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How to green your booth

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Events are following trends set by nearly every other industry in the world and going green. Trade show attendees are starting to expect the events and booths they visit to employ eco-friendly techniques. Event marketers that don't meet expectations risk appearing out of touch with current trends or worse, uninterested in advancing environmentally sustainable practices.

According to "An Inconvenient Booth," a 2007 e-mail survey of 498 exhibitors by the Exhibitor Magazine Group, 62% of those surveyed said they expect interest in green exhibiting will grow over the next year. Additionally, 51% said they believed adopting greener booth practices would enhance their companies' brand and image.

The survey also found that 86% of exhibitors expected to allocate a portion of their budget to green options in 2008. It's evident that the industry is beginning to move to green. But how, exactly, can event marketers go about making the switch to a green booth and what are the obstacles inherent in the switch?

There are many green options available for exhibitors—and the number of eco-friendly products and recycled booth-building-material replacements is growing. So the first step for any exhibitor looking to green its booth is to do its research.

For Teresa Makowski, director-trade communications at Sherwin-Williams Co., a manufacturer of paint and other surface coatings, once the company had decided to green its booth, the first step was to sit down with booth designers and lay out exact goals. "The company as a whole is undergoing a lot of initiatives right now, we're reducing waste and conserving natural resources in our manufacturing plants, using software to streamline distributions—it just seemed logical to me that the next step would be to build a green trade show booth."

Scott White, creative director of Opus Design, the exhibit company that helped design and build Sherwin-Williams' green booth, said once they had agreed on a direction for the booth, he and his team started doing some legwork. "We researched the Internet. We went to a lot of our local vendors and asked them: `Where can we get local products?' " White said. "It was a mixed bag of research, calling companies and asking how available a resource is. We expressed interest to vendors and got samples. Then we experimented."

According to White, an important part of the process in choosing materials was to be flexible. "You have to be open-minded. You've got to think a little bit differently. The traditional way of building something [isn't always right], depending on the material you use."

For the Sherwin-Williams designers, there were a few missteps on the way to a successful booth. Craig Holley, senior account director at Opus Design, said they were surprised by the ways in which some of their green choices presented problems: "We learned a lot going through this project. Working with Plyboo [laminated flooring and plywood made out of bamboo], we had never worked with that—and some of our counters had some pretty sharp radiuses. One night we came in and the bamboo started to pull away from one of our counters—but our adhesives had to be green."

Despite the slip-ups, the booth was green all around: the team used Plyboo, nonpetroleum based adhesive glue, fasteners made from recycled aluminum or steel instead of welding the booth together; the carpet was 100% recycled, the banner graphics were printed with soy-based inks on green-knit fabrics and all the materials were sourced from local vendors to reduce emission and gas usage.

Ultimately, going green can be a successful marketing tool. For marketers that choose to make their booth environmentally friendly, the real key is to advertise.

According to Makowski, tying the marketing into a green booth can be a big boost to a company's brand. "The market is getting to the point where it's expected," she said. "You're just going to be seeing more and more of it. [At the Green Build Show], our staffers were able to use the idea that we have this green booth to engage people as they came by. We had signs out that this was a green exhibit and why. It was a great way to engage traffic and talk to them further about what we have to offer as a company. It was a really positive reflection on Sherwin-Williams. Plus, we're doing something that is environmentally responsible."

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