Time to end the building and burning

On the World Exhibition Day Sam Rowe, CEO of strategic events agency Ignition discusses integrating a sustainable mindset into your trade show choices and practices:

‘Exhibitions are catalysts for a sustainable future’ is this year’s theme for Global Exhibitions Day (GED) on June 5, and we couldn’t agree more. We need to think more seriously than ever about sustainability and our planet. In the words of Greenpeace: “There is no Planet B”!

We need to change our mindset towards the sector. It is not good enough to simply put sustainability high on the agenda; it must be at the top, and it goes beyond environmental sustainability.

Running a sustainable business means taking the long-term health of your business seriously, but also making realistic decisions about the time and resources you have available. It’s okay to start small.

Take action

Start by creating a sustainability-focused team to share responsibility and tasks, for example by bringing in people from different parts of the business. Data clearly shows that employees care about purpose at work and prefer to work for and stay with a company that actively addresses its environmental and social impact.

Everyone knows that getting started on your sustainability journey can be tough, but getting started is the hardest part, and it’s only an uphill journey from there.

In light of this, I wanted to share some advice to answer the following questions:

How can you hold yourself and others within the industry accountable?

Companies must be transparent and report on their environmental and social impact. By reporting on metrics such as CO2 emissions, waste reduction and resource use, we can not only guide decision-making for partners, suppliers or customers, but also help companies identify room for improvement and set meaningful goals.

Change within the sector can only take place with a change in mentality; it must be a movement of everyone. It is important to share best practices and encourage behavioral change when dealing with bad practices.

For example, purchasing teams have a lot of responsibility; if large companies continually choose the ‘cheapest’ vendors for their exhibitions, instead of the companies that sell sustainable offerings, change will never happen. Companies must have stricter guidelines that suppliers must adhere to. If people aren’t doing it for the planet, maybe they’re doing it for their wallets!

Finally, education and training are crucial. There is a lot of information out there, so there is no excuse for being misinformed. One of the most important things I think companies need to learn about is greenwashing. You need to be sure that the people you work with not only walk the talk, but also walk the talk.

What can I do as an exhibitor?

Something we are very passionate about here at Ignition is ending the pervasive build-and-burn culture that exists in our industry.

Worldwide, approximately 32,000 exhibitions take place every year, with 4.5 million exhibiting companies and more than 303 million visitors. That is a huge impact on our planet, which does not have to be negative.

We must think intelligently about our designs, which means putting thinking before doing. By doing this, we can in turn be more creative when it comes to longevity and sustainability.

By creating a long-term exhibition strategy with sustainability at its core, you can look at what your goals are for exhibiting, what key lessons you may have learned from previous years to create a truly sustainable brief in which you discuss what is really needed and what you can demand more of. your supply chain.

Once you have a strategy in place, you can start making actionable changes. The most obvious and impactful change would be to move away from the traditional design construction that is thrown away at the end of an event, in favor of specifying modular, multi-functional stands. Within the exhibition industry there are often prejudices against modular design. What we hear is, “It costs more up front,” or “It’s ugly,” and we want companies to understand that this is simply not true. Modular can be incredibly creative and very beautiful.

Some of the benefits of modular design are: scalable to any size, flexible, friendlier to the environment, designed to be unique to your brand, and incredibly good value in the longer term. So there’s really no excuse. If you are a business that exhibits regularly you will save significant savings, but more importantly it is much more environmentally friendly. Compared to renting or creating a one-off solution for every show that ends up in the landfill, you save much more than just money…

If you want to be a sustainable company, it means paying a fair price for longevity.

Finally: what are the benefits of a sustainable trade fair strategy?

Investing in a sustainable trade fair strategy means you can be transparent, measure and track your impact, improve and grow as time goes on. This allows you to reduce your carbon footprint and actually make a difference. From a financial perspective, an investment in a custom modular exhibition makes commercial sense. Being sustainable doesn’t mean you have to compromise on quality, branding or flexibility. In fact, opening yourself up to reusable and sustainable materials would only improve the quality of your stands.

Collaboration is key to improving our industry’s footprint. Let’s do it together!