What Would A Truly ‘Green’ Trade Show Exhibit Look Like?

The talk about ‘going green’ and transitioning to a ‘sustainable’ or more environmentally-friendly paradigm for business has gotten to the point where it is a cliche. The general public is very aware of the importance of this transition and because of that many companies and their marketing/PR departments have been forced to address the issue. But, how many of us truly realize the degree to which our current practices must change in order to become legitimately ‘sustainable’? Surprisingly, the answer is very few.

Obviously, the trade show industry is in no way unique in this matter. Business and government leaders in all industries and with all countries have yet to fully realize the extent of the changes that must be made to effect a truly sustainable system. Although trade show booth design is not the beginning or even a particularly crucial part of this overall transition, it can be an interesting way to look at the scope of the problem.

Seeing Design Solutions For Environmental Issues

The environmental problem is caused by a single and very simple issue. That is the fact that the earth is quickly outgrowing the carrying capacity of humans as a species. In other words, barring some massive reduction in population that nobody predicts, we must change the way that we live and act in order to reduce our overall impact on the planet.

This doesn’t mean just reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Climate change is only one small part of a bigger environmental problem which also includes growing waste disposal issues and the need to produce products and materials in a sustainable and responsible way. Many people talk about the scope of this problem and how overwhelming it is. But, part of the reason that it is seen as so overwhelming is because it is framed as only a political problem.

Instead, as professionals in the design industry understand, the problem seems much more manageable if we view it as a design problem. Just as we might be able to design a trade show booth display which can overcome an issue of accessibility or visibility, we can help to design our trade show booth displays in a manner which is sustainable and then extrapolate those same design imperatives into the larger operations of the industry itself.

From material design to social design, the basic idea is the same and looking at the problem in this context makes it everyone’s responsibility to help redesign their own company and their own actions, rather than relying on an exclusive political class.

What Would A Truly Sustainable Trade Show Booth Display Look Like?

So, with all of this in mind let’s talk about how trade show booth design could become truly sustainable. There are a few major things that would need to happen in order to achieve this:

  1. Eliminate carbon emissions associated with trade show exhibiting – This is something that in today’s society would be quite difficult. A zero-emissions trade show would require all of the energy used by exhibitors and the expo center to be produced by renewable sources, but it would also require that all transportation and shipping be emission free as well. The latter goal would require all materials to be sourced locally because emission-free shipping basically doesn’t exist today.

  2. Create a trade show booth design which eliminates physical waste – This would mean that all materials would need to be capable of being reused and all marketing materials would need to be recyclable as well.

  3. Use only sustainably produced and sourced materials – This means that any wooden materials would need to be sustainably sourced in a way that doesn’t destroy forests and metal materials would need to be produced sustainably (i.e. without requiring heavy chemicals or petroleum fuels). Notably, plastics, which are almost all produced from petroleum, couldn’t be used and would need to be replaced.

After looking at these requirements, it becomes very clear that true sustainability is something that will come with a very high price. It’s unlikely that the costs associated with creating a truly sustainable trade show booth display would be offset by additional revenues from environmentally-conscious consumers. With that in mind, it is difficult to see how this kind of radical change to the trade show industry (or any other industry) could be done while maintaining profitability. That is, of course, without significant changes to the economic and political climate. These are changes that may come sooner rather than later, in part due to concerns over a different kind of climate.

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