Going Green at the 2022 Annual Meeting Live+: An Interview with Rudy Gaines

Published: April 20, 2022

Building a Better Society Through Brands is a strategic priority for INTA—one of three pillars of the Association’s 2022‒2025 Strategic Plan. It is also one of seven thematic educational tracks at the 2022 Annual Meeting Live+, which is taking place in person in Washington, D.C., and virtually, April 30‒May 4.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability are important to INTA because CSR has become a driving principle of brand messaging, and  members need to know about these developments so they can counsel clients and brands on these issues. In addition, INTA’s focus on these issues extends to the Association itself. As an organization, INTA is working to improve its own environmental impact and help build a better society, including for its largest and most prestigious event, the Annual Meeting.

In an interview with the INTA Bulletin, Rudy Gaines, owner of Creative Business Growth (Durham, North Carolina, USA), and a member of INTA’s Brands for a Better Society Committee, shares more about the steps INTA is taking to create a more sustainable event, and how both registrants and vendors can get involved.

Over the past two years, we’ve seen the positive effects of decreased atmospheric carbon emissions due to reduced travel. With about 6,000 registrants preparing to travel soon to Washington, D.C., how is INTA offsetting the environmental impact of our long-awaited reunion at the 2022 Annual Meeting Live+?
INTA has been quietly doing things for a long time. They’ve been recycling materials from exhibition halls after conferences and donating leftover swag bags to schools, for example. They’re now starting to be more proactive and public about it, added sustainability to their Strategic Plan, and are being more vocal and effective in promoting sustainability in general. They’re now “hanging a lantern” on the carbon offsetting program and the Green Swag Awards, but this is just the beginning. As with most larger organizations or companies, it’s like making a U-turn with a cruise ship. It takes an all-hands-on-deck approach, plus time. I love the fact that INTA is getting there.

Tell us more about the work of South Pole, the organization that INTA has chosen to support in its carbon offsetting initiative, and which specific project registrants’ monies will be supporting?
South Pole is a great example of one of a number of organizations that has come to the fore in response to greenhouse gas and other harmful effects that pollution has on the Earth. They believe in using carbon offset purchases to contribute to sustainable projects around the world that remove harmful CO2 from the atmosphere. So, when you travel to an INTA event, that puts a certain amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. With the carbon offset initiative, you’re supporting one of South Pole’s conservation projects, that is, working to remove carbon from the atmosphere. So, you put it in; they take it out.


With the carbon offset initiative, you’re supporting one of South Pole’s conservation projects, that is, working to remove carbon from the atmosphere. So, you put it in; they take it out.

In this case, since the Annual Meeting is in the U.S., INTA has chosen to support the Garcia River Forest Protection Project. The project focuses on sustaining a giant redwood forest in northern California, home of the tallest trees on the Earth. And the interesting thing about this type of forest is that it stores more harmful CO2 than any other kind of forest in the world—in this case, 77 tons of CO2 per year. The project has also added about 200 local jobs to the community. So, no doubt, a worthy cause. South Pole has about 20 or 30 other projects that you could contribute to around the world. It’s a really great organization.

In your view, how have the events of the past few years—from the pandemic, to the movement for racial justice, to the current war in Ukraine—shaped how businesses approach CSR?
In my opinion, everything got more personal. When you’re faced with your own potential mortalityI’d guess we all had those thoughts as COVID-19 was ragingyou begin to see the real challenges that people face—regarding the Black Lives Matter movement and now the war in Ukraine—in a more empathetic way, instead of just another tragic news story.

One of the silver linings of COVID-19 is that we’ve now spent a lot more time with ourselves. We sheltered physically and emotionally, and a lot of people have come out of it with a better sense of how they approach their lives and maybe with a deeper sense of the fragility of things, including the planet. Nobody is indestructible, and guess what, neither is the Earth. If we’re smart and we learn our lessons, we realize that better management of our carbon footprinta nice way of referring to all the personal garbage that we put out there every daycan actually help.

There’s no question that huge strides are being made in business—and that consumer awareness has gone through the roof. That’s really key. You can thank the Internet for providing a megaphone to create problems for companies that are acting irresponsibly. When your market share drops because the buying public finds out your manufacturing or your supply chain processes are horrible and cruel, it tends to create the need for change.

It would be a good idea for companies just starting their CSR journey to listen to their customers, understand what they care about, then look within yourself and ask what you care about. Then make a plan, align your budget, and keep yourself accountable as you move ahead. Somebody smart called it “the math in the path,” which I think sums it up well.


The cold hard fact is that we have a finite amount of resources on the planet, and if we don’t take care of them, the future of business will be characterized by scarcity—and nobody makes money from scarcity.

An overarching question is why should organizations—brands, law firms, other organizations—care about CSR?
Because the world is evolving. Because their customers and members care about it. The cold hard fact is that we have a finite amount of resources on the planet, and if we don’t take care of them, the future of business will be characterized by scarcity—and nobody makes money from scarcity. Bottom line: it’s not only good for us in an environmental way, but in a global community way. It’s a problem we can fix together.

What, in your view, is the relationship between CSR and intellectual property (IP)? What are some concrete ways brands can use their IP to help build a better society?
CSR requires companies to be innovative, and innovation is IP’s favorite word! Sustainability requires new ideas, and IP rights give those ideas the teeth to be put into action. If you’re a company that wants to be more sustainable, chances are you’re going to need new ideas to help you improve your manufacturing or make changes in your supply chain, and oftentimes that takes you right back to IP. Studies have shown that companies with IP registered and protected tend to have a lot more revenue as well, which can free them up to make sustainable changes that they perhaps couldn’t otherwise afford. You can use IP as collateral to attract investors and that can help you invest in sustainability. You can partner in IP licensing agreements with other companies to help each other become more sustainable. IP rights open doors and provide all kinds of opportunities.

What are the Green Swag Awards, which are making their debut at the 2022 Annual Meeting Live+? What is the goal of this initiative, and how can registrants and vendors get involved?
That’s kind of a personal baby that came out of our Brands for a Better Society Committee! I was an exhibitor in the Meeting’s Exhibition Hall [now rebranded as the Brand Marketplace] for about seven or eight years, and we always loved foot traffic, a lot of people at the booth, building new relationships. When we started thinking about ways to introduce sustainable ideas within INTA, we naturally looked at the Brand Marketplace. There’s a huge number of vendors and often their giveaways are molded plastic items, so we thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could kill two birds with one stone?” and encourage vendors to come up with more sustainable swag and drive more foot traffic into the Brand Marketplace. That’s our hope for the Green Swag Awards.

There are a number of vendors participating this initial year, and they’ve come up with really interesting recyclable or green swag to give away. Meeting registrants can vote for the best of the best of the green swag. Once in the Brand Marketplace, you can scan a QR code on your phone that will download a list of the vendors participating in the Green Swag Awards. Then you simply move through the Marketplace, visiting the vendors and checking out the swag. If you think it’s the best, vote for it, and, eventually, we’ll have the winner. We’ll be announcing the winner Tuesday afternoon in the new Solution Showcase in the Brand Marketplace.


Sustainability requires new ideas, and IP rights give those ideas the teeth to be put into action.

This new initiative does a couple of things. One, it provides an overlay of sustainability for everyone at the Meeting because everyone can participate if they so choose—and we hope they do! And two, it will give the vendors a long-term sustainable platform on which to build. Culture starts from the ground up and that’s what we’re trying to do here—let’s build something. Let’s get a toehold and let it build and grow and see where it takes us.

That sounds great. It’s a win for the exhibitors, the registrants, and the planet. Do you have any tips for vendors to help them put their best foot forward in the competition?
Use your imagination. It’s one thing to give away a recyclable plastic water bottle, but it’s still plastic, you know? So, get creative. There are lots of sustainable giveaways out there. Just as the brands we work for endeavor to differentiate themselves in the marketplace, the vendors can use their green swag to differentiate themselves in the Brand Marketplace. Come up with something that really sparks interest and wins the vote.

On a personal level, what steps do you recommend registrants take to help make their experience at the Annual Meeting more environmentally friendly?
Obviously, vote in the Green Swag Awards, and check out the carbon offset initiative. INTA makes it very simple for you to go into the system and contribute, and that will offset your flight, train, or taxi rides. Speaking of taxis, walk as many places you can. I know we’re all scrambling during the Meeting, going to a million places, but Washington, D.C., is a great city for walking. The fewer car doors you hear slam, the more environmentally friendly you’re being.

Try to avoid using single-use plastic water bottles. Anytime you see plastic being used, try to use it twice. I’ve heard rumors that there may be one or two cocktail parties around, and if the servers pour your drink into a plastic cup, take it back with you to the bar and let them refill it. It’s really just about being on top of it and staying aware that every little thing you do is helpful.

There are so many INTA members who are sustainable in their personal lives who will really respond to sustainability when they go to meetings and conferences, too. The more we’re aware of that, the more opportunities the Association presents for members to accept that challenge. I think it’s a sure bet that the membership will respond.

Learn more about the 2022 Annual Meeting Live+.

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