Franti’s ‘yoga set.’  It was 8:30am and we’re off to a great start.

After scoping out the lay of the land, we check in with long time 1% member, Klean Kanteen, at their exhibitor location. This will serve as our home base. We arm ourselves with 1% placards, stickers, music download cards, pamphlets and bid farewell to our Klean Kanteen friends for the time being. It’s time to walk the floor and meet some peeps.

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Michael Palmer (left) and Team McConnell’s.

For the next couple hours, we connect with other 1% members to say hello. Among thousands of people, we find Santa Barbara’s own McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream dishing out tasty new flavors. Enviro Kidz is touting its organic cereal and giving away a Costa Rica getaway for conservation, eagerly showing their 1% credentials. Thirsty Buddha is handing out the latest in coconut water, Sprout Watches is highlighting their sustainably-made time pieces, and Minnesota-based Seven Sundays is spooning out Muesli on bamboo utensils. New 1% members, Kiwa Life, are experiencing their first Expo West, joining us all the way from Quito, Ecuador. Things are jammin,’ literally.  Marley Coffee is bumpin’ the reggae the next aisle over.

We switch gears and go into full on ‘sales’ mode. Expo West is about to have its first full ‘Loa’ experience.

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Enviro Kidz gives 1% For The Planet!

What seems like only moments later (hours had actually passed), we emerge from the masses stacked with the business cards of CEO’s, COO’s, Marketing/Brand Directors and a number of leads to approach for follow-up over the course of the coming weeks and months. Feeling exhausted but accomplished, we call it a day. As we head outside, Galactic is throwing down the funk in the courtyard. The music never stops…off to dinner!

Saturday morning arrives and we’re back at it, this time among hundreds of start-ups. We eat the spiciest organic kale chips you could imagine, a few pounds of half-popped organic popcorn, and even try our hand at chocolate cricket bars. Yup, crickets. Organic soaps and chemical-free detergents, free-range bison products, vegan jerky sticks – you name it, it’s here.

At mid-afternoon, we meet up with Jill Latham, an old friend and owner of Vibrant Earth Juices. We’d been talking to Jill for days about joining 1% For The Planet. After a few conversations with her team at the Expo along with a couple swigs of organic goodness, Vibrant Earth takes the 1% commitment to heart and joins the cause! Based in Denver, Colorado, Vibrant Earth Juices becomes our newest 1% FTP member! Welcome to the team, VEJ!

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The newest 1% For The Planet member, Vibrant Earth Juices! Owner Jill Latham (middle left) with 1% FTPs Community Development Manager Jon Cocina (middle right).

We continue walking the floor in awe of the number of companies pushing sustainability as part of their corporate ethos. The diversity represented by the many vendors and exhibitors at Expo West is truly exceptional, and shows just how far the ‘natural’ food and product industry has come in a very short period.

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Happy hour with Klean Kanteen and 50 friends.

As we wind down our time at Expo, we head back to home base with Klean Kanteen. The company is celebrating its 10th anniversary as well as 10 years of giving to charitable causes. Appropriately, they were about to hold a happy hour where participants could purchase a pint glass in exchange for a token with which they would later cast their vote in support of additional nonprofit causes.

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Eric (left) and Dave – Team Loa!

With eyes wide open to tons of new connections and inspiring business models from across the globe, we meet Jeff Cresswell, co-founder of Klean Kanteen. Along with some of his team, we brainstorm special projects while sipping on Union Jack and winding down the long weekend. Surrounded by changemakers, entrepreneurs, and people pushing for a better world,  this was one learning experience we won’t soon forget. Cheers to that!

Click here for a few more images of our time at Expo!

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