The Greenest woods come with the Forest Management Certificate (FMC) seal of approval. The FMC designation signifies products harvested from forests that comply with the Forest Stewardship Council’s (FSC) Principles of Responsible Forest Management. Dozens of types of wood are produced in FSC-certified forests that grow and replenish quickly, such as tropical hardwoods.
FSC-certified tropical hardwoods defy the conventional picture of bland and boring eco-friendly materials. Catalox features spectacular purple-violet colors while Chechen ranges from golden amber to espresso brown. Granadillo, frequently used in fine furniture and musical instruments, is often streaked with reds like a desert sunset. One look at any of these woods and you’ll be pining for them.
On the Floor
While the wood alternatives listed above can also be used for flooring, there are other choices that will let you put your best foot forward where your customers put their feet down. At the 2007 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, Timberland’s exhibit featured Marmoleum, biodegradable flooring made from several renewable materials, including linseed oil and wood flour. Marmoleum has been around for more than a century, and comes in a medley of colors.
If Marmoleum is an old fogey of floors, then bamboo is almost primeval. Used for centuries in everything from martial-arts weaponry to substitutes for steel rods in construction, bamboo is quickly becoming a popular flooring material for Green exhibiting. And it grows faster than a weed: Bamboo grass needs just four to six years to mature, compared to the 50 to 100 years it takes most hardwood trees. Bamboo is also 27-percent harder than northern red oak, and naturally resistant to water and mildew — which means it lasts longer than conventional woods and won’t contribute as quickly to the 166 million tons of trash Americans produce each year.
Nearly as tough as bamboo is cork. Produced using the bark of the cork oak tree, which regenerates every three years, the cork used for flooring is assembled from leftovers that would otherwise be discarded during the manufacturing of stoppers for wine bottles. As if that’s not enough, cork floors are as good for you as they are for the Earth — they’re hypoallergenic and fire-resistant, and their natural elasticity makes exhibit floors feel like you’re stepping into a Dr. Scholl’s Massaging Gel Insole.
According to the Carpet Recycling Committee, carpets seethe with as many as 250 separate VOCs (volatile organic compounds), such as benzene, a carcinogen that can also cause anemia, as well as liver and kidney damage. Every year, we dump 1.8 million tons of carpet into landfills, where they’ll molder for up to 20,000 years.
So why not pull the contaminated rug out from under your exhibit? Of the Earth did with a sisal carpet made from a natural plant fiber native to Central America, which takes just three to five years to regrow. Ranging in color from meringue white to blond to rich brown, sisal can be cushiony soft. Other VOC-free natural rugs include those made from sea grass, jute, coir, and bamboo.
The next best thing to an all-natural rug is a recycled one. Freeman’s turnkey solution Green exhibits — which it calls Environmentally Friendly Exhibit Packages — use Dotcom II Carpet by Shaw Industries Inc. in Dalton, GA. Dotcom II’s carpet fiber contains 25 percent recycled content, and can be recycled back into carpet fiber over and over until it frays beyond a useful life.
Unique among carpet manufacturers, Shaw currently makes most of its carpets with EcoWorx, a material that replaces the noxious PVC (polyvinyl chloride), a chemical whose byproducts include dioxin, referred to by The Healthy Building Network as the most potent known carcinogen. Developed according to the principles of “cradle-to-cradle” manufacturing, virtually every single thread of EcoWorx-based carpets can be recycled many times over with no waste products whatsoever.
Even if you don’t want organic or recycled rugs, you can still go Green. The key is a carpet’s inherent durability. Woven broadloom carpets last nearly twice as long as tufted carpets. While woven will cost you 20 to 25 percent more than tufted, it does not have a backing, which makes it easier to recycle.
Your choices for flooring, however, aren’t just between carpet or wood. You can hit the ground running with recycled leather floor tiles that look like genuine bonded leather. Another option is limestone composite tile, which is 85-percent natural limestone and contains post-industrial recycled-vinyl content. If stone’s not your style, rubber-tire tiles are manufactured from recycled tires, and are perfect for trade show floors where attendees’ feet work harder than the cast of Stomp. With their durability and anti-slip qualities, rubber-tire tiles can take more abuse than an American Idol contestant.
Structural panels can also be as healthy as a wheatgrass shake. Of the Earth used Kirei Board in its exhibit, which is constructed from reclaimed agricultural fiber usually tossed away after harvesting the sorghum plant. Ribboned with orange-red-brown streaks, Kirei Board adds a stylish and earth-sensitive touch to your exhibit. It uses a water-based, formaldehyde-free adhesive, which means it doesn’t emit VOCs into the air.
For its turnkey exhibits, Freeman uses equally attractive Plyboo panels. While resembling an elegant maple or red oak, Plyboo panels are from the hyper-renewable bamboo. Is there anything bamboo can’t do?
Another substitute is Oriented Strand Board (OSB). OSB is a wood structural panel that’s cut to the size of standard plywood sheets and various thicknesses. What makes it Green is that the wood is chipped in relatively tiny amounts from small-diameter, fast-growing trees such as poplar and southern yellow pine, which leaves more of the tree for other purposes. Then the grain of the wood is oriented in a pattern that creates maximum strength in the panel, rendering it an excellent surrogate for traditional wood or even metal panels.
If you like the smell of cyanide, you’ll love the scent of fresh paint. That’s because many paints also contain VOCs. Not only do VOCs in paint turn into a breathable gas at room temperature and contribute to global warming, but if attendees breathe in enough of them while they’re admiring your exhibit wall, they might stagger away wheezing with maladies from headaches to allergic reactions. Freeman’s turnkey exhibits use a non-VOC paint made by the BioShield Paint Co. in Santa Fe, NM. The paint’s formula is similar to that of pigments that have been around for thousands of years, which are based on milk, casein, and lime. Other non-VOC paints use natural minerals such as clay, chalk, and talcum. Even mainstream paint companies such as The Sherwin-Williams Co. and Behr Process Corp. offer non-VOC paint with prices comparable to their mainstream counterparts.
Light 'em if You Got 'em
When it comes to Green exhibiting, the lights are on, but there’s nobody home. That’s because many exhibitors overlook the potential energy and cost savings they can realize from alternatives to traditional lighting.
Introduced in the early 1980s, Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs) use about 25 to 30 percent of the energy used by incandescent bulbs and last four to 16 times longer. Estimates vary, but the joint Energy Star Program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy states that you will save about $30 in energy costs or more per each CFL bulb’s lifetime. You’ll also prevent 450 pounds of power-plant emissions from belching into the air you breathe.
The most efficient light is the light-emitting diode (LED). Virtually 100 percent of the energy LEDs use turns into light, while incandescents convert just 5 percent into light, and traditional (non-CFL) fluorescents manage just 20 percent. The shielded LEDs break less often, and they last up to 10 years. While they cost more initially than the other forms of illumination, their operating costs can dim to as little as 3.5 percent of incandescents.
How to Go Green
How do you begin to actually apply these ideas to your exhibit? According to Andrew Birch, the principal of Minnetonka, MN, exhibit and event design firm Birch+Associates Inc., you should inform your exhibit house of your emerald-hued aspirations during the RFP process.
“Going Green isn’t just about materials,” Birch says. “It’s about the total balance of materials, labor, and processes. In a Green RFP, the client defines business goals that give the designer the freedom to propose a balance between Green and non-Green materials and processes. For example, they could balance non-Green aspects by focusing on reducing the weight or designing
for longer use than usual.”
If you’re exhibiting with an existing property, you may not be able to replace structural elements, but can consider incremental changes to carpets or paints, Birch suggests. And if going completely Green isn’t an option, you should be able to go Greener by using any combination of the materials described above.
From hundreds of wood surrogates to flooring that will sweep visitors off their feet, Green exhibiting is as healthy as it is hip. “The really amazing thing about Green exhibiting,” Birch says, “is that it enhances your brand, improves the look of your exhibit — and in some cases, even lowers the cost.” That’s enough to make your competitors green with envy. e