Sustainability: Growing Your Exhibit Program Without the Waste

While many companies, politicians and institutions remain unmoved by stats on rising sea levels, images of starving polar bears and news of whales dying with dozens of pounds of plastic in their stomachs, there are fortunately plenty of individuals and organizations—let’s call them the green team—who are striving to make a difference by reducing waste and making more environmentally-minded decisions.


California and New York, for example, have completely banned single-use plastic bags; Patagonia, a clothing company known for its conservation efforts, donated its $10 million federal tax cut to environmental groups; and since 2018, cities and businesses have been banning plastic straws en masse. (Proof: the paper equivalent currently dissolving in our gin and tonics tastes like progress!)


The point is, green is the new black, and pledging to make more eco-conscious, sustainability-minded choices is vital—for both the sake of the planet and your business.


Here we’re sharing learnings from Echelon’s 12 For 12 audio podcast (now a video series!), and accompanying sources to highlight the many ways we can reduce our environmental impact in the exhibit space and create eye-catching, eco-friendly displays that won’t harm the earth or break the bank. (listen above!)


Material Matters


In this case, we’re talking specifically about the exhibit space, where massive empty halls are transformed into fully furnished environments hosting populations the size of small cities for several days—then at the end of the event, emptied, their contents shipped across the world. With this cycle comes the potential for a lot of waste and, simultaneously, plenty of room for improvement.


Every exhibit begins with the selection of materials, from wood and metal to the furnishings and electronics that bring it all to life. The materials you use in your display not only impact aesthetics but count towards the waste you’re generating as well.


Take graphics, for example, which have grown substantially larger over the past decade. While massive signs and logos are great for capturing the attention of passersbys and making your booth stand out, they’re traditionally not great on the sustainability front—particularly in instances when jobs are accidentally botched or changed at the last minute.


“The exhibit industry was riddled by jobs ruined by the inadvertent piece of lint or hair that just landed in the wrong place at the worst time,” explains Echelon Creative Director Duane Hayes, “resulting in wasted time and materials.”


Fortunately, solutions have arrived to combat this problem in the form of new approaches and new materials. One such solution is what Hayes equates to a “large lunchbox sticker.” Not only do these sticker graphics cut down on lab mounting and raw materials, but they’re also far less bulky and easier to ship than large-scale murals, meaning there’s no extra crating or packaging required.


Another answer to the graphics problem is dye-sublimated fabrics, which can be fastened directly to existing walls or stretched over light-weight frames. Fabric, which is more flexible and adaptable than many materials, serves as an effective way to increase height or dimensionality and create a more variably shaped and sculpted environment in general. And while design demands might dictate the fabric change for different events, the frames themselves can be reused countless times. You can even step up your sustainability game by recycling your old fabric materials and using a company like REPREVE—producers of “the world’s leading recycled fiber”—to produce new ones. The best part: this isn’t just better for the planet—it’s also great for your bottom line.


“The seamless nature of them, the reuse, lower production costs…  less weight,” explains Echelon’s Founder and President, Reid Harman, ”… it all translates to savings.”


Going green and saving green? We call that a win-win.




In a previous blog ‘Let There Be Light: Exhibit Lighting and Human Response’, we went all-in on the topic of lighting and how it has the power to set the mood, catch the eye and even influence the way people think and feel. But your lighting choice should be about more than just that. It’s also a matter of sustainability, and when considering lighting for your booth, it’s important to make decisions that environmentalists would give the green light.


While there are plenty of ways to improve on this front, one quick and easy switch to make is trading incandescent bulbs for LED lighting which, according to Bambu Global, “typically emits less heat, lasts as much as 25 times longer and is far more energy-efficient than incandescent and fluorescent light sources.”


Or just enlist Lance Armstrong to power your booth by bike. That works too.


Packing WIth Purpose


Of course, it’s not just about the materials you use, as well as how you ship them.


Manufacturing of packing products typically extrudes or expands chemicals to create solid foam blocking that can take millions of years to degrade in landfills and leaves the soil tainted with petrochemicals. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to make your shipping strategy more green, from the straightforward to the brilliantly absurd.


In terms of the former, Entrepreneur offers a handy article featuring seven ideas for “‘greening’ your shipping strategy,” which includes tips for finding recycled boxes and alternate fillers, a list of materials to avoid, notes on how to find a green shipper and ways to offset your carbon footprint.


As for the absurd, well, in this case we’re talking materials made from mushrooms, courtesy of a company called Ecovative Design. The company’s MycoComposite™ platform uses mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, to bind together organic agricultural byproducts, such as wood chips, to produce durable, bio-based and 100% compostable materials.


How’s that for magic mushrooms?


Spreading the Word


Once you’ve adopted more eco-friendly practices — and your Environmental Report Card is officially hung on Mother Nature’s fridge — it’s time for the next step: talk about it!


As we’ve said before, going green isn’t just good for the earth; it’s good for your business. And these days, more consumers are turning to eco-minded companies. A 2015 Nielsen poll, which surveyed 30,000 consumers in 60 countries around the world, concluded that there’s one thing consumers across the globe will pay more for: sustainability. (This is especially true for Millennials, 73% of which claim they’ll pay more for sustainable goods.)


This doesn’t just apply to customers. It’s helpful in the recruiting realm as well, particularly when it comes to—you guessed it—Millennials.


According to one survey, resulting from conversations with 1,000 employees at large U.S. companies, “more than 70% said that they were more likely to choose to work at a company with a strong environmental agenda,” and when it comes to Millennials, “nearly 40% said that they’ve chosen a job in the past because the company performed better on sustainability than the alternative.” Added to that, many workers are willing to accept a smaller salary in order to work for a more environmentally responsible company, while 10% would even be willing to take a $5,000-$10,000 pay cut. It’s not just about choosing a job or paycheck—a full 30% of respondents said they’ve actually left a job because of a company’s lack of a sustainability plan.


In other words, sustainability isn’t only a responsible practice; it’s also a major competitive edge. So when planning your next exhibit, remember to take the health of our planet into account… and then shout it from the conference center rooftop.


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