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I'd like to Green my exhibit program, but I also need to keep an eye on my costs. Can you explain which Green-exhibiting processes and products cost less than or about the same as non-Green options?

While some Green products and practices cost a bit more than their non-Green counterparts (about 5 to 10 percent more on average), going Green isn't always an added expense. In fact, some Green alternatives are the same price as non-Green options, and some Green practices actually save your company money in the long run.

Here are some common Green exhibiting practices, divided into two categories: those that cost less than traditional non-Green options and those that cost about the same. You might be pleasantly surprised to learn that not only is going Green less expensive than you originally guessed, but you may be implementing several cost-effective Green practices already, such as reducing waste and repurposing exhibit materials.

Cost-Saving Green Options

 Reduce and reuse. The first two words in the Green movement's three-R mantra are "reduce" and "reuse." So simply reducing the amount of energy or materials your exhibit consumes is a Green strategy - as is reusing exhibiting elements. Think of all the stuff your exhibit program involves: the exhibit structure, lights, paper, giveaways, pre-show mailers, carpet, staff uniforms, etc. How much of this stuff translates into an actual business benefit? For example, does a $3 squeeze ball really help you meet your business objectives? Analyze and prioritize what you need to meet your goals, and eliminate any unnecessary items. Of the remaining required items, consider ways to reuse and/or cut back on them. For example, can you do without some accent lighting or furnishings? Going Green isn't about being cheap; it's about carefully analyzing each element to make sure it's providing a valuable return - and reducing or eliminating anything unnecessary.

 Eliminate or diminish your use of lights and electricity wherever possible. Obviously, you don't want to black out your booth, as effective lighting can be a differentiator to help your exhibit and your products stand out on the trade show floor. But carefully examine each outlet and electrical appliance and ask yourself if it adds value to your program or provides some type of return. If the answer is "no," eliminate it. If the answer is "yes," then make sure it's only switched on during show hours and that it's as energy efficient as possible. Also, be sure to use energy-efficient bulbs, and inquire about the lighting in each convention center, as many venues are now providing improved day-lighting options that might be sufficient to light your space.

 Use modular, lightweight exhibit structures that have reusable elements. Granted, sometimes a custom display is the best option to meet your objectives. But modular components are often more eco-friendly, cost-effective, and flexible than custom exhibitry. Plus, they allow you to reconfigure your exhibit for multiple shows and booth sizes, and to swap out panels - as opposed to entire custom walls - to reflect changes in messaging. This adaptability means you're reusing your structures rather than continually buying new ones - which makes modulars not only Green but cost effective. Also consider a mix of custom and modular elements to create a one-off design that still offers flexible components.

 Switch from paper pre-show mailers, event announcements, and post-event communications to their electronic equivalents. You'll not only save some trees, but also save on the costs of paper and postage. If you absolutely must send something in the mail, use electronic correspondence for the masses and reserve mailings only for VIPs or perhaps the top 10 percent of your target audience.

 Purchase a paperless, electronic lead-retrieval system, and eliminate printed lead forms and sales-tracking documents. While there might be added costs to purchase and maintain such a system, you'll often save money in the long run by cutting costs not only on paper, but also on the time it takes sales and marketing staff to sort and prioritize paper lead forms and follow up after the show.

 Consider accessing/renting materials or services in the show city, rather than shipping things in. For example, are there company employees or distributors living near the show that could staff the booth, rather than flying in someone from another area of the country? Can you rent necessary furniture or décor on site, instead of shipping it in? Shipping emissions are extremely detrimental to the environment. So any time you reduce the amount of goods and people you transport to a show and/or the distance they travel, you save money and reduce emissions.

 Select giveaways wisely, or eliminate them altogether. Again, consider if the giveaway adds value to your program. If it doesn't, get rid of it. If you must have a giveaway, then make it reusable, sustainable, and memorable. For example, some of the rare items I've kept from trade shows include a stainless-steel water bottle, funky USB drives, and a branded journal. Consumable giveaways are also ideal - such as iTunes downloads, food, or coffee-shop gift cards. Compared to traditional tchotchkes, consumable giveaways are less likely to end up in a landfill.

 Eliminate paper brochures. Instead, provide company information via a print-on-demand system in your booth, a branded USB drive loaded with your literature, or PDFs loaded onto your Web site. You'll not only save paper, but you'll cut down on the amount of material you ship to each show, thereby cutting your shipping and drayage costs to boot.

Cost-Neutral Green Options

 Ask your printer to use a minimum of 30-percent post-consumer recycled-content paper. This is the minimum guideline recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency for non-cover stock paper. Typically printers can offer this option at little to no additional cost.

 Seek out Green hotels for staff accommodations. Look for eco-friendly initiatives such as recycling in guest rooms, paperless reservation and check-out procedures, linen-reuse programs, and energy-efficient building-management practices. At least 20 states offer Green lodging programs, many of which can be found by simply searching "Green lodging programs."

 Use local/organic food. If you provide refreshments in your booth, ask your caterer to include a percentage of local/organic products. Caterers can usually ensure that 25 percent of your products are local/organic without adding extra fees. If you want to go above that 25 percent, you'll likely be asked to pay a nominal upcharge.

 Request Green packing materials. Ask your shipper to use biodegradable alternatives to polystyrene packing peanuts. Polystyrene does not readily degrade, is resource intensive to manufacture, and is toxic when incinerated. Corn-based peanuts are just as effective, but they're made from a renewable resource that biodegrades much more readily. Air-filled plastic is another option, as it can be recycled in some locations. Also consider reusable materials such as blankets, carpet, or custom-cut foam.

- Shawna McKinley, project manager, MeetGreen, Portland, OR

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