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Ask Mr. Green
We've kept our exhibit for about seven years. Business is good, so we're thinking about replacing it. How long should we keep an exhibit to be Green?

What a great question – it's one that gets too little attention. This industry is built on a passion for creativity and new messaging, as well as remarkable finesse when it comes to construction. Inventing and producing new exhibits is exciting. We all love doing it.

Death and Taxes
Did you know that you have already used your exhibit longer than average? According to EXHIBITOR Magazine's 2014 Rental/Refurb Survey, the average lifespan for an exhibit is 5.06 years. There's a reason why this is true.

Exhibits are capital assets, so companies cannot deduct the cost of construction from their income taxes in a single year. Capital assets are depreciated instead, and the depreciation schedule just happens to last for five years.

You can see where this is headed. After five years, marketing people have grown tired of their properties. It's time to solve those nagging ergonomic problems and project a fresh new image. It's time for new graphics and new colors. It's time to show the marketplace that your company is thriving and moving forward. And, since the exhibit probably needs some extensive refurb after five years, why pour new money into something old? Bottom line: it's time to go out to bid.

But, as you and a significant number of your peers have learned, exhibits can last much longer than the depreciation schedule. You've already gotten seven years of valuable service. One of our client's exhibits is currently in its tenth season, and another exhibitor uses a mix of newer pieces and components that are as much as fifteen years old. The lesson is that the average exhibitor is disposing of an exhibit long before the properties have worn out.

In fact, EXHIBITOR's survey also shows that in 2011, 19 percent of exhibitors expected their exhibits would last more than a decade. During hard economic times saving money through re-use offered a win-win. Today, though, the number of exhibitors who expect their properties to last for more than ten years has plummeted to less than 10 percent.


Good News, Bad News
This looks like good economic news for the industry's builders, but it's not such good news for the environment. The reason is pretty simple: the exhibit you already own is the Greenest exhibit in the world. Building a new exhibit – even a new Green exhibit – consumes energy and material resources, and causes a certain amount of pollution. Once you've done that damage, it makes sense to use the exhibit for as long as possible before causing the next round of environmental impact.

And it's surprisingly easy to do. What is an exhibit, after all, but an assembly of parts? Why not rearrange them, refinish them in new colors, and add a few new items to create a fresh new look? This approach will save money while keeping the shop busy, and you'll reduce your environmental impact at the same time.


The Green Acquisition Formula
Engineers who studied the question of when to replace old properties have run the numbers for us. Here are the results.

If something doesn't consume energy when you use it, keep using it for as long as you can. Your exhibit is a case in point. The one exception is that shipping your exhibit to shows does use energy. If you plan to retire your exhibit in order rent properties locally at every show, then it's a Green tradeoff. Otherwise, reuse what you have.

If, on the other hand, something does consume energy when you use it, and energy efficiency is improving all the time, then you should replace it more often. Electronics, lighting systems, refrigerators, printers, and other products fit this category. The math says replace if replacing saves energy.

Back to your question: All things being equal, your exhibit probably has several years of life in it. Why not renew it. You'll be doing your budget and our environment a favor.





Tom Bowman, president of Bowman Global Change in Signal Hill, CA, works with national institutions on climate change and sustainability communications and is a frequent speaker on improving public engagement in climate and energy issues. As a green business consultant, he advises companies on cost-effective sustainability actions and has won multiple awards for developing and implementing his own firm's successful green business plan. tom@bowmanglobalchange.com


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