Companies traditionally replace exhibit booths every five years because that’s what the IRS depreciation schedule allows. With the right building and design strategy, however, booths can look fresh for more than a decade.
“Our design firm discovered this because we had clients who couldn’t afford to buy a new booth every five years,” says Tom Bowman, founder of Bowman Change Inc. in the Los Angeles area and author of the 2014 book The Green Edge. “What we discovered is if you treat it like a box of LEGOs — color it, give it new skins, reorganize the floor plan, give it a few new components to alter the look and give it fresh graphics — those properties will last 10 to 15 years.”
One Bowman client uses a booth that’s nearly 20 years old. Every two years, the facade is refreshed with Zolatone paints. Trade-show managers refuse to believe it’s the same one until they’re shown the old bones beneath.
May it live long and prosper!
Efficient energy usage also extends a booth’s life. As long as a booth’s energy consumption can’t be improved upon, there’s no reason to replace it. If it can, Bowman says the energy savings justify the cost of investing in a new exhibit property. Always look for Energy Star-rated appliances and lighting, which consistently meet or exceed current standards.
Jeff Chase, vice president of sustainability at Freeman Audio Visual in Canada, recommends you design the exhibit booth with its whole life cycle in mind, including what will happen when it’s no longer needed. Can it go to a regional or local group after corporate headquarters is done? Can it be repurposed? If not, build it so that all components can be recycled or donated when it’s retirement time.
Should you build with wood or fabric and struts? If you use wood, Chase recommends building with materials certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. That guarantees the wood was raised and harvested sustainably. If you do use wood, be prepared to pay more for cross-country shipping and moving the pallets into and out of the venue (known as drayage).
Studies show that whether a truck is packed light or full makes no noticeable difference in its fuel economy. The most important thing to do, Bowman says, is pack the truck as full as you can. This leaves more room for other exhibits and puts fewer trucks on the road.
Using this reasoning, Chase says, you could argue that a booth made of fabric — which can be broken down and packed into one pallet — is better for the industry.
Try these tactics, too
Other money-saving booth-design strategies include fabricating it locally, renting some components or bringing items with you. When Clif Bar began exhibiting at trade shows, it brought in its office furniture, Chase says.
Bowman also wants people to stop shipping printed promotional materials. He suggests using e-brochures and conference apps instead.
“Think about it,” he says. “You print it at the last minute so you’re paying a surcharge. Then you’re going to airship it to the show because it’s happening at the last minute. That costs a lot of money, and it [creates] more air and carbon pollution. Then you’re paying a premium to get it to your booth. You distribute a percentage of it and the rest you don’t want to take back with you. If you do, you ship it out and it sits in your exhibit house or warehouse until it’s out of date and then you throw it away. And what happens to the 10 percent you distributed at the event? Ninety percent of it goes in the trash before anyone gets on an airplane to fly home.”
View the entire video recap of Chase’s and Bowman’s #GMIC2014 conversation HERE.
Register for #GMIC2015 in Atlanta on June 17-19, where more cutting-edge ideas for sustainability at meetings and events industry will be discussed. Plan Your Meetings is a longtime media sponsor and GMIC supporter.