Previewing Fall Green Festivals with Messe Stuttgart’s Roland Bleinroth

October 20, 2014

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good. Today we’re so excited to have with us Roland Bleinroth. He’s the CEO and President of Messe Stuttgart. Welcome to Green is Good, Roland. ROLAND BLEINROTH: Yes, hello, John. Glad to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, Roland. You’re doing so many great things with the Green Festivals, and we’re proud media partners with the Green Festivals. Before we get talking about all the great things Messe Stuttgart’s doing both in Europe and the United States, I’d love you to share a little bit about your own history, how you became the President at Messe Stuttgart, and why it’s doing so well in Europe, and why you’re doing what you’re doing in the United States. ROLAND BLEINROTH: Well, actually I think that would be a very, very long answer. I’ll keep it brief and short. I’ve got a bit of an unusual biography background here. I was originally born in Bonn in Germany, but even in school I spent some time overseas in Switzerland and later on in Pakistan, Islamabad actually — quite well known today, I used to have to explain where I lived — because my father was in diplomatic service at the time, so I spent some time overseas in school, and continued doing that in college, which I spent in Germany and in the States, in Pennsylvania, actually, in part. So quite an international background to begin with. That kind of continued on in my career after college, which started with a large automotive company in Germany. Then I moved onto the States and was stationed for 10 years in Atlanta, Georgia as the President of a trade show company, so I was producing trade shows in North America at that time. That was before I came CEO of Messe Stuttgart, which is based in Stuttgart, Germany again. It is an international trade show organizer. We actually run about 60 shows annually in Germany as well as in quite a few other places around the world. Our latest addition, which we’re very happy and proud to be able to add to the portfolio, is the Green Festivals in the U.S., which has an exact complementary show in Stuttgart as well. We do the exact same format here. We’ve done so for a couple of years, and it’s quite successful here, and we see it coming on strong in the U.S. as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. For our listeners out there who want to learn more about the Green Festivals and want to come attend, this fall there are festivals in Los Angeles on September 12, 13 and 14, Chicago October 24, 25, 26, and in San Francisco November 14, 15 and 16. Go to greenfestivals.org to learn more about the Green Festivals and come to these shows. They’re really great. Before we get talking about what’s going on in the United States, share a little bit, Roland, about Messe Stuttgart and the success of the Green Festivals in Germany. What time of year do you have those festivals and how big are they over in Germany already? ROLAND BLEINROTH: In Germany we started doing these kinds of shows quite a long time ago. It really became more significant in 2007, when we really focused on the food sector and created a new show format just for that particular element. Right now, we’re doing eight separate shows that are run concurrently, and that actually makes up our Green Festival here in Stuttgart. We kind of call them the spring shows. They are in spring. They are annually in mid-April, but there are actually eight individual show topics ranging from, of course, food, which is the core topic to be addressed, but also includes fair trade, green finance, fair finance, of course home energy conservation, home building, sustainability in that. Immobility is a topic which concentrates on new sustainable mobility solutions, that is cars, but not only, there are also car-sharing models and innovative new engine types, of course electric power being the predominant one right now. It even includes something like yoga, which philosophically has a little bit of a link, too, so this yoga expo was the eighth one that we added to the portfolio. The Green Festivals that are in the U.S. also do cover all those topics under one header. Germany, because the shows evolved individually, we actually have eight different topics, eight different shows that are marketed individually. In the U.S. it’s all under Green Festivals. It still covers all those sectors. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Roland, talk a little bit about your thought process in terms of the motivations taking your success in Germany in Europe and around the world, frankly, and then bringing the Green Festivals to the United States and taking over the Green Festivals and putting your stamp and your fingerprints all over it and then scaling it. How did that go? Talk a little bit about your motivations and decision making there. ROLAND BLEINROTH: As a trade show organizer, just in general, you always have to be cognizant of where’s the market going? Where are the markets? We are serving markets with a mirror image of what’s going on out there, so you always have to be on your toes and discover, find, identify new market trends and hopefully be able to create a show to serve that market. With the green industry, sustainability, that is definitely a market that is up-and-coming. Quite frankly, in Europe, particularly in Germany, we tend to be a little bit faster in this particular topic, not on all. But in this particular one, we certainly are — recycling, sustainability, the green movement, also in the political arena, is quite ahead of where it is in North America, and much more established, and has already taken the next turn to be coming mainstream and has done so quite a few years ago. So, we needed to address this topic, and when we do that with any topic, for that matter, it is always an international aspect. There is always an international component to any trade show because the small and medium-sized companies these days will look international sooner or later, usually sooner. When we do that, we also look at where is my next international market that would be interesting for my customer base? Therefore, we were very happy to find the opportunity in the U.S. to become involved with the Green Festival, which had already been established in the U.S. It’s actually been online for 13 years as of now. We only became involved last year, and we’re very happy and proud to be able to add some new energy, some new ideas and formats to it now to take it to the next level. That next level is really what we see happening in the U.S. It’s happening in society, and therefore we’re very confident that the shows will continue to be very successful too, because they serve an increasing market, they serve a need. The consumer as well as the trade customer needs this information platform, needs the marketing platform, more so now than ever before. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s really fascinating. You’re an expert with regards to consumer trade shows. You’ve been doing it most of your professional life. Can you explain how trading consumer shows can make a positive contribution to the green movement? ROLAND BLEINROTH: Let’s start on the consumer side. The consumer show serves as an information platform. It allows consumers to discover new trends, new products, new ideas, get information on a topic that they’re already interested in. Typically, if you’re frank about it, a person will only come to a consumer show if he’s somewhat interested in the topic. So, yes, if you have a certain inclination here towards the green movement, you will find a universe of new ideas, of experts to mingle with, of similar programs to learn from the industry leaders, and, most exciting maybe, products on the show floor that you never knew were out there, but that are totally fascinating and that you might want to get your hands on, not only during the show, but also after the show. So, the consumer side of the trade show business serves as the information platform. It creates demand by allowing people to discover products. The typical trade-only show, of course, provides a trade platform for manufacturers and retailers to again exchange information and to find sourcing models and to really create the offering to serve the consumers’ needs. Both go hand in hand, and therefore even the consumer show always has a trade component, and many trade shows have a consumer component, so we’re really kind of evolving to hybrid shows where both is the case, and that’s the same with Green Festivals. We’re very encouraged to see more B2B, more business-to-business attendees coming, more retailers coming to find out what the offerings are to discover new suppliers, new products that will be enticing to the customers. Of course, the more the consumers know about that, the more they will ask for it, and that’s where you create momentum and safe, sustaining movement. That’s what’s really happening in the U.S. right now, and we’re very excited to be able to make a small contribution towards getting this wheel rolling, and it’s on a roll. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there who just joined us, we’ve got Roland Bleinroth. He’s the President of Messe Stuttgart. He’s on with us today talking about the Green Festivals coming to the United States and which events are happening this fall in Los Angeles, in Chicago, and San Francisco. Go to greenfestivals.org and learn more about all the events coming to the United States this fall. Roland, talk a little bit about Germany and Europe vs. the U.S. You mentioned it earlier, and you were so right, and you were very kind in your comments, but Europe and Germany, especially, are way ahead of the United States when it comes to sustainability and the sustainability revolution and now evolution. Talk a little bit about since you’ve been educated and spent a lot of time in the United States and also now live back in your home country of Germany and in Europe as a whole, you have a lot of experience. Talk a little bit about your thoughts with regards to are you encouraged about the pace that green awareness is happening in the U.S., or are you somewhat frustrated, now that you are really the President of a very large movement and have a large business entity here in the United States yourself? ROLAND BLEINROTH: Well, actually, I’m very encouraged by the pace of the movement. The pace has been picked up in the movement in the U.S. and North America, for that matter, right now. It’s really moving forward and amazing things are happening at a much faster pace than we would have anticipated a couple years ago. Why is that? For the same reasons that it happened in Germany and Europe. For change to really happen, there’s got to be a need. There’s got to be maybe even a certain amount of pain to get people out of their comfort zone and get them to start thinking about having to make a change. One such pain factor is energy prices. Gas prices in North America have certainly taken hikes I would have thought were unbelievable. When I was living in Atlanta starting in 1996, gas prices were somewhere around 70¢. Can you remember that? 70¢ a gallon? We’re not seeing that anymore; not anything close to it. The same was the case in Germany a long time ago. That was actually why things happened earlier in Germany, because there was more need. Same with recycling. We are very densely populated in Germany compared to the U.S., so there is much more need to think about landfills. There isn’t the luxury to just add a new landfill when waste becomes a problem, so people started thinking about recycling, about sustainability, about the environment, about their energy costs, much, much earlier, and therefore the movement here became stronger quicker. But that is happening in the U.S. too now, so I’m not advocating high gas prices, but sometimes that has a good effect, yes? It has been a catalyst to get people to think about energy and sustainable energy forms. It has added a little bit of an input, maybe, to the fact that people are thinking about their products and sustainable products and how they were manufactured, under what conditions, with how much energy and maybe with fair labor or not. All these things do go hand-in-hand, and once you start opening that box, it is not only about your food. It is not only about what food choices you make; it’s about your whole life philosophy because you’re going to have to start thinking about your life philosophy. When you do that, chances are you will make some changes. When even a few people make changes, they vote with their dollars, and that does not go unnoticed. It will create change in the economy, and we’re seeing it happening. We’re seeing it happening very, very quickly. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s a great point. You have a wish list, as the President of Messe Stuttgart, with regards to the Green Festivals, and you have a vision of where you’re going to take it. With regards to your wish list, who do you want to see join the Green Festival and showcase their great products and their great services in the coming months and years ahead? ROLAND BLEINROTH: We already have an amazing group of exhibitors out there, and it is truly inspiring. Just walk the show floor and discover suppliers, companies, products that you had never even thought about, that you hadn’t even imagined would be out there. Fascinating. It is truly an educational and entertaining aspect just to be out there on the show floor and see what’s happening. But those are typically startups, smaller, medium-sized companies, which is great to support these companies because that’s where innovation and change is being born. But to go mainstream, on my wish list, top of the wish list is we need to get the message to the large corporations, to the Fortune 500 guys. That’s where the real change will be made, in the sense of making a bigger impact quicker. When a large corporation discovers that it needs to think for its own good about its own ways of going about business about it, manufacturing processes, a lot of things are happening very quickly. One example here is Ford, who’s been our key sponsor at Green Festivals for quite some time now. Ford, of course, maybe not being the type of company that immediately comes to mind when you think about the green economy, but yes, Ford has thought about their business model and has started to reinvent it, which is quite a feat with a huge company the size of Ford, but it starts with research and development. It is truly encouraging to see how a lot of their focus on new products is now focused on green, on sustainability, on recycling, starting at the very beginning, starting with research and developing, starting with the new models that they are going to be bringing out onto the market, already have in some instances. Those are all created with a new mindset. Those are truly new vehicles, not only in the sense of new shape, form, and engine, but in the way they’re manufactured and the products that are being used in that process. Truly inspiring, and if Ford can do it and be successful with it, and they are, lots of other large cap companies can do it, and that’s when you really start seeing things going mainstream and really making a huge impact. That would be on my wish list, to see more of the large cap companies starting to go this route and starting to think about green being good for business because that is really the true message. It is a good business model. It’s not something somebody needs to preach and appeal to the bad conscience of consumers. It’s good. It’s good for the consumer, it’s good for the individual, and it’s good for business. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Roland, we have two minutes left, and we’re going to go from the opportunity of big business changing the world and changing the sustainability model to now people. We have a lot of listeners around the world that are constantly inundated with climate change is coming, we’re all doomed, and things are so bad. Can you share your thoughts and vision as to how consumers can make choices and become part of the solution, and they can actually get involved and actually make a huge difference? ROLAND BLEINROTH: Well, actually, I can make it really short. Become aware of what you’re doing, and care about what you are doing in every aspect of your life. That’s all it takes. If you really make that conscious decision to be aware and to care, then other good things will almost happen automatically. Yes, people should not underestimate the impact that they have by setting an example to others. I discovered it for myself when I became a vegetarian not too long ago, but it has inspired a lot of people that would have never dreamed of going that route also. It also has an impact where you spend your dollars, as I mentioned earlier. Even if a small percentage of people make conscious decisions, they have much more of a proportional impact on society and on the economy. It makes a difference. So, awareness. It’s all about creating awareness, and that creates care. And when we have awareness and care, we have a better world. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s a perfect way to end today’s show. Roland, for our listeners to get more awareness and learn more about all the great green products and services that are out there in this world, we’re asking our listeners to come out to the Green Festivals or go to greenfestivals.org. Learn more about the Green Festivals coming up this fall in Los Angeles September 12, 13 and 14, in Chicago October 24, 25 and 26, and in San Francisco November 14, 15 and 16. Greenfestivals.org. Roland, thank you for being a visionary and an inspiring leader in the sustainability and green movement in Europe and the U.S. and beyond. You are truly living proof that green is good. ROLAND BLEINROTH: Thank you, John. Appreciate it.