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GOING GREEN

I want to take steps to Green my exhibit program, but with so many eco-conscious options available, I'm a little overwhelmed. So where should I focus my efforts? What eco-friendly changes will offer the most ROI for Mother Nature?

You're right. There are seemingly countless ways to go Green. While eco-friendly products are certainly becoming more prevalent in the industry, environmentally friendly tactics now include everything from limiting solid-waste production to decreasing volatile-organic-compound (VOC) emissions. Especially when you're green about going Green, the options can be overwhelming. But just as with any sizeable project, you have to start somewhere. And a logical place to focus your efforts is in the reduction of the carbon-producing elements in your program.

Climate change and global warming are two of Mother Nature's biggest problems. And while a multitude of factors contribute to them, carbon-dioxide emissions (along with methane and nitrogen-oxide emissions) are major culprits. Thus, reducing your program's carbon-dioxide output - particularly the amount of vehicle emissions related to your program - may be one of the most impactful ways to pamper our planet.

Here, then, are five ways you can reduce your program's CO2 output, focusing specifically on the use of carbon-spewing trucks and planes.

 Go Ground. Airfreight is typically more expensive than ground transportation, and it is by far the biggest carbon-producing method of exhibit transportation available. So simply switching all of your airfreight shipments to a ground-transport option (be it rail or tractor-trailer) is not only Greener but also more cost effective.

Opting out of domestic airfreight shipments usually requires little more than a conscious decision to hit the road with all of your shipments, along with some careful long-term planning to make sure that you have plenty of time to get your exhibit to the show using ground-transport methods. But you can eliminate international airfreight as well by building - or better yet, renting - exhibits in the host country.

Also look for domestic freight companies that are part of the SmartWay program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Truck or rail carriers (as well as other transportation providers) can become SmartWay Partners by signing an agreement and filling out a Performance Model, which quantifies the environmental performance of their operations. Partners are then listed on the SmartWay Web site (www.epa.gov/smartway).

This free site offers a list of partners and a performance score for each, which rates its relative fuel efficiency and environmental performance. SmartWay Partners also agree to strive for attainment of environmental and fuel-efficiency goals - which will improve the environment and their bottom line - within three years. So by selecting one of these providers, you're taking another small step in the right direction.

 Lighten Up. Reducing the amount of exhibit materials you ship to shows will ultimately cut emissions - and costs. If you and even a handful of exhibitors send less stuff to the show, it means fewer trailers on the road. So take a careful look at your program and try to find items that can be eliminated, decreased in number, or actually shrunk in size.

For example, are those 500 branded cozies you plan to give away truly helping you meet your exhibiting objectives? Could you do away with your giant custom light boxes and instead use a fabric structure that takes up half the space and weighs one-quarter as much?

Also work with your freight provider to consolidate your shipments. For example, use one full truck as opposed to multiple half-empty trucks. And try to reduce the distance traveled for each load. Rather than shipping your properties from Cincinnati to Las Vegas for multiple shows, for instance, store your properties in Sin City.

 Leave the Literature. You don't need a statistic to prove that most literature
distributed at trade shows goes to waste. Just check any show-floor dumpster, or ask the show-hotel's housekeepers what they find in most in-room garbage cans on the last day of the show. Most literature ends up in garbage bins rather than in attendees' carry-ons. So to pare down the size of your shipment, consider eliminating the bulk of your paper literature typically given out at shows.

One way to reduce this paper waste is to provide a self-service printing station at your booth. This print-on-demand solution allows for additional attendee data collection and provides instant e-mail and download options.

Other alternatives include digital versions of collateral or video on flash drives, mailing literature after the show to those that request it, or e-mailing digital versions as a follow-up.

 Consider Renting. Given the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra, renting existing exhibit elements, as opposed to buying new ones, is a no brainer. But by renting items from suppliers within the show city, you're also saving on carbon emissions.

Exhibit carpet, counters, wall panels, furniture, and double decks can be rented and adapted to your existing structure without detracting from your brand. Also consider renting LCD screens or projectors for your signage and presentation needs as opposed to shipping it in.

Because rental elements will be reused many times during their lifespan, the overall impact on the environment is lower. What's more, renting exhibit items in the host city not only cuts emissions, it also eliminates shipping, storage, and upkeep costs for these items.

 Trim Back Travel. Trade shows are all about face-to-face communication, so scrimping on the number or quality of your booth staffers isn't an option. But more often than not, your staff arrive at the show via carbon-coughing aircraft. If every exhibitor cut back on even one staffer, the combined effect could likely eliminate the need for several flights, thereby making a tiny but important dent in carbon emissions.

So take a careful look at your staff roster and make sure that every person fulfills a specific need at the show. If you merely require a warm body, for example, as opposed to a product engineer with 10 years of industry experience, then consider hiring a staffer from a trade show temp agency in the show city. Compared to sending an employee to the show, you'll likely cut travel costs; and over time, you'll also help decrease carbon emissions.

Also make sure that your staffing plans reflect the current state of affairs at each trade show. If show attendance has waned, adjust the number of booth staffers accordingly.

And even if you determine that you can't eliminate any staffers, consider locally based alternatives. For example, would partners or distributors in the show city be willing to staff the booth, thereby eliminating air travel for some or all of your staff? Could some staffers carpool or take a train to the show? Or, can you cut down on your own air travel by delegating tasks to attending staffers and following up via phone or online?

Trade shows and transportation go together like celebs and rehab centers. But by making small cuts to your transportation and travel plans, you can make big strides towards a Greener exhibit program.

- Stephanie Recalde, senior designer, Global Experience Specialists Inc., Dallas

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