The Most Innovative Green Exhibit Ideas

When designing an exhibit booth most of us think brand impact first. Environmental impacts are rarely top of mind. But what if your booth could use sustainability as a tool to build your brand, attracting new customers or members and building affinity among existing ones?

Make a strong brand impact without a huge environmental footprint by considering these sustainability ideas for your next exhibit booth.

The Most Innovative Green Exhibit Ideas

Build it Better with Green Materials

Before dismissing your influence to make a difference by thinking your booth or individual effort is too small consider a basic exhibit asset: the demonstration kiosk.

Manufacturing a single new demo kiosk for an exhibit booth can have a carbon footprint of two metric tons. That’s equal to burning over four barrels of oil. And discarding this asset can create over one metric ton of waste, exceeding the mass of a very large polar bear.

Compare that to reusing or renting a demo kiosk for an exhibit, which creates less than half a metric ton of carbon emissions each reuse, including maintenance and shipping. That’s less than a quarter of the environmental cost! By reusing that asset only four times you keep the weight of three compact cars from landfill.

So best practice option one: design for mindful reuse if storage is possible and shipping on-continent is expected.

In addition to reuse, there are small, easy design choices that also reduce negative impacts, and maximize legacy. These include opting for lighter weight, recycled-content and renewable booth materials that can be recycled or donated. Take this Quinn Foods exhibit booth made from cardboard, for example. All renewable materials, and easily recyclable at virtually any convention venue.

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Photo Credit: Justin Lewis via Behance.com

Wood is another sustainable alternative for booth construction, but can be heavier, and have higher carbon impact. It’s also important to watch for chemical use in glues, paints and varnishes. However, there are lighter-weight, recycled and sustainably harvested wood options for floors, walls, graphics and furnishings that are lower footprint. Including this funky booth made from sustainable wood fiber by Katz Board.

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Photo Credit: Thekatzgroup.com

Don’t forget furnishings, which can be rented, or made from recycled materials. As an example, check out these fun chairs and tables, made from recycled milk jugs, featured at the Loll Beer Garden at Dwell on Design.

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The Loll furniture above was donated to the Skid Row Housing Trust in Los Angeles post-event, begging the final question: what will happen to your booth when you are finished with it? Depending on what materials you select, recycling or donation could be an option. Some venues operate programs that repurpose useful event materials to charity.  For example, Mandalay Bay’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity Las Vegas enables materials like this Stikwood flooring (made from reclaimed and FSC-certified wood) to be made available for sale at Habitat’s local non-profit ReStore (see photo below).

Other helpful tips to cut your exhibit waste:

  • Avoid designs that result in waste trim. Building to standard sizes and avoiding excessive curves can help. Take carpet for example. A small trade show can use 6.5 metric tons of carpet. Responsible contractors rent and reuse as much as 80% of this carpet, which prevents 10 metric tons of carbon emissions.
  • Try to use materials you know you can repurpose or recycle easily. Avoid materials like foam, sheet rock and adhesives which are hard to keep from landfill. Read more about zero-waste materials in the Event Waste Exposé: The Dirty Dozen.
  • Opt for light-weight designs that can reduce carbon emissions and shipping costs.
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Provide an Oasis

Booth designs that provide calm amidst the hustle-bustle of an exhibit hall can be a welcome relief for attendees needing a break. Consider these themes that touch on nature and add a sense of serenity:

  • Zen garden
  • Safari tent
  • Yoga studio
  • Forested cabin
  • Meditation maze
  • Campfire circles
  • Underwater oasis
  • Art walk

Serene designs are most effective where they disrupt the prevailing busy-ness of a tradeshow environment, and evoke a welcome feeling of relaxation. Water-features are a favourite of mine, although a bit tricky to replicate in an event space. Making them particularly disruptive and eye-catching. One unique example that could inspire experimentation is Clinamen, a temporary exhibit featured during the National Gallery of Victoria’s Monet’s Garden event. The exhibit featured a seating area surrounding a pool filled with ceramic bowls that create a unique sound-scape while evoking the feeling of Monet’s Water Lilies.

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Photo Credit: NGV Photographic Services Department. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, and Galerie Xippas, Paris

For more ideas check out this post on Nature-Based Event Design.

Get Hands On

In addition to being a great-looking place to be, your exhibit booth can also be an activity hub to engage customers and members in projects that share your values.

This booth by Salesforce Foundation was devoted to involving attendees in making kits for different community service groups. To up the feel-good factor and make the even more involving, attendees could come back and create a kit for a different charity every day. A great strategy to generate repeat traffic and build awareness of the diverse charities you support.

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Photo Credit: Joseph Jolley & Shawna McKinley

Ideas for service activities that can drive traffic to exhibit booths might include:

  • Provide a kit assembly station: Think backpacks with school supplies or sports equipment, emergency relief kits or overnight bags for shelters.
  • Donate funds in return for check-ins or visits: These could support a charity your organization works with and drive social media.
  • Provide a drop-off for donated items: From blankets to books, your booth can be a draw for people seeking to give back. For example, small blankets and shawls are accepted and displayed in the exhibit hall at United Methodist Women’s Assembly, who donates them post-event.

 

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Photo Credit: Shawna McKinley

Give Better Stuff Away

Lastly, a reminder to put your best brand forward with thoughtful, waste-free giveaways, such as useful, needed items and charitable gifts that also give back. These can be great ways to build a good reputation among booth visitors and create buzz.

A starter list if you’re considering better promo:

  • Go local: If you’re exhibiting in another destination, think about a giveaway that is made in or unique to the locale that you also don’t have to ship.
  • Think handmade: Handmade items, including food and crafts, are not only thoughtful, but they present a trendy opportunity to be hip by including a “maker” in your exhibit.
  • Promote green lifestyles: Useful items that help people reduce their footprint on a daily basis is something you can feel good about giving. Think quality shopping bags, reusable personal mugs, shower timers, home energy savings kits or organic seeds.
  • Close your loop: If you undertake a lot of event marketing, odds are you have old event materials, like banners or uniforms, you may need to get rid of. Consider upcycling them into giveaways.
  • Donate: Instead of a tangible gift, offer to make a donation on behalf of your booth visitor. Better yet, give them a choice of what to donate to and keep a display of how many donations are made to each charity in your booth.
  • Make a statement: Go the extra mile by making a statement with your giveaways. Have them tie in with a cause you believe in, or support social enterprise. One of my favourite examples is the #BeeSustain program by Wonderful Copenhagen CVB,  which – in cooperation with VisitDenmark – has been used as a theme for their booth at IMEX. A fabulous green booth idea that is fun and engaging, #BeeSustain has become a strong legacy and brand position for both Copenhagen and Denmark. Their innovative booth involves attendees in activities and provides giveaways like paper with plantable bee-friendly seeds that raise awareness about the importance of bees, and how responsible meetings in Copenhagen contribute to a healthy environment for them.

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Photo Credit: Wonderful Copenhagen

Read up on more green giveaways ideas in these EMB posts:

Event Swag: from Drag to Brag in Four Steps

Fill Conference Bags With Things People Won’t Throw Away

In Conclusion

Going green with your exhibit booth does not mean you have to sacrifice brand in service of the planet. On the contrary, research shows organizations who show their values on their sleeves, through things like their exhibit booth, benefit. In fact, consumer attitudes improve as companies act on environmental and social issues:

  • 93% have a more positive image of that company
  • 90% are more likely to trust that company
  • 88% will be more loyal and
  • More than eight-in-10 consider CSR when deciding what to buy or where to shop (84%), which products and services to recommend to others (82%), which companies they want to see doing business in their communities (84%) and where to work (79%) (Source)

This suggests that rather than not being able to afford to go green with your booth, perhaps you can’t afford not to.

About The Author
Shawna McKinley
Shawna McKinley is a sustainability specialist who believes in the power of events to make the world a better place. She helps eventprofs take practical, smart steps through zero waste and carbon conscious choices that generate social good, business value, and happy event participants. Read more on her blog, Eventcellany.
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Julius Solaris
Editor, Julius Solaris

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