11 Ways to Make Trade Show Exhibits Sustainable

Consider these tips before participating in your next trade show.

By Mitra Sorrells April 22, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Freeman collected 22 trailer loads of exhibit materials from companies such as Samsung, Audi, and Kia and donated them to local charities. "Just by asking, they were very excited to say, 'Yes we want an alternative. We don’t want to throw it away, but we don’t want to ship it back to our international destinations,'" Chase said.

Photo: Courtesy of CES

Going green doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. In fact, it can even help save money. That was the message for attendees at the Green Meeting Industry Council’s Sustainable Meetings Conference April 15 to 17 in San Francisco. Jeff Chase, director of sustainability for Freeman, and Tom Bowman, an author and consultant who is leading a sustainability initiative for the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association, shared tips on how to be a more earth-friendly exhibitor.

1. Air travel creates a huge environmental impact, so question the purpose of each person attending the show and only send people who really need to be there.

2. Fly nonstop when possible. “Airplanes use much more fuel and create much more pollution climbing to altitude then they do cruising. And when you fly with connections you go off course for usually hundreds of miles before you go back on,” Bowman says.

3. The weight of your exhibit is less important than how it can be crated and shipped. Try to use materials that can fit on one pallet and be packed tightly, reducing the number of trucks on the road overall. Each time you reuse that exhibit you’ll be saving money on shipping and reduce the amount of pollution generated.

4. Look for opportunities to buy or rent components of your exhibit in the city at your destination.

5. Keep exhibits as long as you can, rather than replacing them every five years based on the tax depreciation schedule. “What we discovered is if we treat it as a box of Legos, and we cover it with new skins and reorganize the floor plan and just build a few new components to alter the look and give it new graphics, those properties will last 10 to 15 years,” Bowman says.

6. Replace components that use energy (monitors, lighting, appliances) if more energy-efficient options are available. Look for the Energy Star logo.

7. Consider the long-term life cycle of the exhibit. What will happen to it when you are finished with it? Can it be reused by another division within your company? Can all of the materials be recycled?

8. Eliminate printed materials at your booth, and instead provide information digitally.

9. Pack out what you pack in, so nothing goes into the waste stream of the convention center. Also ask the venue if it has a donation program, such as the Orange County Convention Center, which coordinates the donation of show materials to more than two dozen charities in the Orlando area. “There’s a market for all of us to find ways to create a local charity network for the things you see coming out of your facility constantly,” Chase says.

10. Eliminate dates and cities on your signage, so it can be reused from year to year. Also try to reuse your substrates by layering new graphics over old ones.

11. Create a long-term strategy. “We plan four to five years out where we’re going to hold our event. We plan a lot of things way out there in the future. Just add sustainability to the conversation and how we’re all going to work together as vendors and suppliers and facilities and organizers to get that same goal done,” Chase says.

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