our years ago, I went on a statistical grail quest, trying to verify claims that the Environmental Protection Agency had named trade shows as the second largest source of commercial waste in the United States. My month's long journey toward the truth culminated in a realization that the stat was bogus. It was just an anecdotal opinion from a third-party source that landed in a 2007 issue of Trade Show Week. But in the short six months between the TSW article and my June 2008 editorial debunking the research, that stat had been tweeted and repeated so many times it achieved critical mass. Trade shows and exhibits were the dirty little piggies of the marketing world, and everybody knew it.
Trade shows and exhibits were the dirty little piggies of the marketing world, and everybody knew it.
In the years since that editorial published, it has generated hundreds of responses from readers, environmentalists, and even a few fellow journalists. But despite my efforts to disprove it, that specious statistic has proven more resilient than a thoroughly vaccinated cockroach wearing a hazmat suit. Every few weeks or so, someone alerts me to yet another blog, tweet, or press release citing that falsified factoid.
Recently, a curious infographic distributed by an exhibit provider has been making its way around social-media sites, again alleging that the trade show industry is the second-largest producer of waste. As has become customary, I reached out to a representative of the company circulating the information, informed him of its inaccuracy, and inquired about where he sourced his data. This time, the info was traced back to a 2009 article on Inc.com, where the writer raised the question, "Are trade shows worth the waste?"
And that is the reason we must kill the cockroach. Exhibit and event professionals are constantly bombarded with questions about the value of their efforts. In post-recession America, every budgetary blip raises a red flag, and the true return on trade shows has never been under greater scrutiny than in the past few years. What we don't need now, as the industry is rebounding, is a new crop of trade show hecklers - armed with erroneous information - questioning the ecological ethics of exhibiting, and painting marketers as mean-spirited Mother Earth murderers out clubbing baby seals between booth shifts.
Does our industry generate significant waste? Yes, but I believe that we're slowly and steadily cleaning up our act, with an increasing number of venues instituting large-scale recycling efforts; exploring food-waste-diversion and/or composting initiatives; erecting LEED-certified exhibit halls; investing in energy-efficient heating, cooling, and lighting options; and even incorporating renewable energy sources into the mix. Furthermore, many show organizers are also taking steps to encourage Green exhibiting practices, decrease paper waste, reuse or repurpose materials, etc.
Can we do more? Absolutely, we can. And I appreciate the efforts of companies (like the one circulating the aforementioned infographic) to encourage eco-awareness and Green practices. But I can't condone the fact they're actively misleading people, because I fear it might come back to bite us in the biodegradable buttocks. Despite my correspondence with the company in September, the website where the infographic resides still states (as of press time), "Truth be told, the trade show displays industry is the second largest industry to produce the most amount of waste, after the construction industry." Truth be told, that's a load of nonbiodegradable bull, and the company misrepresenting it as "truth" knows it. Now you do, too. Maybe if we repeat the real truth often enough, we can kill that cockroach and start a more honest dialogue about the Green strides our industry has made, and the ones we still have yet to take. e