I received my June issue of Exhibitor today and read an editorial entitled "As a Matter of Fact", which related the story of a bullshit statistic that has been circulating for half a year in the exhibit industry.
It first appeared in the December Trade Show Week and said that an EPA report had targeted trade shows as the number two source of commercial waste in the United States. The gist of the column was that this "fact" that was made up by someone out of whole cloth, quoted by an industry publication (apparently fact checkers were eliminated during this companies productivity enhancements) and then repeated and quoted ad infinitum. Eventually it was corrected, but I am sure it is still quoted often even thought it is totally false. The editorial, on the other hand, was quite informative and pointed out some valid and important things, and provided the advice that we should all be a little more skeptical and not believe everything we read (especially on the internet I might add) and hear. I came away from this article with two questions; where was my Knight Errant this month, and how often does Travis Stanton get carded at an R rated movie? One thing I didn't question is how this "fact" made the rounds so quickly. The trade show industry gossips like a bunch of old women and a juicy tidbit like this one is hard to resist. Travis quoted Tex Stout when he said "There are two kinds of statistics: the kind you look up and the kind you make up", and then advised us to be careful of the facts we cling to. Amen.
One of my favorite sayings is from David Ogilvy, who said; "The trouble with statistics is that most people use them the way a prostitute uses a lamp post. For support, not illumination". And I am beginning to see a lot of that. Whether due to concern for the environment, an effort to create a demand for a new product category, or because "everyone is doing it" I have been inundated with advertisements for exhibit products that are made from recycled materials or are otherwise "green". Everyone is really pushing the envelope on what is truly helpful. This is really great until they do something stupid, without realizing it, that makes it all look like a fashion statement. They do something like touting a "green" exhibit at the Exhibitor Show and then hand out bottled water in it. For someone that is truly interested in sustainability this makes about as much sense as a Bush-Cheney bumper sticker on a Prius.
Don't get me wrong, I applaud efforts to make things better, but when someone sends me a sample of a new fabric made from recycled pop bottles and sends it out in a box 3 times as big as the contents, it somewhat mitigates the good feeling I get. If they sent this out to 500 companies, then the wasted space in those 500 boxes took up 54,862.5 cubic inches. That''s about as big as a refrigerator/freezer. I guess that's what I took away from the editorial. That we shouldn't do things like that. Don't do something kind of green when with a little extra effort it could be totally green. Of course the chances of this industry being objective about that isn't too great.
I am constantly seeing ads telling us to buy flooring made from recycled tires, or buy fabric made from old pop bottles. The sustainability mantra is reduce, reuse, recycle. Recycle comes last. To reduce maybe we should look at our show schedule and reduce. Cross off a couple shows that really aren't pulling their weight, ROI-wise. I doubt the people who put on shows or haul freight to them would suggest that in their email newsletters.
Or we could reuse. Taking the time with a good design process to create an exhibit that would last a few more years would be great. Or we could do more renting to decrease the amount of structure that''s needed as well as the fuel to ship it around (if it's rented locally, kind of like produce) but I can't see the people who make the exhibits being huge advocates. If you own your carpet and go to 4 shows a year, that carpet spends 97% of it''s time in a warehouse. That meas if you use rental carpet, and it is rented 60% of the time, that''s about 5% as much carpet that needs to be produced. I saw a really cool report in Newsweek. The CES Show commissioned Carbon Fund to do an audit to determine the size of their carbon footprint so they could do carbon offsets (which I consider the equivalent of buying indulgences from the Catholic church, the thing that made Martin Luther cancel his subscription, but their heart was in the right place) and actually broke the audit down by category. I was fascinated. They found that twenty thousand metric tons of CO2. was released attributable to the show. Most of that is the hotel space: 63 percent is from hotels, 24 percent from freight, 12 percent from the convention center and then the show space at the Sands, the Hilton and the Venetian hotels. And I bet most of that 12% was for cooling/heating and lighting that hall.
I posit that show managers that insist on hotels that practice water and electrical conservation would do more for the environment than anything. Or we could make sure there are more comprehensive shuttle bus service, maybe mass transit to/from the airport should count for something (I can hear the taxi drivers screaming as I type). Let's face it folks, buying new LED lamps for our exhibits might make us feel good, and fuel the LED light economy. But if you want to change a light bulb and make a difference you should try and find one that's on more than 3 hours a day, three days at a time, a few times a year.
I wish people in this industry would start using their calculators. We need to stop using LEED ratings and create some industry algorithms of our own. Take for instance the power needed to heat/cool and light a show hall. I did a little research and found on a DOE web site that if you go to a show in Orlando a lot of that power is coal generated, if you are at McCormick in Chicago a good potion of it comes from nuclear generation, and if you are in Vegas, Nevada has a huge geothermal initiative. Wouldn't it be cool to have a chart of show cities that ranks them by their sustainability practices, and lets you use factors like that to actually count how much less carbon a light bulb powered by a geyser puts in the air? I guess we''ll find out real quick if convention and visitor's bureau types read this blog.
For the reasons I noted above, I think we can all agree that industry trade groups and vendor companies have a bit too much skin in the game to be totally objective. Maybe there is a graduate program out there that needs a project, this has got juicy, page turner master's thesis written all over it. Wouldn't it be cool to have a big, macro filled excel spreadsheet we could slap a bunch of metrics into and find out if we were doing something that is good, rather than just making us feel good?