Knight Errant


“The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different.“
—Peter Drucker

ere I am. Four days in Marco Island, FL, site of this year’s Exhibit Designers and Producers Association’s annual conference. I’m here alongside exhibit- and event-industry suppliers with a penchant for warm weather, eco-tourism, and golf — mostly golf, which I support as long as there’s a chance it will help keep the players with baggy knees and silly shirts away from my fly-fishing haunts, but that’s another story.

The buzz you would have heard had you personally attended the event had a lot to do with EXHIBITOR magazine’s research study, “An Inconvenient Booth: The Economic Impact of the Green Movement on the Trade Show Industry,” which we presented during the conference.

These early discussions are intentionally designed to raise more questions than answers. What exactly does Green exhibiting mean? Is it a business opportunity, a threat, a disruption, or an exciting new challenge?

The resulting buzz is important on two levels. The discussion illuminates the issue of limited options — the frustration both suppliers and clients are experiencing over the lack of readily available “plug and play” solutions. Second, the research makes clear that Green exhibiting options will not be widely adopted until they become more affordable. Suppliers report that Green options cost an average of 26 percent more than traditional options. The majority of exhibitors, however, are only willing to spend up to 10 percent more to go Green. The lower the pricing, the wider the adoption, and the greater the market share.

Many suppliers in attendance believe the way to overcome this financial hurdle is to create a sophisticated sales pitch to convince exhibitors that Green solutions are worth the added expense, in hopes prices will not have to come down. I suspect that when the dust settles, this approach will largely turn out to be one of many dead ends.

Surprisingly, most suppliers agree with the conclusion of “An Inconvenient Booth” that the Green exhibiting phenomenon is real and that the adoption rate will accelerate during 2008 and beyond. This also supports the anecdotal conclusion of industry watchers who follow the growth of EXHIBITOR Show and know the shift that has suddenly taken place. In 2006, not a single company featured a Green exhibiting product at the show. In 2007, only one company featured Green options. This year, more than 30 companies — 10 percent of exhibitors — are featuring Green options at EXHIBITOR2008.

Green adoption is happening even faster in the new plethora of Green product shows. In 2006, 15 companies at the GreenBuild International Expo exhibited in eco-friendly booths. The following year, 75 companies used some type of Green exhibit at the show. In 2008, the U.S. Green Building Council’s Exhibitor Advisory Council plans to adopt more stringent environmental guidelines for companies who wish to exhibit, with hopes of achieving an all-Green exhibit floor by 2009.

Mindful of that trend, suppliers at the EDPA conference lined up for a panel discussion on Green exhibiting at a rate three to four times greater than the organizer projected. This mirrored my experience a few weeks earlier at the annual Industrial Designers Society of American (IDSA) conference in San Francisco, where one breakout session on sustainability was equally oversubscribed. On a macro level, Green exhibiting has the industry’s attention. Now, despite many suppliers’ passive “we’ll-offer-it-when-clients-ask-for-it” approach, the big Green ball is in their court. Those who keep it rolling are likely to capitalize on exhibitors’ pent-up demand. Those who drop the ball just might miss out on the game entirely.

Happy Green trails. e

Lee Knight, editor in chief;


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