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What Would Mark Do?
     - Musings on design, opinions on business and discoveries to be shared. 
              by Mark Bendickson.

'It''s not easy being...sustainable'

I'm getting a bit concerned about this whole green thing.  It seems that''s all anyone talks about. 

This afternoon, I was reading Knight Errant, Lee Knight''s column in the August Exhibitor Magazine, and  it made me start thinking (it often does that) about the greening of the exhibit industry.  I thought about it, and it made me uneasy.  Nooo, not because I hate the environment.  My good friend, The Sheriff of Mayberry, has been a great influence on me.  He is truly well versed in creating a sustainable supply chain.    You see, he got me to read Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, and he taught me that green really means sustainable.  So my concern is that this emphasis takes a constructive path, and doesn't become some fashion statement. 

I have already seen a bit of green washing, and I think there is a real need to educate the buying public so that they do make changes that will be the most effective.  The ''reduce, reuse, recycle'' maxim should be followed when making a decision about materials and sources. 

For example:

  • To reduce we could go towards a more minimal booth, or use a system to keep the weight down and save on shipping.  We can use lighter materials in construction or even evaluate the shows we attend and eliminate those few that really aren't earning their keep. 
  • If we want to reuse, how about using rental properties.  That probably has the biggest impact in the trade show industry.  By renting you are using property that, instead of being used at 4-6 shows a year in your schedule and spending the rest of the year sitting in a warehouse,  is used as often as it can be booked.  It could conceivably be used at 3 shows per month.  That makes 36 times a year, or about 1/6 the amount of exhibit required per show as a privately owned exhibit.  Even better, if the booth you rent is based in the same city as your show (like buying locally grown produce) you save all that freight cost and carbon production.  The same goes for components.  Instead of buying furniture, consider renting from one of the companies that has a good selection of really handsome furniture and accessories.  Cort comes to mind.  Consider renting carpet or av equipment.  I know, I always hear the argument that "you can buy a carpet for what they charge to rent it".  And literally taken, that is true.  But you can''t buy it, ship it to the show, pay drayage on it, pay for it''s installation and removal, and ship it back after the show for what it costs to rent it.  When you look at it that way it starts making real sense.  Of course there are times when you need to own your flooring, and that''s cool, and that's when you can look at the recycled material content. 
  • Which brings us to to recycle.  The last of the triad, and the one you do only after you have done the other two, is still important.   And while it is important to look at what we buy to make sure it is made of post consumer ingredients and sustainable materials, it is every bit as important to recycle what we can. 

I recently got a call from a client who was doing a project for the Owsley Company and needed to know what the post consumer content of the stuff they buy from me had.  I told them what each component had in it for a range, and I said that it wasn't really possible to give an exact number.  You see you can never know just exactly what amount is used , other than that certain percentages are required to say certain things, and that certain materials (like aluminum) have a range of how much is virgin and how much is recycled.  But, you see, the company ''chief sustainability officer'' (or whatever trendy title they had) had their bonus tied to making that number go up every year, so making up a value for that particular metric became the most important thing in the equation.  What''s the problem with that, you ask?  Well, I then asked if they recycle the exhibits they have now and the answer was no.  Not surprising, as I subsequently asked quite a few of my clients and not many did, or didn't know.  The most common reasons were that they didn't know how, or they outsourced it to their exhibit services company and weren't sure what they did.  So, you can see why I find it a bit frustrating that a company who wants to wrap themselves in the cloak of responsibility for buying recycled stuff doesn't even recycle themselves.

Another concern I have is; who is going to come up with guidelines and values for our industry?  It really can''t be an industry association.  Oh, they can, and should, weight in.  But the standard developers need to be impartial so it doesn't turn into a counterproductive waste of time and resources (UL 2305 comes to mind) creating some universally non-offensive statement of position.  And it can''t be vendors, because that is just going to get ridiculous (it already has, actually).  We need someone totally impartial who loves numbers that can come up with a points system for balancing what we do with what we save.  Sort of like the LEED system for building, we need something that is relevant to our industry.  There are those who give LEED values to their exhibit products, but that makes about as much sense as me shopping for a car that is approved by The American Dental Association.  It needs to be someone who will calculate what order of magnitude more effective one thing is over another.  For instance, should we really be getting all excited about using compact fluorescents in our exhibit lighting when they are only on for three hours at a time...three days in a row...a few times a year.  Hell, you''d make more difference in the world turning off the porch light at home fifteen minutes earlier. 

That's it.  Just my opinion.  But I do think if we start to do things that are actually helping things better, not just making us feel better, maybe this can become a sustainable habit, and not just this season's feel good fad.