There’s a curious blind spot that can occur when a business heads to a trade show. Often, it doesn’t matter how much sustainability plays a part in the organisation – or even whether sustainability is a major part of the company’s offering. When they get to the expo, their stand is a landfill in waiting of solvents, plastics and single use promotional ‘goodies’.
I thought about this only this week, when a customer whose business is built on helping other businesses work more sustainably, asked for a couple of PVC roller banners to take to a small trade show.
“How about,” I suggested, “we switch from PVC to a PVC-free roller banner, which uses a 100% polyester woven fabric? Then we can print it in eco-solvent or latex inks which are far more environmentally friendly print options. That way, you have a banner that’s just as powerful and robust, but which supports your eco-message. It’s recyclable too.”
Unsurprisingly, that was the option the client preferred.
Increasingly, customers are expecting businesses to match their standards of sustainability. And increasingly, businesses are expecting other companies in their supply chain to do the same. So as a first step, it’s probably a good idea to ensure your exhibition stand is sustainable, because it’s a great calling card to show you walk the sustainability walk.
How eco-unfriendly are traditional exhibition stands?
You don’t have to go back many years to find some pretty unsustainable practices. It wasn’t just the materials used in the trade stands’ construction that were the problem. It was the waste left after every show, the energy spent on lighting and the mammoth carbon footprint left by the promotional team travelling miles to the event location with a heavy load in tow.
Thankfully, it’s now much easier to create a sustainable exhibition and a sustainable exhibition display stand. Here are some ways to achieve it.
NOTE: You’ll notice there’s nothing about lighting here, but that’s because it’s now pretty difficult to find lighting that isn’t massively more eco-friendly than it once was. Thanks to the prominence of LEDs, at least that’s one part of the exhibition display you can worry a little less about.
Choose eco-friendly print materials
Whatever material you’ve used in the past, chances are there’s now an eco-friendly alternative. PVC? Choose polyester. Solvent inks? Go with latex of eco-solvent. As with all print, you’ll want to talk to an expert to ensure that the ink and material are compatible and will deliver the impact and durability you need in the exhibition environment.
Choose durable eco-friendly display stands
If you’re planning on using your exhibition display stand once, er, don’t. The more use you get out of the stand the lower its carbon footprint will be, the fewer materials you’ll use per trade show and the more money you’ll save.
One simple way to do that is to choose fabric display stands over vinyl because, in addition to looking stunning, they’re more scratch and tear resistant than vinyl and they won’t crease. They’re also lighter and fold up smaller, so transporting them requires less energy.
Make your sustainable exhibition stand modular
A reusable exhibition stand will be relatively sustainable. But it may not always fit the show you’re at. And once it’s been used a dozen times it may all start to look a little familiar. Choosing a modular set up helps to keep things looking fresh because you can play with the layout as much as you like, moving the walls, banners and blocks to reinvent your stand again and again.
The other big advantage of a modular, sustainable exhibition stand is that you can adapt it to the environment, so whether you’re in pokey civic hall or a cavernous exhibition centre, you can scale up or down accordingly.
We’re in the print business. You’d expect us to encourage more printing, not less. But there’s a time and place. We’d argue the time has come to dramatically scale back the sort of trade show print that you’ll usually see cluttering up the bins post-event. If you usually print catalogues and brochures, your customers will probably already expect you to have gone digital. At most, they might expect a flyer or card with a QR code link to send them to your promotional webpages.
Scale back your use of disposable print. And when you’ve cut things right back, look at it again and see what further reductions you can eke out. Not only will it be a great sustainability story for you to share, it’ll save you a small fortune.
Reduce your use of promotional materials
I imagine trade show swag is the sort of thing that gives Greta Thunberg nightmares. It’s not that there’s no place for it – a freebie can still be a powerful marketing tool, but it needs to be one that doesn’t come with an environmental sting in the tail.
So if you’re going to offer freebies, make them useful (pens), recyclable (bags) or both (writing pads). Better still, take your freebies digital, for example offering a 15% discount on a first order when scanning the QR codes on your eco-friendly display stands or banners. The amount you save on promotional merchandise could help pay for the discount.
Recycle your eco-friendly exhibition stands
It is possible to create a trade show display stand that is entirely recyclable, from the aluminium frames that give your stand structure, to the fabric the covers it and the ink that covers the fabric.
It’s also possible to create a non-eco-friendly exhibition stand where virtually none of the components are recyclable. To make sure you choose the former and not the latter, be sure to get some expert advice before you buy your display materials for exhibitions, events and trade shows.
For that, talk to us.