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Tradeshows are considered one of the poster children of waste, what can be done to curb this trend?

The Sustainable Trade Show – Myth or Reality?

Anyone who has witnessed first-hand the ephemeral extravagance of a typical convention or trade show would rightly consider it one of the most wasteful and ecologically unfriendly activities around, with the piles of unread flyers and brochures, food waste, and all-but-useless plastic schwag destined for the land fill or the darkest recesses of attendees’ office drawers (and eventually to land fill in any case). Perhaps not as high profile as spilling toxic waste in the street, when the volume of waste generated is added up, it’s still something of an ecological disaster churning through major cities across the globe.

In fact, in terms of industry size, the tradeshow industry is considered among the most unsustainable in the world, producing 600,000 tons of waste every year. Tradeshows are second only to the construction industry in amount of waste generated.

Making trade show more sustainable

Sustainable tradeshowsOnly with awareness comes change, and with a growing acceptance of triple-bottom-line concepts, many businesses are integrating a wider definition of sustainability into their day-to-day operations. These are forward-thinking organizations that understand one of the best ways to communicate a more environmentally friendly vision is for their best customers at the annual trade show or convention.

Event organizers now offer mobile apps to help attendees navigate the event and the venue in their mobile devices; plastic tote bags are now often replaced with bags made from recyclable (or better yet recycled) material.  Exhibitors save both money and resources by offering company and product information electronically, reducing the need for that tote bag. Companies like Smash Hit Displays provide a full range of eco-friendly trade show display products for exhibitors, from graphics to trusses and booth display systems.

Sustainability standards for the trade show industry

The Convention Industry Council (CIC) launched the Accepted Practices Exchange (APEX) to actively promote implementation of guidelines and best practices for meetings, tradeshows and conventions. Earlier this year APEX partnered with ASTM international (formally known as American Society for Testing and Materials) to develop and approve industry sustainability standards accredited through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

That’s a bit of an alphabet soup, but what it means is that earlier this year officially recognized sustainability standards were adopted for use throughout the tradeshow industry.

The set of standards is comprised of nine “sectors” each addressing a specific aspect of meeting and event planning process:

  1. Transportation
  2. On-site office
  3. Meeting venue
  4. Food and beverage
  5. Exhibits
  6. Destinations
  7. Communications
  8. Accommodation
  9. Audio/visual

The sustainable trade show: myth or reality?

The answer to the question of whether the sustainable trade show is a myth or reality may be decidedly unsatisfactory. It is neither fully a reality, for there is certainly still too much waste, inefficiency and pollution generated in the industry; nor is it just a myth, as the industry adopts and integrates recognized sustainability standards, providers offer eco-friendly display products, and organizers increasingly understand the value of reducing waste and resource consumption.

With the adoption of industry standards, increased awareness and more sustainable use of resources, the industry is moving in the right direction.


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