My staff is implementing green choices, but we don't follow a plan. We just try things kind of willy-nilly. Is there a better way to do this?
That’s a great question. A few years ago, when Green exhibiting was just catching on, a lot of professionals were asking the same question. What makes an exhibit program Green? What makes a booth Green? How do we know we’re on the right track?
The industry has come a long way since then, thanks to some pioneering exhibitors and suppliers. We’ve learned a lot about materials and practices that will reduce your environmental impact. We know what works and what doesn’t.
It’s been an impressive, do-it-yourself, grassroots effort. But the Holy Grail — a simple, metrics-based checklist of Green options — remains elusive. Because of this, you have some choices to consider. Let’s look at them.

Which Shade of Green?

Businesses have embraced a wide range of Green goals. At one end of the spectrum, some companies take holistic approaches. For example, energy snack maker Clif Bar & Co. espouses “5 Aspirations,” which include sustaining our planet, community, people, the business, and its brands. Going Green, with its emphasis on environmental performance, is integrated with community-based volunteerism and healthy lifestyles into a comprehensive management philosophy.
Another approach formalizes environmental impact measurement and focuses resources on whichever aspects of a company’s operations cause the most harm. The Denver Zoo, for example, implemented an Environmental Management System using ISO 14000 standards, and identified waste-to-energy and water conservation as their best opportunities to make the biggest difference.

The Green We Can See and the Green We Can’t

A company’s biggest impacts usually come from core operations, not the event marketing program. But marketing activities are highly visible, and exhibitors are keenly aware that looking Green matters too.
Perhaps this is why so many exhibitors choose Greener booths and paperless promotion over rethinking things like shipping. While a pad-wrapped booth helps reduce the number of trucks on the road, it’s a behind-the-scenes Green choice.
Almost every exhibitor is free to balance visible and invisible options, but exhibitors at the annual Greenbuild show must pledge to do both. The show requires a commitment to minimize packing materials and printed collateral, repurpose used exhibits, embrace Energy Star efficiency, promote healthful indoor air quality, and offset carbon emissions.

Throw Me a Lifeline

Does your firm take a holistic approach or emphasize environmental quality? Either way, you need to tell your company’s story while actually walking the talk at corporate events.
You also need to decide whether documenting your environmental footprint is necessary. If so, then you’ll probably need to hire a consultant with training and certification in lifecycle assessment protocols. It’s a big commitment that few exhibitors are willing or able to make.
But you can also go Green without seeking professional help. The difference is that measuring and verifying the environmental benefits will be difficult, if not impossible. It’s a little like trying to manage a healthy diet without writing down every single thing you eat. The best strategy is to make as many Greener choices as you can.

Here are a few things you can consider:

Booths & Collateral
• Rearrange and re-color your old booth to make it look new.
• Build with certified sustainable lumber.
• Use recycled metals, carpet, and other materials.
• Print on recycled PET fabric using dye sublimation.
• Replace plastic and foam substrates with biodegradable, recycled, or fiber-based alternatives.
• Use LED lighting and monitors.
• Buy Energy Star appliances.
• Eliminate printed matter or use recycled paper and non-petroleum inks.

• If your exhibit house stores your booth, pad and skid shipments.
• If you can ship from show-to-show to eliminate return trips, crates make more sense.
• Ship with EPA-certified SmartWay® partners.
• Rent things in the show city instead of at home.

Catered Events
• Serve organic foods, locally-sourcing when possible.
• Serve on china.

• Drive if the flight time is one hour or less.
• Rent fuel-efficient cars and use public transportation at shows.

These proven best-in-class practices will Green any program, especially if you embrace all of them. But don’t get complacent. The restless creative spirit that gave us these options will generate new choices in the future.

For more information, visit:

Clif Bar & Co.’s 5 Aspirations
Denver Zoo’s environmental achievements
Greenbuild exhibitor requirements
Energy Star information
EPA’s SmartWay® information

Do Green exhibiting choices really make much difference in the real world? Sometimes I think it’s all just window dressing while everyone consumes and pollutes.

I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice when we define “going Green” in terms of conservation alone. Your question suggests that we’re just taking a little bit less, even though we’re still taking a lot. From this perspective, our consumption habits must surely overwhelm these baby steps, right? It depends on what you buy. Sometimes consuming Green products can help restore nature’s balance.

The Birds and the Bees

There’s no question that the hypersonic growth of global consumerism is pushing environmental limits. And our efforts to feed a ballooning population, which are based on chemical-intensive farming, bring a host of unintended problems along for the ride.
For example, we make herbicides and fertilizers and oil and natural gas. The more we apply them to crops, the more fossil fuels we consume. Modern industrial farming is also depleting the world’s fertile topsoil, which makes farmers ever more dependent on these chemical additives, which in turn create “dead zones” in the oceans downstream.
But apart from these problems, we also face a truly stunning decline in the number of pollinating insects—the honeybees and bumblebees that fertilize flowering crops. In the United States alone, wild honeybees declined by 90 percent over the past 50 years. Meanwhile, according to the journal Nature, the number of commercially managed hives fell from six million in 1940 to just 2.3 million in 2008.
The honeybee decline was marked by an abrupt worldwide collapse in 2006-2007. In North America, about one-third of commercially managed hives disappeared. With about one-third of human nutrition dependent on pollination by bees, this crisis could have serious consequences.

A Crisis Exposes an Opportunity

The causes of this global crisis are complex, but they also give exhibitors a unique opportunity.
One of the main drivers involves “monoculture,” in which a single crop is planted over large tracts of land and everything else, from weeds to native plants, is eradicated. Monoculture isn’t so good for bees.
But that’s not all. Farmers are supposed to avoid spraying pesticides when plants are in bloom. Pesticides aren’t even supposed to drift along on the breeze from neighboring fields if they might settle on flowers. Sadly, this prohibition is often ignored.
In addition, bees have to contend with parasites and pathogens that travel the world quickly, thanks to modern global transportation. Even air and light pollution put stress on bees.
Now for the good news: The study in Nature points to a simple idea. “What bees need most…is a diverse community of flowing plants that bloom throughout the spring and summer.” The abundance and diversity of flowering plants strengthen hives and is the biggest single factor in helping restore healthy populations.

An All-in-One Solution

What does this mean to exhibitors? The answer is surprisingly powerful: Buying organically grown products reduces chemical pollution and helps diverse plant communities to thrive. Organic agriculture literally restores ecosystems, conserves topsoil, and creates habitat for pollinating insects and other species.
The number of organic options available to exhibitors is growing.

• Certified Sustainable Forest Products — Several certification standards, such as FSC, PEFC and SFI, are designed to preserve the ecological functions of forests. Your options include certified lumber and bamboo for booths and paper for printing.
• Organic Cotton — We don’t talk much about the shirts emblazoned with our corporate logos, but you can buy everything from T-shirts to business-casual items made from organic cotton.
• Organic Banners — Yes, you can even select banner fabrics made from organic cotton and hemp. They look like canvas, so be sure they fit your corporate image. If your brand promotes responsible stewardship, these fabrics are worth considering.
• Organic Catering — Commercial caterers who specialize in organic and locally sourced foods are springing up everywhere. Selecting organic options has never been easier, no matter how your tastes run.

Who knew Green consuming could do so much good? It can, especially if you make organic agriculture a priority in your exhibit program. We often think going Green means consuming less. A better idea is “consuming smart,” with Green choices that actually help nature restore its all-important balance.

Budget cuts are making it very difficult for me to justify buying more expensive Green materials and products. Can you suggest ways to pay for Green choices?

Your question couldn’t be timelier, what with the recession still wreaking havoc on many exhibitors’ finances. In the long run, of course, going Green means using less energy, fewer resources and more recycled products, and this should lead to greater cost savings. But sometimes you need to spend a bit more to get there, and herein lay the challenge.
Fortunately, there are ways to beat the odds. You might even be beating them already.

“Sometimes I Guess There Just Aren’t Enough Rocks.”

When he uttered these words, Forrest Gump pointed out something universal about human nature. Rather than tackling the insoluble underlying problem—child abuse—he focused on what was at hand—rocks to throw—and admitted that there just weren’t enough of them to help his friend vent her pain.
We are all Forrest Gump sometimes, especially when we focus on a specific “pain point.” Sometimes you just can’t scratch an itch, throw enough rocks or pay for Greener product. When this happens, who wouldn’t feel frustration?
But frustration is really just a symptom, and the higher cost of a Greener product or material is only one piece of a much larger Green management puzzle. Believe it or not, this is good news.

“’Cause Them Flashlights, They Keep Me Awake.”

And with that, Gump alerted hotel security to the Watergate break-in and threw the country into a constitutional crisis. Simple actions sometimes have huge ripple effects.
Consider an example from an ordinary office. When the lease expired on my company’s copier, we decided to look for the most energy-efficient replacement that would meet our needs. Our lease payment remained the same, so we thought we were achieving a small Green benefit at no additional cost. We were dead wrong.
The new copier was also a printer, scanner, and fax, so we suddenly had no need for these other machines and we shut them off. Since the new printer was centrally located in our office, people found themselves printing less often. Moreover, the new copier printed so beautifully that nobody wanted to use our large-format plotters anymore.
As a result, we found ourselves saving money on paper, toner, inkjet cartridges, and office maintenance in addition to energy. In other words, a simple Green choice triggered a cascade of cost savings and environmental benefits that we were not even looking for.
The same thing can happen in an exhibit program. Here’s a case in point: One of our clients attends three major shows each year using the same 10-by-30-foot custom booth. The shows couldn’t be located farther apart: One show is on the West Coast, one is in Chicago, and the third is in the East. Not wanting to add the cost of crates to the original build, the exhibitor initially planned to ship the booth to each show in pads, back and forth from an exhibit house in California. This meant paying for two long-distance, round-trip shipments, higher drayage costs at three shows, exhibit house storage year round, and pull-and-prep labor for each show.
A quick calculation revealed that these costs would exceed the price of crates in less than one year. So, she ordered crates and arranged to store the booth in her own company’s warehouses near each show city. Seven years later, she continues to benefit from a smaller environmental footprint and a cascade of annual savings.

“You Never Know What You’re Gonna to Get.”

Pushing back a bit on Forrest Gump’s wisdom, sometimes it helps to look beyond the shortage of rocks. Consider each Green choice in the context of your entire corporate events budget. As the office copier story demonstrates, considering choices in isolation can mask potential savings.
Sometimes, cost savings from some other decision can more than pay for the Greener product you hope to buy. If, for example, you are considering building with higher-priced FSC-certified sustainable lumber, the added cost might be offset by eliminating printed brochures, renting low-energy LED lighting on site, a different shipping and storage strategy, or simply by sending fewer people to the show site.

In today’s budgetary environment, it is important to show immediate cost savings. Few exhibitors can justify amortizing the higher price of a Green material over several years. Look for offsets elsewhere in your program, and look beyond the shortage of rocks for a surprising cascade of savings.
Sometimes you really don’t know what you’re gonna get.

I heard that there are some new Green standards for events and shows. What are they? Where did they come from? How can my program use them?

You’re right: As of 2011, we have powerful new Green event standards. We can thank our hard-working peers for bringing them to life.

“APEX did the ‘heavy lifting’”

Every so often, forces converge to create something very useful. This happened about five years ago, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which hosts a good many conferences, and the Green Meeting Industry Council saw value in creating a uniform way to measure environmental performance.
If you want to create standards across all of North America, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is a good place to start. ANSI provides accreditation for voluntary standards involving products, services, and processes in the U.S. As it happened, though, an ANSI-accredited nonprofit called ASTM International, which develops international standards, took ownership of the Green events challenge.
Organizations like ASTM rely heavily on industry participation to identify key issues and help them understand how a marketplace works. Enter the Convention Industry Council’s Accepted Practices Exchange (APEX) initiative. APEX is an events industry initiative that promotes best practices on a wide range of issues. These folks—our fellow event industry professionals—teamed with ASTM to create the standards you are asking about.
The result is a set of “APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Meeting Standards” that you can purchase through the APEX website.
Dru Meadows, chair of ASTM’s Committee E60 on Sustainability, was quoted as saying, “APEX did the ‘heavy lifting’ to develop the drafts for ASTM balloting.” In other words, we owe a debt of gratitude to our peers for pulling this off—not only because it was difficult, but also because they’ve delivered genuine value to the industry.

What Are the APEX/ASTM Sustainability Standards?

The APEX/ASTM standards give event planners a coherent way to create events with significantly smaller environmental footprints. The standards look at the challenge from a planner’s perspective, covering everything from selecting destinations and venues to managing transportation, food and beverage, onsite offices, marketing and communications, audiovisual, and exhibit operations.
As I’ve noted in the past , managing a convention is like directing traffic. The goal is to get all of the entities moving in one direction—the association, organizer, venue, convention visitors bureau, general contractor and independent contractors, hospitality venues and hotels, and a range of suppliers providing everything from security to catering.
The APEX/ASTM team understood this and embedded environmental performance in RFPs requirements for all parties. In other words, if an event meets APEX/ASTM standards, then a large percentage of the companies involved are making contributions.

Four Shades of Green

APEX/ASTM also recognizes how difficult it is to go Green in one big step. As a result, there are four levels of certification, each requiring more ambitious performance.
While Green ambition can carry your event to a higher level, the issues you must attend to stay the same. Even a Level One event will conserve energy, reduce air pollution, create a healthier indoor environment, promote local and sustainable food sourcing, minimize waste, and more. Moving to the next level means pushing performance in many of these areas even further.

Getting Specific

Setting specific levels of performance is new. I’ve written before that other standards, such as the ISO 14000 family and the British 8901 Green event standard, are basically management systems . They create procedures for assessing and reducing environmental impacts, but they do not define what “Green” performance looks like. APEX/ASTM standards do, and this makes them more like the LEED system we discussed in May .
But, like the other standards, APEX/ASTM does require careful record keeping. Eventually, expect to see third parties auditing events to ensure compliance.

Greening Your Company’s Events Program

APEX and ASTM have made an important contribution to our industry. Over time, these standards will define business as usual.
But what about exhibitors: can your company use these standards to Green your events program? The answer is yes. There is absolutely no reason why an exhibitor shouldn’t write the APEX/ASTM requirements into RFPs for exhibits, catering, on-site labor, transportation, and their own on-site operations.
Perhaps this is the most important contribution of all: By defining what sustainable events look like, APEX/ASTEM lets you select shows that achieve your marketing goals with less impact. You can use the very same standards to organize your own events program and achieve even greater success.
Thanks to ASTM and APEX—our peers—for making a rare and important contribution to the industry.

Why is it so hard to find good information about going Green? There is a lot of hype, but where is the reliable info?

If you work in marketing communications, then you know that selling a Green product or service is all about creating an appealing image. Sure, we marketers will present trade show attendees with technical information, but it’s rare that we give our product engineers free rein over our sales pitch. Getting people to buy just isn’t a product engineer’s forte—that takes a marketer’s finesse.
It’s tough to translate environmental science data into persuasive marketing, convincing consumers to make Green choices. During this clash of cultures—science versus marketing—a lot of great information can fall through the cracks.
Fortunately, you can find what you need if you know where to look.

Just the Facts, Mam

Green information comes from environmental scientists, but helping us make specific choices is not their primary mission. Scientists don’t get research grants to help us decide which type of lumber to use, whether to crate or skid a booth, nor what to print our graphics on.
Their goal is a noble one: contribute to knowledge. They are looking at how environmental systems work. Pure science is learning for its own sake.
Scientists are expected to present only the facts, and let readers decide for themselves what to make of them. Advocacy and spin are strictly taboo. Instead of clear, straightforward recommendations, the science community dishes out data, cautious conclusions, and lots of caveats.
Very few scientists are trained to communicate with the public. I once edited a publication with an engineer who said, “I’ve worked on dozens of NRC reports, and it never once occurred to us that anybody should be able to understand what we were saying.” If you find science reports hard to read, you’re in good company.

Through the Cracks

What happens when science meets marketing? The differences between these professions could not be more striking. The chief goal for every marketing campaign is persuasion—changing perceptions in ways that encourage people to act in our favor. Marketing relies on emotion, simplification, values, and a person’s self-image. Facts are necessary sometimes, but on their own they’re not enough.
Your question points to the wide gulf between the Green information offered by scientists and Green advice from environmental advocates and marketing communicators. Rarely do the two camps meet to find common ground—it happens, but not very often. Most of the time, we get one or the other: either complex science that we cannot apply to our own circumstances or emotional appeals that offer little evidence to back the claims.
Trouble is, we need both. We need credible information presented in ways that we can understand. We also need emotional motivation. It is hard to find an engaging and accurate mix.

Cooler Smarter

The Union of Concerned Scientists has taken a stab at bridging the divide with a new book titled, “Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living.” This is an advice book written by scientists. They rely on real science, and they translate the data into recommendations about consumer choices.
This is not a book about Green exhibiting; rather, it’s about adopting a low-carbon, energy-conserving lifestyle. Along the way, though, you will find a lot of basic information about foods, electricity, and transportation that can be applied to show planning too.
After all, transportation and the things we buy account for over half of the average American’s greenhouse gas emissions. Add food choices to the mix and you are looking at almost 70 percent of your emissions, and these three categories are central to exhibits and events.
If you dig through this handy resource, you will find lots of data that you can apply to your management decisions.

• For example, you can compare emissions from various types of cars, buses, trains, and airplanes, and you can use the information to plan show travel.
• You will find information about the amount of energy that a range of appliances — including computers, DVD players, and monitors — consumes, and you can use this information to reduce your exhibit’s energy demands.
• You will see where carbon is concentrated in the foods we eat, and you can use the information to reduce the carbon footprint of catered events.
• There is information about the sources of municipal waste and recycling to help you focus your waste reduction priorities where they can do the most good.

Filling the gap between science and marketing takes a bit of work, but good information is available here and there. Reading “Cooler Smarter” is a great place to start.

For more information about Cooler Smarter, visit the Union of Concerned Scientists publications page at

My company eliminated brochures and cut travel, but our efforts seem haphazard. My boss wants to base our Green program on reliable standards. What can you recommend?

Formalizing your Green efforts is one of the best ways to cut through “greenwash,” protect your company’s reputation, and ensure that your efforts deliver tangible benefits. It’s a great step to take. I’ve spoken with organizations that have achieved astonishing results this way.
But before diving in, be aware that adopting a standards-based approach requires a serious and sustained commitment to the process. If your company employs a sustainability manager or consultant, you already have an invaluable resource at your disposal. If not, you’ll probably want to build a strong Green team with top management’s full support. Let’s find out why.

Process, Process, Process

When we talk about formalizing Green initiatives, we are talking about an Environmental Management System, or EMS. The EMS concept has been around since the 1970s, but really took shape in the mid-90s, when the International Organization for Standards (ISO) published the ISO 14000 series. The ISO is a network of the national standards institutes of 164 countries, and while the ISO 14000 series isn’t the only EMS standard, it sets a high bar.
The goal of any EMS is to help your company reduce its environmental impact, comply with any appropriate laws and regulations, bring necessary outside stakeholders into the process, and make continual improvements as time goes by. ISO 14000 doesn’t specify the levels of environmental performance you should shoot for. If it did, there would have to be a unique standard for every business and profession. Instead, ISO 14000 creates a structure in which your company can develop its own goals.

Built for Change

In the simplest terms, every EMS outlines a methodical process for achieving good results. The first step is to obtain a commitment from top management. You can’t manage an EMS entirely on your own, so having top-level support across the company is vital. Declaring this commitment also involves setting goals and the scope of the Green plan. This all-important up-front work sets the benchmark for everything your team will accomplish.
From there, you follow a series of steps that gather and feed information back into the planning and execution process. You start with an inventory of your current environmental impacts. This can be a big effort, and it is often skipped. But you can expect to discover opportunities that you might never have seen without it.
The next step is to plan actions to reduce environmental impacts. You implement them, then measure and report the results. These results then feed new information back into the plan, leading you to adjust your actions or move one to new challenges. The key is that this “plan–do–check–revise—act” sequence is managed in a consistent and careful way that ensures ongoing progress.

All in the Family

ISO calls the 14000 series a “family of standards.” ISO 14001 and 14004 provide EMS requirements and guidelines, but a range of other standards cover specific issues that might or might not apply to your situation. These include environmental assessments of sites, environmental labels and declarations, Life Cycle Assessment of products and materials, environmental performance evaluations, environmental communications, measuring and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and more. As you might imagine, integrating several of these standards into your EMS can take some doing.
One other standard is coming soon too: ISO 20121, which will define an EMS for events. ISO 20121 is evolving from a British effort that created a sustainability plan for the upcoming Olympic Games in London.

The Bottom Line

Is an ISO 14000 Environmental Management System right for your company? The short answer is “probably yes,” but it might not make sense to create an EMS for your exhibit and events program alone. The savings can outweigh the costs through leaner, cleaner processes and lower regulatory burdens. Whether your exhibit program is big enough to achieve those savings on its own is a good question. As so often happens, though, it pays to think big. A company-wide EMS will be easier to implement and more cost-effective in the long run than an EMS focused entirely on exhibits and events. The economies of scale just work that way.
Then again, every standards-based program offers one additional benefit that is becoming more important every day. If you implement an EMS, you will be able to prove that your company is truly walking its Green talk.

I am amazed by how much carpet we use at our tradeshows. We’re always cutting it up to fit around pillars and displays. What can we do to reduce all this waste?


Used carpet is one of the most vexing waste problems in our industry. Perhaps that’s why show contactors and carpet manufacturers have taken such bold steps to develop Greener alternatives.

You might have heard about Freeman Decorating’s carpet recycling program, or how Interface broke similar ground on the manufacturing side. Their programs aren’t unique anymore, and there is no reason why the next carpet you buy shouldn’t contain a high percentage of recycled content. Still, “recycled” means many different things, and you have some choices to make.

Underfoot to Underground

Trade shows are part of a much bigger waste problem: Americans dump 1.8 million tons of rugs and carpets in landfills every year. About two thirds of this carpet is made of nylon, polyester, or polypropylene fibers that are bonded to sandwiched polypropylene fabric and latex or poly-vinyl backing materials. The vast majority of these materials could be recycled into new products. The face fibers alone account for about sixty percent of the materials in a carpet, so if nothing but the fibers came from recycled stock, the carpet would still be significantly Greener than most.

A More Sustainable Path

A truly sustainable carpet would combine 100 percent recycled face fibers with 100 percent recycled backing. The carpet would also be recyclable after you finish using it. Old carpet would become new carpet again and again, minimizing our reliance on virgin oil-based feedstock, while eliminating landfill waste.

Such a carpet might be made of nylon or PET polyester. Unfortunately, neither material quite reaches this ideal. PET carpet, which is made from recycled soft drink bottles, is difficult to recycle into new carpet, and nobody yet manufactures a 100 percent recycled nylon fiber that can be recycled again after a carpet wears out. In other words, carpet waste cannot be eliminated completely, but you can get much closer today than you could in the past. And recycling technology is advancing rapidly, driven by the cost advantages.

If you ask your exhibit suppliers for recycled options you might be surprised by the wide array of choices they present. Many mills now offer recycled content. Most of the material comes from post-industrial waste, rather than worn out carpets. This helps make the manufacturing process cleaner and more efficient, but it doesn’t necessarily solve the end-of-life landfill problem. That’s why the Freeman Decorating and Interface recycling programs were such important steps forward.

Whether you can recycle your used carpets will largely depend on location. A growing number of carpet mills will turn old carpets into new feedstock, but the economics of collecting used carpet will usually determine whether they will take yours off your hands.

Keep in mind, too, that plastics deteriorate in the recycling process. For example, recycled PET is composed of very long molecules, which is why soda bottles are so flexible and strong. When the plastic is heated during recycling, the molecules break into shorter and shorter pieces, resulting in more rigid or brittle products. As a result, nobody currently recycles PET carpet into new carpet. Instead, used PET is down-cycled for other applications, such as auto parts, insulation, and furniture stuffing.

Choices, choices, choices

This is where tradeoffs enter the picture. Nylon fibers can be recycled into new carpet feedstock, whereas used PET carpets can be turned into other things. But PET carpets are made from recycled materials in the first place, and they offer other advantages over nylon and virgin polyester.

Nylon has always had a more refined appearance and better durability than polyester, but PET is giving nylon a run for its money. Since soda bottles are made from top quality PET resins, recycled PET fibers are higher quality than many lower grade virgin polyester fibers. PET has exceptional strength and durability, it resists fading, and it can offer vibrant colors. And since PET is naturally stain resistant, it doesn’t require the chemical treatments that are common in nylon carpets. This means fewer additives and toxic emissions after the new carpet is unrolled on the show floor.

Does this mean PET is inherently better than nylon? The tradeoffs make that question impossible to answer. Whether you choose nylon or PET, as long as you specify high-recycled content you will be walking a Greener path. If your choice carries the CRI Green Label Plus logo, you won’t have to worry about toxic indoor emissions. And, if you can offer your worn out carpets to a recycler, they won’t end up in your local landfill, no matter what types of products they become next.

I saw an editorial in the Wall Street Journal that said global warming isn’t a problem. “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.” Since sixteen scientists signed it, my boss says we should move on. Should global warming still be part of our Green program?

Edgar Allen Poe’s warning applies: “Believe nothing that you hear, and only half of what you see.” This is an election year, and global warming is nothing if it isn’t controversial. But you’ve asked the right question: Should global warming be part of your exhibit program? A lot of smart companies would say yes. Here’s why.

Who Do You Trust?

When someone tries to sway your opinion it’s a good idea to find out what they know and whether they have an agenda. Would you ask your GP to perform a heart transplant? Have you ever dealt with household movers who didn’t understand tradeshow logistics? We all have specialized expertise, and if exhibitors know things other folks don’t, imagine how specialized the sciences are.
So who are the scientists who signed the editorial? Only one of them is a climate expert. Richard Lindzen is famous for proposing that global warming will create more clouds that will keep us cool. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened.
The others include seven scientists who are experts in other fields, an astronaut, a rocket designer, and a marketing professor. Four worked for oil companies as consultants or employees, and two worked for foundations that were funded by fossil fuel interests.
In other words, these aren’t the people who spend their careers studying climate.

Is Global Warming Really a Problem?

NOAA, which runs the National Weather Service says yes: 2011 was the 35th year in a row that was warmer than average. The years 2010 and 2005 were the warmest of all.
At the request of Congress, the National Academy of Sciences wrote in 2010: “Climate change is occurring, it is caused largely by human activities, and it poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems.” The U.S. Global Change Research Program, which includes thirteen federal government agencies, wrote in 2009, “Observations show that the warming of the climate is unequivocal,” and that, “…emissions come mainly from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas)….” In fact, since 2000 carbon emissions have been growing as fast as the so-called “worst case” projections.
How strong is the agreement among experts? A 2009 survey of climate scientists who publish in the professional journals found that 97 percent of them think human activities are contributing significantly to rising temperatures.

Where Does This Leave Us?

Global warming might be politically controversial, but savvy companies are taking action. Insurers have been evaluating the potential costs of climate change for years. As it happens, 2011 broke the record for weather disasters costing over $1 billion each, and it was the fifth most expensive year for insurers.

As the CEO of a sugar company told me, “We’re farmers. If the climate changes we’re in trouble.” He went on to say that the next generation cares deeply about the environment, and he was eager to position his brand favorably. So, too, are other consumer-facing brands. A group called Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy includes the likes of Ben & Jerry’s, Clif Bar, eBay, Gap, Levi Strauss, Nike and Starbucks.

Simply Greener

If you feel that global warming is too overwhelming to cope with, take heart. As one climate scientist likes to say, “We only have one input to the climate system. Mother nature takes it from there.” That’s our edge.
Global warming isn’t really about politics. It’s about simple arithmetic. Every pound of CO2 we put into the air adds to the problem. And every pound we don’t makes things better.
Building a Green exhibit program around something so simple is easy.
For example, if your car gets 20 mpg you add a pound of CO2 per mile. If your SUV gets 10 mpg, you contribute double. But if your car gets 40 mpg, it’s just a half-pound per mile. Simple choices can make a huge difference.
Here’s another example: recycling aluminum takes 95 percent less energy than making it from scratch. There’s a big opportunity.
And there are cows. It takes so much energy to feed and water cattle that they have become a significant contributor to global warming. But if you replace just one day’s worth of calories each week with non-dairy, non-beef choices you’ll reduce that part of your carbon budget substantially. Eating locally grown foods doesn’t come close to these savings.

The message is clear: Simply choosing to use less energy makes a dramatic difference. It’s the key to Greener exhibiting.

To read the editorial in the WSJ, visit:

I am appalled by all of the plastic bottles I see in trash at trade shows. It seems like such a waste that people throw them away.
What can we do about it?

Did you see The Graduate? The plastics industry was growing so fast in 1967 that Mr. McGuire gave Benjamin a piece of sage advice: “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Plastics.”
In 1960, plastics represented one percent of the municipal waste stream. By 2009 the percentage had grown twelve-fold. Plastic water bottles are part of the wave Mr. McGuire saw coming. Global consumption of bottled water quadrupled between 1990 and 2005.
Today, according to the EPA, plastic containers and packaging account for nearly half of the plastics generated in the United States. Plastic bottles and lids are also the most common plastics to end up in landfills. Only about one-quarter of the drink bottles sold in the U.S. get recycled. That means that Americans throw more than two million tons of plastic bottles away every year. And since each ton yields 38,000–20 oz. bottles, you are just seeing the tip of a very large iceberg. It’s no wonder bottles catch your eye in trade show trash bins.

Our favorite new PETs

Americans spend about $15 billion annually on water that is sold in bottles made of a high-grade plastic called PET. According to a Columbia University study, that’s 50 billion single-use PET bottles, or an average of 167 bottles per person per year. Ironically, in a nation that offers safe drinking water just about everywhere, the two most popular brands — Pepsi’s Aquafina and Coca-Cola’s Dasani — start life as tap water.
We drink them anywhere and everywhere — on the show floor, on the road, and even in our offices where tap water is readily available. The impact of the bottled water craze is staggering. According to the Pacific Institute, it takes 3 gallons of water to generate one gallon of bottled water. And 90 percent of the bottled water’s cost isn’t for the water itself. estimates that it takes up to 2,000 times more energy to produce and transport the average bottle of water to Los Angeles than to produce the same amount of tap water. And that’s for a city that pumps its tap water over mountains from sources hundreds of miles away.
The end of life for 93 percent of all plastics used in the U.S. lies underground in landfills or at sea, where decomposed plastics harm wildlife. The recycling rate for PET is a little higher than this, but there is no escaping the fact that convenience is costly.

Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink

It’s easy enough to say that PET water bottles are wasteful. It’s another to believe it when you’ve been working the show floor for hours on end. We’ve all been there: A meeting ends, your throat is parched, and you see your next prospect walking in from the aisle. What can you do?

Create Other Options — The Greenest step is to use less of whatever is causing the problem. You might try printing your company logo on reusable bottles and issuing them to staff, or distributing them as premiums. You might rent a water cooler for the show. Or, you might try sending people out of the booth to refresh themselves between meetings. The goal is simple: Give people other options.

Encourage Recycling — The second step is to divert PET waste to recycling. Is it practical to install a bottle recycling station in your booth? Can you encourage the convention center to make recycling bins more prominent? Before becoming an on-site activist, check to see whether the hotel or convention center already sorts recyclables out of the trash behind the scenes. This is becoming a common practice in many cities, even where it doesn’t get much publicity.

Use Recycled PET — The third step is to complete the circle by using recycled PET products. Fortunately, the plastic used to contain food is extremely high quality. This means it can be recycled into other high-quality products that add genuine value to exhibit programs. One of the most promising is PET-based carpet. The National Park Service, for example, lists recycled PET among its Green carpet options because PET is so durable. Recycled-PET fabrics offer equally high quality options for graphic banners as well.

A deep irony underlies the bottled water industry: Smart people pay good money to buy something that is readily available for free. But convenience matters too. Try going Green by meeting your convenience goals in other ways, and complete the circle by using recycled PET products wherever you can.

I read “A Still Inconvenient Booth” in Exhibitor last month (November 2011), and it seems like a lot of companies are backing off on Green. My managers don’t seem very interested anymore either. Do you think the Green movement was a fad that is fading away?
There is no question that surviving the Great Recession is every company’s top priority. Just about everything else is taking a backseat these days, including going Green. But to understand what’s really happening and plan for sustainable success, we should dig a little deeper into the survey.
Some key points in “A Still Inconvenient Booth” reinforce what other surveys are saying about economic and environmental priorities, and consumer attitudes toward corporate responsibility. They suggest that Green is actually here to stay, and that savvy companies can ride the economic recovery on a new Green wave.
But in the short term, they might be calling Green by other names.

When the Going Gets Tough, Go with What You Know

Homer Simpson once said these words to get out of a particularly sticky situation, but we all embrace them from time to time too. Going with what we know comes naturally, and when the economy is unpredictable, most companies avoid taking risks.
You can see risk aversion in the Exhibitor survey. A “lack of metrics to quantify the business impact of going Green” and a “lack of consensus about what constitutes a ‘Green’ exhibit” are significant obstacles. Green options are widely seen as expensive too, so it is not surprising that many exhibitors are backing away from choices that they perceive as having higher costs and unproven benefits.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Of course, exhibit managers don’t work in a vacuum, and broader public concern about environmental threats has waned too. But social scientists are quick to point out that concerns about jobs and the economy are simply pushing other issues off the table for now. Declining public interest is probably temporary.
Moreover, most people get their environmental information from the news, and the metrics on news coverage are truly astonishing: climate change and pollution virtually disappeared in 2010. The environment is simply out of sight and, as a result, out of mind.
But the news and consumer demand are fickle, and assuming this trend will last is risky. What will happen when the economy stops being our chief concern? The Exhibitor survey suggests that Green might come roaring back.
When asked why their companies are interested in going Green, the number one answer was, “Adopting Greener practices will enhance our brand/image.” Apparently, this expectation has paid off for many firms. When asked, “What are the primary benefits you’ve seen as a result of your Green exhibiting efforts?” an overwhelming 62 percent said that going Green, “Created goodwill among clients and prospects.” The next most popular response, at 31 percent, was, “Increased our brand and/or company awareness.”

New Shades of Green

It takes courage to trust such soft, indirect benefits during tough economic times, unless going Green also saves money and responds to other priorities that are still top of mind. Suppose, for example, that the Exhibitor survey had asked people about taking steps to save energy, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, conserve resources and clean our air and water instead of going Green? The results might have been different. Even now, when belief in global warming has declined, three-quarters of Americans still support policies to limit climate change and promote clean energy.
Apparently, people value the same results for many different reasons. Protecting the environment might be a tough sell right now, but a majority of Americans think energy efficiency can spur the economic recovery, provide greater independence, create a competitive advantage and improve the health of our communities. In other words, the word “Green” might be hiding strong support for sustainable choices.

Seize the Day

How can you make the most of going Green in a bad economy? Consider taking a page from marketing strategy: a poor economy provides an opportunity to invest in building market share. Companies that invest in capturing more customers now will have the most to gain when the economy recovers and sales increase.
In a similar way, this is an ideal time to choose sustainable actions that reduce pollution, conserve energy and natural resources, while also saving money. While helping you reduce costs in the near term, these actions can also increase awareness of your socially responsible brand. When the economy recovers, and customer priorities shift, your company will be in a stronger position to capitalize on their good will.
As with so many things, moving ahead while others retreat can be a formula for long-term success.

Last month you said that evidence about the environment isn’t always helpful. Really? I want my suppliers to understand why we are going Green. Don’t they need to know what’s at stake? Won’t that make them better partners?
You are asking one of the toughest questions facing environmentalists today, and the answer really depends on who your suppliers are. If your team is already inclined to go Green, then they will probably welcome the information you provide. Your input might energize them to push toward ever Greener options, and that kind of teamwork builds invaluable momentum.
It’s pretty easy getting the choir to sing with you. But if your suppliers don’t already tilt toward Green, chances are the environmental information you provide will go in one ear and right out the other. As surprising as this might seem, the reasons boil down to something we all understand about marketing: people don’t follow a straight road from information to action.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Every advertiser knows that information alone does not increase sales. Yet, for the past fifty years, activists, scientists and thought leaders have explained environmental issues with an expectation that the rest of us would make smarter choices. They’ve told us about the perils of DDT, smog, acid rain, ozone depletion and climate change, and society has made progress on some fronts. American rivers are cleaner than they were in the 1970s, and so is the air in most U.S. cities, even though our population has grown. Many ozone-depleting chemicals have been banned, yet the route from information to action on these fronts has been anything but straight. And despite endless analyses by state and federal agencies, national scientific academies, and unprecedented international scientific teams, concerted action on global warming still lies ahead, somewhere around the next bend.
Environmentalists often blame vested interests for creating roadblocks, and this certainly happens. At one environmental conference, in fact, every activist in the room agreed the best marketing strategy was to finger a “corporate bad guy.” The strategy works, but not because people learn the facts about the birds or the bees. Enraging the public about pollution often works because we resent being deceived.

What’s My Motivation?

Whatever drives our choices runs deeper than facts. Educators have been exploring why some people become environmentalists, and it turns out that many of them have something in common: they spent a lot of time in nature when they were kids. They established a comfort level with nature early on. Environmental education, on the other hand, actually had the opposite effect.
In other words, your suppliers might be predisposed to either care about going Green or not. Filling their heads with more facts and figures won’t displace their deeper motivations. If you want them to become your partners, you’ll have to do what marketing strategists always do: understand what drives them and align your goals with those values.

Just Do It

Nike rarely explains why their shoes are so good, or whether their shoes work better than other shoes. Yet Nike managed to capture half of the crowded and competitive athletic footwear market. One billboard tells us why: “Yesterday You Said Tomorrow.”
That’s it. Nike sells shoes because so many of us imagine ourselves to be people who shove excuses aside. Sometimes we do push them aside and sometimes we don’t, but we want others to see us the way we want to see ourselves. The “Just Do It” campaign taps into this powerful motivation to drive sales.
Any shoe company could ask, “Don’t prospective customers need to know why our shoes can help them perform better? Won’t that make them more informed shoppers? Won’t they make smarter choices and get better results?” Maybe, but ask yourself how much you really want to know about shoe technology and exercise biomechanics. Is it already your passion? The truth is, most of us would rather just do it.

Think about Greening your supplier team as a marketing challenge. What motivates them? Who do they want to be in the eyes of their clients and their competitors? Are they striving to increase client satisfaction? Are they driven to outsmart and out-price the competition? Are they looking for ways to embrace their clients’ brand challenges? Most importantly, can you make going Green an expression of their deepest desires?
Whatever it is that drives them might not seem so important to you. On the other hand, tapping into their motivations might transform them from reluctant servants into your most valuable allies.

Green is my passion, but I feel alone. Some of my suppliers and co-workers are hostile. They make so much fun of going Green that I start to doubt what I’m doing. How can I win them over?
It sounds like you are experiencing a Green backlash, and other exhibitors are probably feeling your pain. I certainly have. In fact, the backlash is so widespread that social psychologists are examining what it means for national politics.
On the face of it, a backlash seems out of step. We’ve received increasingly urgent warnings about pollution, climate change, fresh water, and biodiversity. We’ve witnessed a blowout oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and a close call at the nuclear station in Japan. Many of us are living through the most severe weather we’ve ever seen. You might expect everybody to jump aboard a Green bandwagon but, instead, you are on the receiving end of a Green backlash.
What’s going on? According to some psychologists, people are just getting lost.

Do You Know Where You Are?

We humans make mental maps of our surroundings all the time. Everybody does it; it’s how we know where we are and where we’re going, how we recognize landmarks, and decide when to turn left or right. In familiar places, it is easy to update our maps with new information, such as traffic jams or road construction.
But when people travel to unfamiliar places, such as the wilderness, things can get a lot more complicated. Unfamiliar terrain can be hard to compare to a sketchy mental map. Fatigue, dehydration, and beautiful scenery make it easy to get distracted and lose your way. We all feel disoriented when we lose our way in convention centers, parking garages, and unfamiliar cities. Disorientation doesn’t mean trouble, but how we cope with it often does.
When you feel disoriented, your brain tries to get a grip. If you take stock of your surroundings—or ask for directions—you update your map and recover. But people often deny that they are disoriented at all. Instead, they press on looking for landmarks, and they bend reality to fit their mental maps. When hikers say things like, “The cabin on this map must have been torn down,” it’s a sign that they are bending reality to fit their expectations. Pilots do this too, when they decide their instruments must be wrong.
Bending reality to fit expectations is the first step toward getting truly lost. When people take it, they feel a great sense of urgency and emotions run high. Keep in mind that this can happen to any of us, and often does.

Are We There Yet?

Your hostile colleagues might be taking the step from disorientation to getting lost by bending environmental reality to fit their expectations. For generations, companies have focused on efficiency, not conservation. Now, their priorities are out of sync with the world, and their hostility toward your Green agenda might be a sign.
They have good reason to feel disoriented. We have never seen seven billion people on the planet, or so many who want to enjoy our lifestyles. We’ve never changed the chemistry of the atmosphere or the oceans, or triggered a mass extinction before. It’s all new and overwhelming, and getting lost is a very natural human reaction.

Take Two Aspirin And Call Me in the Morning

Activists often want everyone to see what they see. That’s a tall order. When someone is getting lost, appealing to reason is ineffective. It is always better to help the person get confortable, calm down, and restore their capacity to take stock of their situation.
Try focusing on a few simple actions that will help your colleagues feel oriented and earn your respect. Try to pick the simplest actions you can find that will yield Green results. Here are a few suggestions.
Use Things Longer — Tell your suppliers that you want to get the most out of your properties before discarding them. They will understand your budget conscious approach, and you’ll save lumber, minerals and energy, and reduce pollution too.
Fly Non-Stop — We travel in this business, and airplanes use the most fuel when taking off and climbing to altitude. Tell everyone to fly non-stop. They’ll appreciate having the extra time, and your travel footprint will get a lot smaller.
Forget the Beef — Cattle require huge amounts of food, water, and agrichemicals; more than any other source of food. Tell your colleagues that you no longer offer beef and dairy products at events. They’ll understand your health-conscious choices, while you reduce your food footprint.
Evidence and logic are not always helpful because anxiety makes them useless. But if you make adapting easy, your colleagues won’t have to wrestle with your Green agenda. Instead, you’ll reduce their stress while achieving Green results.

We throw a lot of graphics away. I know they generate a lot of waste because we toss them every time a message changes, and sometimes that’s after just one show. Can you suggest ways to make our booth graphics more sustainable?

Graphics are among your best tools for expressing important messages. They can evoke strong emotions, help explain complex ideas, and remind us why we support our favorite brands. Of course, marketing messages can change frequently, and many exhibitors find themselves discarding graphics routinely. What alternatives do you have?

Until fairly recently, your options were limited. The typical exhibit graphic was printed on plasticized paper and laminated to a plastic substrate, such as polystyrene, Lexan®, Fome-Core®, Gatorfoam®, or Sintra®. The finished product was covered with another layer of plastic—a transparent plastic film—to protect it from harsh cleaning chemicals and wear and tear. For other applications, graphics were printed on backlit translucent plastic films, or on vinyl or polyester banner fabrics.

Oil-based plastics yield great-looking images, but at a significant cost. Fortunately, the printing world is evolving, and pioneering new materials offer Greener options for nearly every exhibit application.

"There’s a Great Future in Plastics"

The Graduate’s Mr. McGuire (Walter Brooke) could not have been more prescient when he spoke these words to Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) in 1967. At that time, plastics contributed just over one percent to municipal solid waste. Since then, the volume of plastic waste in America has grown more than twelve fold.

We can see this growth in our own industry. Plastics show up everywhere because they are relatively inexpensive, easy to work with, and durable.

Unfortunately, using plastics brings along a host of environmental tradeoffs, one of which is that these materials will persist in landfills for hundreds or even thousands of years. In essence, we are using some of the world’s most permanent resources to express our most fleeting marketing messages.

Solving Plastic’s Problem

Green innovators are attacking these problems from three different directions. One approach is to make oil-based plastics biodegradable. EcoRite Imaging (, for example, adds nutrients to the company’s PVC-based Polar Board. The nutrients allow microbes in the soil to break the plastic down within a few years. The company’s Steppe and Plateau sheets and Pampas fabric also contain these additives, as does the company’s Nilak protective laminate.

Gilman Brothers ( offers a similar approach with biodegradable Insite® and Duraplast® foamboards. Insite® has a paper surface made from sustainable sources, whereas Duraplast™ is a lightweight all-plastic material. Both are completely biodegradable, and Duraplast™ is also recyclable.

Eliminating Plastics

A second strategy is to create viable alternatives to plastics. While printing directly onto plywood creates the right look for some exhibitors, Eco-Systems ( has gone a step further with GreenCore board. GreenCore is an alternative to PVC made from FSC-certified sustainable wood and flax and linseed oils. The board comes with smooth white surfaces, making it suitable for direct printing, and as a backer for laminated graphics. Because it contains no petroleum products, GreenCore is biodegradable and free of mercury, lead, and other toxins.

Gilman Brothers offers a different alternative with Gilman Honeycomb®, a paper-based graphics board made from 72 percent recycled post-consumer waste. The surface paper is made from sustainable sources, and the entire product can be recycled.

Recycling Plastic Into Graphics

Every year, the U.S. generates 13 million tons of the plastics used to make packaging and soda bottles. Roughly 3.6 million of those tons (28 percent) are recycled, and some of this recycled material can now be used in your graphics program.

For example, Eco-Systems offers Paradise Fabric for graphic banners. Paradise Fabric is made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled soda bottles. Since the plastic used for beverage containers must meet strict regulatory standards, Paradise Fabric is as strong as any other banner fabric and prints vivid images.
MicroGREEN Polymers ( turns recycled soda bottles into a thin, flexible, lightweight backing material for temporary signs called InCycle. InCycle is more flexible than foamboards, and somewhat thicker than styrene.

At the rigid end of the spectrum, EcoRite Imaging’s Panda Board and Kodiak Board are made from recycled PVC, which is the plastic used to make Sintra®. Kodiak Board is 100 percent recycled, and provides a black-colored substrate for printed graphics, whereas Panda Board includes a thin layer of virgin white PVC to enable direct printing.

These materials offer significantly Greener ways to produce new graphics and recycle or dispose of them once they become obsolete. They demonstrate how innovative technologies can help you reduce your environmental footprint. Don’t forget to combine these and other Greener materials with a plan to maximize their useful life. This combination can take a serious bite out of your event program’s environmental footprint.

My director of marketing recently said that he no longer supports Green initiatives. He says sustainability is just a political agenda, and that we need to focus on other issues instead. Can you recommend ways to change his mind?

In today’s superheated environment, every issue seems political, and sustainability is no exception. Speakers at a recent Green energy conference noted that your boss’s attitude is common among corporate executives. In some cases, executives who support going Green at home are unable to buck the status quo at work. The challenges they face run deeper than fear for their jobs. Something big is shifting in the global economy.

Time is Money

Ever since the Industrial Revolution began 150 years ago, people have tried to maximize efficiency. We are so accustomed to the basic idea that it seems like second nature. Since labor represents the largest single cost for many businesses, finding ways to save time drives our thinking about manufacturing and logistics management.
Energy and raw materials have always been cheaper than labor. They have been abundant too, so the cost penalty for using them inefficiently has been small. The old adage, “time is money,” expresses the high priority we place on reducing labor costs. It has corollaries too. Photographers, for example, used to say “film is cheap.” In other words, it cost less to take lots and lots of extra shots than to come back a second time. Similarly, exhibitors often find it cheaper to air ship late graphics than pay overtime to finish them before the truck leaves.
“Time is money” and “film is cheap.” It’s always been this way. But, as a scientist colleague likes to say, a child born today enters into a world that is very different from the one you and I were born into. The time vs. resources equation is changing, and a lot of business people are just beginning to confront this reality.

A New Economic Reality

The so-called “Green wave” is like a rising tide; it might not be crashing over us, but it is seeping into every corner of the global economy. Consider this: It took 130 years for global population to grow from one billion in 1800 to two billion in 1930. Today, the population is approaching seven billion, with another billion added every dozen years or so. Consumption is clearly on the rise.
Of course, consumption is rising much faster than population. The average American uses far more energy than they did fifty years ago. Meanwhile, China and India are industrializing at a staggering pace, adding hundreds of millions more people to the global middle class. Demand for everything from energy to concrete to metals, wood, food, clothing, water, electronics and automobiles is challenging global supplies.
In some cases, volatile prices show how close the race between supply and demand is. In other cases, demand is simply outstripping nature’s capacity to replenish itself. So, while oil companies drill wells in ever-deeper water to expand supplies, a combination of overfishing and carbon and fertilizer pollution is reducing some fish species to the brink of extinction.
So the question facing executives and managers alike is whether the “time-is-money-but-film-is-cheap” paradigm still works. It’s a paradigm that encourages you to discard used resources in favor of new supplies because starting from scratch saves time.
The rise of recycling industries suggests that the paradigm is shifting. It is already impossible to buy steel, for example, that does not contain recycled content. Old concrete is beginning to go the same way, and copper has becomes so expensive that thieves literally strip the wiring out of buildings.

Clear the Path

We are in the early stages of this paradigm shift, when early adopters are called “pioneers,” and many people resist being pushed out of their comfort zones. Imagine what it must be like to be a CEO, with Wall Street demanding short-term returns and global economics demanding new ideas, new processes, and new investments. It probably feels like walking a tight rope. And with NGOs looking over your shoulder, going Green probably feels political sometimes. Perhaps you can help. Many of the things you do to save money save resources too. Replacing literature with e-brochures, re-surfacing old exhibits to give them new life, mixing custom with rental properties—these and other options provide cost and environmental benefits simultaneously.
The trick is to document both benefits so you can demonstrate tangible outcomes. Chances are, when saving money aligns with saving resources, going Green will look less like politics and more like smart management.

We are going out to bid for a new booth and we want to make it Greener than the booth it replaces.
What we should specify in our RFP?

Since you are starting from scratch, you can look at every aspect of booth properties, from carpets to construction, graphics to electronics to lighting. Let’s survey Green options in each category so you can help bidders make Greener choices that also enhance your company’s brand image.


Carpet is the material of choice for most exhibitors because it is durable and comfortable, and can be cut and seamed as often as necessary. Fortunately, most carpet manufacturers now offer a range of Green choices.
Specify carpets with recycled content. Old carpets provide nylon for new carpets, and this conserves energy and oil. The amount of recycled fiber varies from product to product, so you’ll want to balance the Greenest options with the look you need.
Some carpets are made using adhesives that emit toxic chemicals into the air. Avoid this hazard by specifying carpets with a Green Label Plus certification from the Carpet and Rug Institute.
Depending on other design criteria, you might consider recycled rubber flooring instead of carpet. Several manufactures offer soft, durable options made from recycled tires.
For decks and other special applications, bamboo deserves a look. Bamboo is a rapidly renewable resource that creates extremely strong, beautiful floors. Some bamboo carries Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, which means that the forests are managed sustainably. You might consider the new look of good old linoleum too. Linoleum is essentially made from natural ingredients: sawdust and linseed oil.


Do you want to build all new structure or salvage some of what you already own? Reuse conserves energy and trees, but sharing information about your existing structure with all bidders might be challenging. Consider sharing an inventory of reusable components with your bidders, or ask bidders to consider repurposing components that their other clients have discarded.
Do you want a wooden exhibit or an aluminum structure? If you choose wood, FSC-certified lumber is your Greenest choice, but it carries a higher price tag. Most exhibits are built using ungraded birch plywood. Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough FSC certified plywood in the world yet to yield a reliable supply of ungraded ply, so you have to pay as much as 30 percent more for graded stock instead. Keep in mind that lumber is just one line item in a bid, so you’ll want to evaluate whether choosing FSC will bust your budget.
If you choose metal, specify recycled aluminum and steel. Recycled metals are readily available, and recycling conserves most of the energy used in refining and manufacturing.


Producing Greener graphics used to be a challenge, in part, because the oil-based PVC substrates that so many graphics were mounted to will not break down readily in landfills. Fortunately, a wide range of Greener alternatives has emerged that can convey virtually any exhibitor’s brand image. There are so many options, in fact, that comparing them can be challenging. A good strategy is to ask bidders to outline the Green advantages in their proposals so you can find a Green solution that fits your company’s image.
For example, one relatively new substrate is made from linseed oil and FSC-certified sawdust, and it is cost-competitive with PVC. Some large-format printers now use water-based inks. If you opt for stretched fabric you have options too, including fabrics made from recycled soda bottles that give vibrant results.


When big plasma screens first appeared they created a sensation. Unfortunately, they also generated a lot of heat, which is wasted energy. LCD monitors use roughly half as much electricity as plasmas, but LED monitors are even Greener. The most efficient LED monitors use roughly half as much energy as LCD displays and one-quarter as much as plasma televisions. Look for the Energy Star label.


LEDs are also great for display lighting. LED theatrical fixtures use a fraction of the electricity required for incandescent lamps. The same is true for lighting inside your booth, where LED and fluorescent fixtures provide energy efficient alternatives to traditional halogen lamps. LED’s have the additional advantage of running cooler and lasting longer too.

These Green options cover the basics, but don’t be surprised if your bidders push the envelope even further. One company recently built and award-winning booth out of reclaimed materials. Their design might not fit your brand image, but it enhanced theirs. In other words, Green guidelines shouldn’t get in the way of creative design. They provide a baseline to ensure that all the designs you review will take your company in a Greener direction.

My company was going Green before Green was fashionable. Now the marketplace seems crowded with Green claims. Is there still an advantage in marketing our Green initiatives?

Believe it or not, your question is getting a lot of attention in management and marketing circles these days. Just recently, in fact, I was part of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce, where this topic took center stage. The short answer is yes: businesses that go Green are experiencing significant benefits in the marketplace. But is an important caveat: Don’t Delay!

A Meeting of the Minds

Small and medium sized enterprises (“SMEs”) from the Montana to Taiwan showed evidence that Greening their products or operations increased sales and customer loyalty. They said going Green wasn’t a magic bullet, but it made running sound businesses much easier.
Many of the world’s largest corporations are undertaking Green initiatives too. In fact, the number of large-scale Green programs is on the rise. Yet, large and small companies often approach Green very differently, and knowing where you and your suppliers fit can help you get better results.

Sustainability Means Green . . . Business

Complying with environmental regulations in many different jurisdictions can be costly and time consuming. Knowing this, many large corporations try to foresee and influence future rules. APEC experts agreed that a lot corporate Green initiatives are designed to forestall costly regulations by taking voluntarily action instead. In these cases, going Green is a cost-effective alternative to tough environmental standards.
SMEs see things differently; they don’t make sharp distinctions between protecting the environment and maximizing profits, or enhancing communities for that matter. Most people who start companies do so with goals that combine their values with their business ideas. Many SME owners go Green to express heartfelt commitments to a cleaner, healthier environment and more sustainable communities. Such commitments often run deep and define an owner’s approach to doing business.
Does this mean SMEs are more willing to sacrifice profits for a sustainable environment? The APEC experts called this a false choice because going Green was an opportunity to outmaneuver bigger competitors. It helped them build their brands and increase customer loyalty before larger firms, with their bigger marketing budgets, could head them off. In other words, the SMEs undertook sustainability with both head and heart, as savvy managers and good citizens.

Words to the Wise

Consider this: the majority of tradeshow industry suppliers are SMEs. Even if you work for a large corporation, most of your trusted partners and suppliers are probably SMEs. Let’s see what some of the world’s most successful SMEs recommend.
• Set big goals. Big goals make people look for big solutions. Setting big for your Green exhibit program can encourage suppliers to think outside the box.
• Focus on a few things rather than everything, and choose them based on marketing opportunities. This focus gets people moving and builds momentum quickly.
• Examine your value chain from end to end and seek Green-related, revenue-generating or cost-saving opportunities at every step. Act quickly on opportunities that save money, improve the brand image, and express your core values.
• Talk openly about your values. Chances are you’ll find like-minded people with whom you can collaborate and get better results. We often rationalize our goals in terms of cost-benefit analysis but many SMEs are motivated by a sense of purpose too. This is a valuable asset that we should not be shy about.
• When you run into problems, zoom out and look at a bigger and bigger picture until you find a solution. Often the best solutions come from outside processes and partners.
• Build a trustworthy brand by being transparent, and by using certifications and third-party verifiers whenever possible.

Is Green the New Black?

As an exhibitor, this advice to help motivate your supplier team, build common ground, and focus your joint efforts. From a supplier’s perspective, it’s just smart business.
The APEC experts offered another piece of advice too: act fast. Today’s eco-advantage will become tomorrow’s new normal. When this will happen is anybody’s guess, but experts warned that it could come sooner than you think. Compliance and competition will make sustainability a mass movement before long. After that, every company will be expected to go Green, but without the marketing advantages of leading the way.

Our company gives to a lot to community and environmental charities, so my boss doesn’t think we need to worry about going Green. Is she right? How can I convince her that we should make our events more sustainable?

Believe it or not, your question has been simmering on the back burner of corporate America for several years, but recent events—from the housing bubble to Wall Street bailouts to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill—have changed the way people think about corporate social responsibility (CSR).

This Doesn’t Look Like Kansas Anymore

The founder of a nationwide PR firm recently proclaimed that corporate philanthropy is dead. He wasn’t suggesting that companies stop giving to charities. On the contrary, he’s all for it, but in today’s marketplace it’s a mistake to think that corporate giving will protect a company’s reputation during a crisis.

Perhaps you already know this intuitively. We’ve all seen commercials in which a company proclaims its concern for a little-known strip of wilderness by telling us about a research program that they fund through tax-deductible contributions. It’s a charming little effort, and the big polluter hopes we’ll believe that management truly puts nature first.

How do commercials like these make you feel? If you are a little cynical you’re not alone. Relatively few people believe the companies put natural ecosystems, public health, or community development ahead of profitability, and this growing cynicism is sweeping through the public relations community like wildfire.

Where’s the Beef?

The Edelman PR firm has published a “Trust Barometer” every year for the past decade. Their surveys reveal trends in public perceptions of CSR. The evidence is clear: trust is a scarce commodity these days, and a company’s communications tactics need to change with the times. Edelman finds that an overwhelming majority of the Americans surveyed believe that corporations should create shareholder value in ways that serve society’s interests. They also believe that government should regulate businesses to ensure that managers behave responsibly. In other words, CSR means more than adding philanthropy to business-as-usual. According to Edelman’s 2010 report, “Trust is now an essential line of business.”

When asked what matters most in establishing trust, the respondents ranked high-quality products first, followed closely by transparent business practices, fair treatment of employees and a sense that a company is trustworthy. In other words, the public isn’t asking companies to abandon their core businesses for the sake of the greater good. On the contrary, stakeholders expect companies to offer excellence, but they expect companies to achieve excellence in responsible ways.

Just the Facts, Ma’am, Just the Facts

The Internet has changed the CSR landscape as well, and a company’s Green marketing strategies need to change accordingly. Edelman’s 2011 report cites online search engines as the first places most people go for information about a company. Online news sources, including bloggers and mainstream media outlets, follow search engines, with print and broadcast media trailing behind. Only 11 percent of respondents said they go to a company’s website first.

Bloggers and online reporters seem to have tremendous influence. Nike’s PR black eye over manufacturing practices in Asia showed how powerful online media can be, but the company was not alone. Nobody is immune from scrutiny anymore.

How can your company protect its image under such scrutiny? It turns out that the public trusts genuine experts more than reporters or marketers. Academic reports top the most-trusted-sources list, followed by the company’s own technical experts. In other words, people are looking for transparency, not spin, and genuine results, not hyperbole. This doesn’t mean your company must have a perfect record, but it does suggest that your company can benefit from being transparent about the Green steps you are actually taking.

The Bottom Line

I was asked to talk about Green marketing at a conference recently, and the organizer went to great lengths to make sure I wouldn’t actually talk about value of going Green. The focus was to be on selling a message, not doing the job. I pointed out that the risk of a “greenwash” backlash is very real. As Edelman’s barometer points out, the best way to protect a company’s reputation is to implement sustainable business practices. Fortunately, the proposed session never materialized because it would have been a disaster.

Your stakeholders are sending your company a clear message. Today, businesses must align profits with social benefits. The good news is that building a reputation for transparency really does protect the brand when the chips are down.

The bottom line on going Green is simple: selling the message isn’t enough. It’s time to walk the talk.

The 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer is available at:

My company’s accounting and procurement departments are reviewing our Green programs, and I am worried that their rules will get in our way. Can you suggest ways to work with them on Green exhibits?

Your question has a familiar ring to it. Few procurement policies were designed for our last-minute needs or the favored supplier relationships that help us share learning and become more efficient. It’s natural to be suspicious when financial people start poking around in the programs you care about. But when it comes to going Green, the accounting department might be your most important ally.

Death, Taxes, and New Exhibits

It’s a cliché to say nothing is certain except death and taxes, but you could say the same thing about new exhibits too. Companies typically go out for bid on a five-year cycle for reasons that lie in the tax code. New exhibits are capital assets, just like computers, cars, and manufacturing equipment. Because they have long lives, your company deducts a percentage of the purchase price every year for five years. After five years, the full purchase price has been deducted and there is no tax advantage in keeping your exhibit any longer. Five years can seem like an eternity to marketers, so most companies are ready for a new look by then anyway.

But like any rule, the five-year depreciation schedule doesn’t fit every situation. Computers, for example, can become obsolete in two or three years. On the flip side, exhibits are built to last, and most exhibits still have life in them long after the tax advantage expires.

Unfortunately, used exhibits are hard to sell. Recycling can be a problem too because plastic laminates would have to be separated from the wooden structures. The bottom line is that business as usual isn’t very Green: the tax code, marketing objectives, and recycling challenges drive most exhibits into landfills long before their time, wasting premium quality lumber, plastics, and energy.

Refurbish, Refresh, Reuse

Could you turn your old exhibit into a new booth instead? One company has been doing just that for the past twenty years. Every so often they apply new finishes and enough new features to create a new ambience and a host of different floor plans. They don’t think in terms of owning an exhibit at all; they own custom components that they rearrange year after year. Some of the parts look pretty worn on the backsides, but attendees often ask how they seem to afford so many new exhibits. The answer is that they learned how to do Greener accounting.

Accounting for Going Green

If renewing your properties is a Green priority, sit down with your financial experts and explain your goals. Together, you can find a straightforward, affordable way to implement your plan. Here are a few pointers to help you get started.

•  Deducting Reuse. Your company can deduct the 100 percent of allowable expenses from its taxes each year, including the bills you pay to prep your exhibits for shows.

•  Depreciating Additions or Improvements. But IRS treats upgrades to your old properties like new capital assets. Upgrade costs are deducted in the same way that the original properties were. This means that your company will probably depreciate the upgrade costs over five years, even though the properties you are upgrading have already been fully depreciated.

•  The Gray Area. Not every company capitalizes all of these costs. For example, your company might deduct repairs and minor renovations as ongoing expenses. It’s a judgment call, and the smart move is to develop a plan with your company’s tax experts.

•  Section 179 Deduction. Every cloud has a silver lining, including the federal tax code. Currently, the IRS lets companies deduct 100 percent of new capital assets, up to a $125,000 limit, in a single year. If your company is a small business the limit is $500,000. Depending on how the accounting department applies this benefit, they could make your bookkeeping easier. For example, if your upgrades cost less than $125,000 you could expense them along with all of the other tradeshow costs. But if the accountants apply benefit to other purchases instead, you might have to keep track of the new upgrade costs separately from tradeshow expenses.

•  Buy Now. The pre-Christmas tax bill gives businesses another incentive to spend now as well. If you put new capital assets into service before January 31, 2011, your company can deduct the full purchase price in one year. In 2012 this benefit will drop to 50 percent of the purchase price.

The tax code is constantly changing so let your tax and procurement experts in on your Green plans. Help understand your goals so they can find ways to simplify your bookkeeping and take advantage of incentives in the tax code. That’s the best way to finance Greener exhibits, save money, and improve teamwork between your marketing and accounting departments.

We are doing everything we can to make our exhibits Greener, but doesn’t our industry promote overconsumption? Can we compete for business and truly be sustainable?

You are asking one of the most challenging questions in Green business: Is a competitive economy inherently unsustainable? When you pit competition and growth against going Green, the prospects can look pretty bleak. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A lot of people are discovering that looking at the question differently leads to very different results.

Transition Communities

Libraries are filled of books about people feeling alienated from their neighbors because of our individualistic, competitive ethos. But individualism is just one of many human values, and some interesting things are happening in towns that you would never think were environmentalist havens. These are places where people are choosing to make themselves more resilient to change, and they are going about it by building a stronger sense of community among the people who live there.

In many cases, words like “environmentalism” or “climate change” are rarely uttered. In fact, the priorities are as diverse as the people involved. Some people want energy independence, others want food security, some want less toxic air, some people like regulation while others don’t, and so on.

The encouraging thing is that when these people foster connections with their neighbors they seem to put sustainability into action. In these experiments, going Green is an outcome of strengthening the bonds between people. The agenda isn’t political; it’s about making better lives by building stronger communities.

These experiments are not limited to towns. One of the nation’s most active environmental organizations is a confederation of local groups who share an interest in protecting nature. Their motivations and political views are quite diverse, and their members range from conservative hunters and fishermen to classic liberal “tree-huggers.” They value nature for different reasons, but they are a community of equals who find ways to respect their difference and support their common interests.

On-site Communities

Can the exhibit industry, which effervesces with competition, become this kind of community? If it did, would we become more sustainable?

In some ways we already are a confederation of small communities, but we don’t act like one. Anyone who spends time in convention centers knows that intense competition is reserved for show time. During set-up and move-out, people from different companies routinely help each other overcome logistical nightmares. When the doors open and the attendees pour in, exhibitors go to work on their marketing and sales objectives, but in the day-to-day practice of managing exhibit programs people get to know each other and share experiences.

These are embryo communities. They have all the moving parts of active communities, but they are not self-aware and people have not made commitments to them. As a result, they have difficulty acting collectively on their own behalf and, to one degree or another, people feel helpless.

We don’t know what would happen if people decided to acknowledge these communities and strengthen them. The outcomes would depend on the their choices, but they might surprise themselves. The reason for optimism is simple: when people stop feeling isolated they also stop feeling powerless, so they tend to voice their deeper concerns and take bold steps together.

Communities make action possible. If you look at the collection of people who work onsite—all of whom share an interest in staging successful events—you can imagine building strong communities that include exhibitors, industry suppliers, convention centers and show managers.

What if…?

Can we overcome our competitive worries to foster our own communities? It might help to recognize when and where we compete so we can focus on other aspects of the business where we share a lot in common.

For example, exhibit houses compete intensely during the bidding cycle, when accounts are up for grabs. Outside of these episodes, shops spend most of their time simply doing their work.

What if a few shops and exhibitors decided to do business differently? Instead of shipping exhibits back and forth across the country, suppose shops in various cities provided local properties to each other’s clients. Doing so might save a lot of money, reduce energy use, and slash pollution. The shops might use their properties more often, squeezing more value out of the natural resources they employ. And they would share a larger, and potentially more stable client base as well.

This example might or might not be a good idea; it is just one idea posed by one person. But it is the kind of idea that might emerge when a group of professionals realize they share important concerns and agree to hold each other accountable; in other words, when they recognize that they are part of a community.

And that’s the point: the bottom line on sustainability is that nobody can achieve it alone. Can a competitive industry be truly sustainable? Perhaps the best way to find out is to think of our industry as a confederation of embryo communities and see what we decide to make of them.

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.