What Does a Green Trade Show Look Like?

trade show

According to Treehugger, the trade show industry is the second most wasteful – only construction throws more material away. While maybe not as sexy as vegan cooking, organic fashion, or natural building, trade shows could use some eco attention – they don’t have to create so much trash!

In recent years, eco-friendly trade show events and vendors have begun to emerge; there’s still plenty of room for improvement, though. What would it look like for the Trade Show Industry to get serious about getting more green?

An effective  greening of the trade show industry would be multidimensional, incorporating sponsors, exhibitors, and participants. Below are concrete (maybe not the best word choice?) steps we recommend to the Trade Show Display industry:

For Exhibitors:

Trade show exhibits

  • Enter into fewer shows per year: Think about the number of shows that your company enters simply because “we always have,”, or because our competitors will be there. Consider attending only those shows that show real promise for your company.
  • Use more vendors that focus on the environment: specializing in green trade show exhibits, fixtures, signs, lighting and display materials that have less impact on the environment while remaining on the cutting edge of design
  • Remember that eco display options do not come with design limitations, due to the increasing availability and diversity of sustainable materials
  • Using cutting-edge materials like aluminum, PET and rPET products, Paradise™ fabric (for graphics), X-board, Sorghum board, bamboo products, low VOC adhesives, finishes, and inks, recycled rubber (in flooring), recycled carpet, LED and fluorescent lighting, and more.
  • Refurbish an existing display with sustainable materials (reuse is always the best option over new buys)
  • Realize that eco-friendly materials tend to be lighter weight and therefore intrinsically carry a lower transport expense
  • Be aware that sometimes the overall investment in green exhibits while slightly higher, but pays for itself over time in generating good with potential clients
  • Know that most eco-friendly displays now come with reusable shipping cases and packing materials

Exhibitor promotional marketing: As we all know, advertising and promotion is a critical aspect of a successful trade show exhibit, before, during, and after the event. You can, however, take greener steps in this area as well.

  • Social media – make better use of Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, and Google+ for marketing of your involvement in the event
  • Recycled paper and low VOC ink – wherever possible, use recycled paper and water-based inks
  • Electronic advertising  and promotions – Create e-brochures (for post-show follow up), send out CD’s and electronic presentations
  • Kiosks – Entertain and inform attendees with interactive kiosks, thus limiting more trash
  • Giveaways – Consider providing giveaways that will not end up in the garbage, but that can be recycled (like seed packets, plants, etc.)

Shipping: Whenever possible, seek shipping that avoids air transport, and/or use companies that are responsibly involved in lowering their waste footprint

Travel: Look for ways to travel that help to reduce carbon emissions

  • Send less staff to each trade show, in proportion to the exhibit size and the assigned tasks of each employee; plan well ahead for exhibit efficiency
  • Travel by train instead of by flight
  • Use the hotel shuttle instead of renting a vehicle
  • Organize carpools from hotels to the show

Trade Show Sponsors

Discounts / incentives: Offer special discounts and incentives to green exhibitors entering in the show

Electronic communications: Whenever possible, use electronic communications with exhibitors and vendors. Make the exhibitor’s handbook (or kit) available via email, or on CD.

Low-waste facilities: Sponsors should seek venues that are environmentally conscientious in hosting the event

  • Energy consumption – utilities used during an event can be huge. Make demands for:
  • LED and fluorescent lighting exhibits (from exhibitors) and T8 (6-bay) fluorescent lighting for the actual event site
  • Take water conservation measures, like flow restrictors for sinks and toilets
  • Make use of non-fossil fuel electricity suppliers wherever possible

These concrete steps could make a real difference. The availability and variety of sustainable materials – for display construction – has made huge strides, even in recent years, such that there are no longer design limitations for exhibits. Green trade show displays are now just as attractive and effective as the industry standards commonly purchased. Further, through the employment of the above considerations, the wasteful reputation of trade shows can be dramatically changed over time.

Tim Carter is the Operations Manager for Smash Hit Displays and lives in Washington State, where the environment is just so beautiful you have to love it. He would love to offer free consultation to any companies searching to green their relationship to the trade show industry, and can be reached at tim (at) smashhitdisplays.com.

Image credit: Phil Sexton at flickr under a Creative Commons license.

  1. Kurt @ Money Counselor

    I’m a trade show veteran, and it seems to me the industry has created the perfect mentality to promote its business. Independently, few like exhibiting in trade shows or think they’re worthwhile from a cost/benefit standpoint. But everyone feels great pressure to participate because everyone else (in their industry, including competitors) will be there. And so they go!

  2. John Cargile

    Using mobile apps allow green collateral distribution and valuable follow up with clients. With smart phones and web-based platforms, immediate delivery of sales sheets, presentations, and white papers happens in a sustainable fashion.

  3. Christine

    Thanks for your comments on trade shows, they definitely are resource intensive! Many in the industry do consider how to be more green about their trade show participation, from event producers to corporate exhibitors. Exhibitor Media Group is hosting a web session on green exhibiting in August called Mr. Green’s Practical Guide to Green Exhibiting. Check it out at http://exhibitor online.com

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