Walking the Las Vegas convention center, post show, I waded through the mounds of plastic trash and waste. I looked around as I was walking out the door, starting to process what was happening… The convention center was packed that weekend—the entire place was full. North Hall, South Hall, upstairs, downstairs, meeting rooms, even additional tents in the parking lot. The amount of trash created from exhibitors’ booths from this show alone could fill a garbage dump.
I started thinking about the trade show season that I was about to embark on in 2019. What impact could I really have? Trash is part of the trade show madness. I then began to really think about the steps that I could take in constructing a booth that truly could have an effective impact.
First, I considered booth materials. These are typically made of a combo of metal and plastic. This includes booth structure, frame and walls, frame covers, table covers, kiosk, booth parts, etc. Unfortunately much of the booth waste is never recycled and is thrown in the trash. So when you consider the end of booth life, materials create a negative impact.
To counter this, my company had a goal to build a structure that was 100% sustainable. We started with a frame constructed of corrugated paper core. These paper cores, or tubes, are made with a 100% post consumer paper. When this booth has lived its life, it can easily be recycled in your standard paper recycling bin. These paper cores are strong and they are very light in weight. The cores were cut to a size that would allow each smaller core to be placed inside the next larger during transportation. This allowed us the ability to create a smaller “footprint” on our pallet when shipping.
We had to create custom parts for connecting the tube frame. There aren’t standard parts that you can simply purchase. We created our own leaf design cut from a thin press board wood. Super lightweight, small in size, and easily replaceable.
We loved the look of the wood, so we decided to carry that look through the shelving and branding sign. For the shelving, we used a reclaimed Kentucky tobacco barn/wood planks. Again, easy to replace if broken, reclaimed lumber that can be used again or chipped into mulch once it has lived its life.
In building this booth structure, we had planned on using a paper backdrop behind the structure wall. This eliminated the typical “ploy” / plastic material that is always used. One of the unique features in using a paper backdrop is that it allows us to change colors and designs, and we can change the marketing messages, call out featured products, or even feature show specials at shows. And once that show is over, this paper can be recycled, or folded and used as protection for the palleted trade show booth.
Trade shows either have no floor covering, or they offer carpet service for you to purchase at a charge. The carpet that is “rented” is used over a few events, but after those uses, it becomes too worn and unfortunately ends up in the trash. Again, this is made out of a poly material and is never recycled. Our decision to forego the charged rental carpet saved us an average of $150 per show. What we did in place of carpet was extend the paper backdrop and simply roll the paper out on the floor.
Rolling the paper on the floor allowed for a sustainable floor covering in addition to giving us another branding canvas that could be changed and updated by event. When the show is over, simply pull the paper up to recycle or repurpose it as protection for palleted goods.
As we completed the first few events, I was quite amazed at our efforts and the sustainability impact it was having at the shows. It was more far-reaching than I had expected. We had created a trade show booth out of sustainable materials. The entire 10X10 booth, frame shelves, product and all fit on a single pallet. When we would arrive at the show and set up our booth, I noticed the only trash we had was the plastic shrink wrap that is required for pallets. By having only a single pallet, we were able to eliminate the need for storage during the trade show. This eliminated the need for forklift power/use in transporting crates.
By creating a lightweight booth that allowed for pieces to be shipped inside one another, we were able to work with a single pallet footprint. This saves on shipping costs and the energies used to ship, as well as minimizes the weight that we are shipping.
With a single pallet entry, we no longer had the dreaded “wait”—the long wait after the trade show is over to receive your empty crates can be agonizing. We could now simply dismantle, pack, and ship. This helped us with travel time post show.
We also noticed that when we were packed up at the end of the show, we had left the space as it was when we arrived. Trash free, as everything we had shipped and used, was simply shipped back to us on the pallet.
I share this story to say that every little thing you do can be impactful. Several smaller impacts turn into larger impacts, and when this happens, we begin to see those impacts reaching even further that we expected.
I would encourage any company that may be purchasing a trade show booth or upgrading to consider the following points. By looking at these details, you can have a positive impact on trade shows, on the environment, and surprisingly, it can have a positive impact on your expenses and costs.
Always consider the following:
- Booth Size
- Will the booth fit on a single pallet?
- Cut all pieces to size to fit pallet length
- Booth Weight
- Structure weight
- Product weight
- Booth Materials
- Are they sustainable, reusable, recyclable?
- Choose options that are easy to use/build