Waste Reduction and Your Exhibit Program


Sy Syms, the owner of the now-defunct Syms off-price retailer, made regular appearances in his company’s commercials, telling us: “An educated consumer is our best customer.” In any business, an educated buyer is the best customer—and this is certainly true when it comes to exhibits.

Change has come to the trade show industry, and the result is a more enlightened way of buying, selling, and evaluating exhibits and exhibit services. Scrutinizing the amount spent on exhibiting, corporate managers are determining how much of the budget goes to initiatives that engage attendees and how much goes to items that offer no impact on the marketing efforts.

In short, they are concerned about waste. As a matter of fact, waste reduction is a major initiative in every nook and cranny of the exhibiting process.

Change is evident in finding new ways of designing and manufacturing. Many of the legacy practices in the exhibit industry have shown themselves to be wasteful and as having a negative effect on the environment. Once it was okay for used properties and other post-production materials to wind up in a landfill, and recycling was an afterthought—if a thought at all. A new consciousness is forcing both exhibitors and their partners to take a hard look at what constitutes accepted industry practices.

According to the Events Industry Council:

The convention and trade show industry is among the largest producers of waste, second only to the construction industry, generating 600,000 tons of garbage every year. It adds up quickly, all those unread brochures and useless plastic schwag destined for landfill. Each of the 60,000,000 million people worldwide that attend a consumer or industry trade show produces, on average, 20 pounds of garbage, totaling more than 1 billion pounds annually.

Under the weight of all the garbage, things are beginning to change. As sustainability issues become a core value for more companies, the convention industry that serves them is following suit.

Paper and plastic ephemera is the most obvious first line of attack on reducing that yearly billion-pound mountain of waste. White sheets and brochures for exhibitors’ products and services are increasingly offered electronically while participants navigate their trade show experience with a mobile app built for the show – design and build one app or hand out 10,000 maps. The advantage is clear. Even the displays themselves are potentially greener with companies offering eco-friendly booths made from recycled material for purchase or rent.

As exhibit managers become attuned to issues beyond wire management for counters and closet space for briefcases—although these features are still important—they are beginning to ask suppliers:

  • What are my exhibit purchasing options? Do you think a rental program would work for me? (Rental is no longer a cheesy alternative to box-frame construction—and it certainly reduces waste and storage costs.)
  • What materials are you using to build my exhibit? Are they recycled—or can they be recycled or reused?
  • How much does my exhibit weigh? Can you find a way to lighten the load so I can direct my dollars to customer-facing initiatives?
  • I see a lot of fabric on the show floor, but I don’t want to look like everyone else. Do you have some ideas for me?
  • Can you help me find a way to eliminate paper handouts and brochures? And maybe help me find a way to convince the people in my company that bringing all that paper is a bad idea on many levels?
  • What do you think about using scalable technology in the exhibit rather than panels that need to be updated and changed out frequently?
  • Are we using LED lighting in the exhibit? Can you recommend a lighting solution that is an alternative to putting all that truss over our exhibit?
  • Have you come across any giveaways that are both packable and useful?

Coincidentally, suppliers are finding that discovering not only new materials but also new solutions—particularly technology solutions—to exhibiting challenges is part of their mandate. Clients understand the advantage of using a specialty partner for execution, but they do want advice and answers from their primary exhibit partner. They don’t have the time or patience to respond to sales pitches coming to them from voice mail, email, snail mail—and the unthinking rep who shows up at the front desk.

Not all that many years ago, exhibit managers simply put blind faith in their partners to provide a compelling exhibit for their trade show programs. Compelling exhibits are still the desired outcome, but changes in technology and consciousness, as well as the availability of new materials, have moved the relationship to a true partnership, where everyone speaks the same language and asks questions before work begins. The result can only make exhibit partnerships stronger.

Differentiating your booth can help you reduce waste—but it can also help you stand out. Download your free guide to learn how to get more from your face-to-face marketing with creative bravery!
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