In an effort not to run on with a long blog, I’m going to divide this article into two parts. Check back in a week or so for part two.
According to GES’ recently published 2013 “Trend Tracker” when it comes to design, sustainability should be on the minds of exhibitors and how they relate to their customers. About sustainability, it reads:
“Having an eco-friendly event footprint might have been optional a few years ago. But now it’s often a must. Recycling has become a way of life for many of us, at home and on the job. The event industry is catching up - and customers are taking note of which brands are going green, which aren’t, and which say that they are going green but they’re not.”
GES is right. The industry, both exhibitors and supplier partners, should consider sustainability in everything they do. GES should be applauded for publishing this as a design trend. However, they leave out some big pieces to the sustainability puzzle by only mentioning the “recycle” component of sustainability.
Sustainability is defined as “the ability to be sustained, supported, upheld or confirmed”. From an environmental perspective, it means supporting an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.
Is the industry ready to work toward becoming sustainable? If you search “sustainable exhibits”, there is no shortage of sales organizations and products touting a “green” approach or “green solutions”. Corporations are now including ecology-based impact statements regarding their stewardship of the environment. If you have school-aged children, sustainability is discussed and practiced in the classroom.
Is this all “hooey”, as my grandfather would say? Let’s look beyond GES’ reference to recycling, to the other components of sustainability in action.
My wife recently started working with a not-for-profit called SCARCE. SCARCE stands for School and Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education. Their mission statement is to “Inspire people, through education, to preserve and care for the Earth's natural resources, while working to build sustainable communities.” They are a very dedicated organization and it’s unbelievable what I have learned in a short time. I won’t bore you with stories, but if you check out their website, you’ll be amazed at what they are accomplishing.
Like many organizations, SCARCE promotes the three “Rs” approach: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. These terms are in a very specific order. Let’s use the plastic bottle of water as an example. If you recycle a plastic water bottle once it’s empty, yes, you are working toward “sustainability”. Good for you. At least you didn’t mix it with the rest of your regular trash.
This is not a slam on anyone who prefers bottled water, or finds that using/buying one is the only available option. The question really becomes “How can I reduce my use of disposable, plastic bottles?” Maybe it means buying a reusable BPA-free container and filling it at home or at a drinking fountain, when available. Reduce and reuse first, whenever possible.
To complete the cycle of the three “Rs”, when you run over your ill-placed, reusable water container backing out of the driveway, its reuse life is now over so you finally can deposit it into the recycling bin. Pretty straightforward, eh?
So while GES is right that recycling has become a way of life for all, reduce or reuse decisions should be weighed before getting to the recycle step. This has become a major change in our household, altering the way we shop, consume and dispose. Event and exhibit participants and suppliers need to seriously take a look at changing these habits too.
So can our industry truly be sustainable? The fact that face-to-face marketing inherently involves using resources that don’t follow the three “Rs” approach, probably not. But, that brings up another “R”: thinking Responsibly.
More to come on that next week.