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Green Trade Show Displays

March 9th, 2009 · 17 Comments · Trade Show Marketing

Back when Kermit the Frog first sang, “It isn’t easy being green,” he was probably right. The only green people back then were Kermit, the Incredible Hulk (I loved that TV show with Bill Bixby), and the Jolly Green Giant. Nope, back in the day, nobody and no company wanted to be green. But today that is different. Today is seems that everyone and every company is claiming to be “green.” I see this happening in the trade show display industry as well. What used to be just “trade show displays” are now “green trade show displays.” But are they really green? Or was Kermit correct when he said it isn’t easy to be green? What makes a trade show display a “green” trade show display?

In my opinion, there is a lot of “green washing” going on. Greenwashing is similar to white-washing, and means claiming something is green (i.e. environmental and/or eco-friendly) when really it isn’t. Will Taft over at the Healthy Living blog wrote an excellent post on the greenwashing of garbage bags. In his post, Will looks at “green” garbage bags with “1/3 recycled plastic”. At first glance, the “green” garbage bags sound great. But on closer examination, Will discovers that recyled plastic is not as strong as virgin plastic, so one needs to actually use more virgin plastic to make the garbage bags strong enough. A “green” garbage bag that uses 1/3 recycled plastic actually uses TWICE as much plastic overall to get the same strength. So when you use the “green garbage bag” you are using more virgin plastic plus the recycled plastic and end up sending twice as much plastic to the landfill. To put it more simply, three “regular” regular garbage bags use one ounce of (virgin) plastic. Three “green” garbage bags use TWO ounces of plastic (1.33 ounces of virgin plastic and .66 ounces of recycled plastic). Crazy!

But back to “green” trade show displays. From what I am seeing, some trade show display companies are incorporating a bit of bamboo into their displays and are christening them green trade show displays. I don’t agree. To determine if a product is really green or eco-friendly, one needs to look at the overall big picture. And the big picture with portable trade show displays is that they get shipped around a lot. To my mind, it’s how portable the display is that makes it green or not green, and how it is shipped. Because many displays are shipped via overnight air service (at least in my experience), a trade show display that weights twice as much will cost twice as much to ship and will burn twice as much fuel (think air pollution and global warming). The weight of the trade show display in large part determines its carbon footprint. And from what I have seen of these supposedly “green” trade show displays, they tend to be some of the heaviest trade show displays out there.

How one uses their trade show display can strongly influence how “green” it is, regardless of whether or not it is made out of bamboo, Tibetan yak hair, or good old fashioned aluminum and plastic. If one plans ahead (i.e. practices proper trade show planning), then one will have time to ship their display via GROUND instead of AIR, which saves the company money and burns a lot less fuel. As is often the case, being green is in our own hands and is determined by what we do.

To think further, and outside the box, and to be a trade show heretic, one can have an even greener trade show display by marketing online instead of at a trade show (i.e. not having a trade show display at all). I think some companies should consider whether or not they should even exhibit at a trade show (though I am a huge fan of face to face marketing). By marketing online instead of exhibiting at a trade show, one saves a lot of fuel that is spent transporting the display and the people to and from the show. So perhaps the greenest trade show displays are those that don’t exist. How’s that for some trade show zen?

But to keep from getting fired, I should mention that if one is looking for a real actual trade show display and wants to be green like Kermit, then one should consider portability and weight first. One should also get a trade show display that is built to last and that can have its graphics easily updated so that you don’t need to replace your display every year or two and send the old one to join the garbage bags at the land fill. A good example of just such green trade show displays are the Signature trade show displays were I work. My company doesn’t trumpet them as being green, but something tells me that some of the greenest products don’t have a big glow-in-the-dark “GREEN” sticker on them.


17 responses so far ↓

  • 1 John Sullivan // Mar 9, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    Hey Steve
    First I wanted to stop by and thank you for coming by my site and leaving some awesome comments Thanks
    Second I just sent this to a friend who has a company based in Dallas where is green orientated I believe so much in this and him I invested money in the company. Well I hope he checks you out as I’m sure he has trade shows and events on his list πŸ™‚
    I’m going to have a look around and whip a few stumbles on you and tweets hope it helps. The main thing is I just wanted to say Thanks:)

  • 2 OutsideMyBrain // Mar 10, 2009 at 4:49 am


    John Sullivan (@jsinkeywest) pointed to me, this post. I enjoyed your humor in presenting your company’s products. Perhaps we will be able to use your products in the future.

    Thank you,
    Bradley Bowden, CEO
    Green Shield International

    Twitter: @OutsideMyBrain

  • 3 The Trade Show Guru // Mar 10, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Thanks for stopping by. As you can see, Bradley followed stopped by too. πŸ™‚ I wish you well with your investment – it’s a good cause. ~ Steve
    @Bradley (aka OutsideMyBrain),
    Thanks for your comment as well. I try to not take myself too seriously. πŸ™‚ But I do think that “greenwashing” isn’t funny. πŸ™ ~ Steve

  • 4 jackie sheeler // Mar 11, 2009 at 3:59 am

    you are so right about shipping aspects being totally ignored by businesses seeking to get their “green street cred”. the company i work for has a whole department devoted to its getting greener, yet it thinks nothing of having an employee get on a plane for a (useless) meeting or shipping a pallet of used, inoperational PCs back to headquarters just “in case” they can be brought back to life rather than just sending them to salvage as they should be.

    green is in the holistic, the macro view as you said, not in the micro. the little bamboo details on a display that weighs twice as much as others…

    great post!

  • 5 The Trade Show Guru // Mar 11, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Hi Jackie,
    We agree. I would say that being truly green means understanding the “big picture”, but it sounds even better the way you put it…
    “green is in the holistic, the macro view, [not] the micro…”
    I couldn’t have said it better! ~ Steve

  • 6 Kikolani // Mar 13, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    I wonder if it would be more green to have computer display for posters and advertising materials, registration for email newsletters, cd’s or flash drives with promotional materials, as opposed to tons of printed brochures. But with that, of course is the use of the energy for the computers and monitors. And at the same time, maybe host seminars for trade shows online, so people do not have to use the fuel for traveling. Then, everyone could attend, and all promotional materials could be downloaded online.

    ~ Kristi

  • 7 The Trade Show Guru // Mar 13, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    Hey Kristi,
    You raise good points. “Virtual” trade shows like you describe are actually starting to happen. I think that doing some “trade shows” online can be a nice compliment to real trade shows. I also think that, like you suggest, updated websites are much greener than printed catalogues. Thanks for stopping by. ~ Steve

  • 8 Will // Mar 15, 2009 at 12:06 am

    Hi Steve! Thank you for reminding about this post I wrote last year. This issue has been really getting me frustrated lately. Maybe it is time for another post on it. Many companies are trying to jump on the “green” bandwagon, seeing it as a marketing opportunity. They also realize that if they are too outlandish in their claims they will be called on the carpet. So they do something like you describe in this post and call it good. By making decisions to embrace real green procedures like you detail above, companies can make a difference. If they only make use of greenwashing techniques in an attempt to market themselves, then shame on them. Smart customers will see through it and many of those smart customers will take their business elsewhere.

  • 9 Mitch // Mar 15, 2009 at 2:06 am

    Just asking, Steve, but isn’t all this mainly a lot of folks jumping on the latest trend, instead of actually caring for the economy? It just seems like it’s more of a publicity stunt than anything else. I mean, why broadcast “green” instead of just living it?

  • 10 Will // Mar 15, 2009 at 3:14 am

    They broadcast it because they are betting people will be attracted to their “green” marketing. They hope people won’t think about whether it is legitimate or that it might just be greenwashing.

  • 11 The Trade Show Guru // Mar 15, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    @Will and Mitch,
    I think most “Green!” marketing claims aren’t a lot different than “New”, “New and Improved”, and “Low Fat”. And I tend to agree that those people and companies that really are “something” just do it, while those that PROCLAIM FOR ALL TO HEAR that they are “something” usually aren’t, but then maybe I’m just too cynical. πŸ™‚
    Thanks for stopping by! ~ Steve

  • 12 Todd // Mar 15, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    Hey Steve,

    Sorry I’m a bit late to this conversation. Your last comment above is just about what I was going to say … “Green” today seems to be about the equivalent of “Low Fat” a few years back.

    The day I knew for sure the Low Fat thing was out of control, was when I saw an end cap display at a supermarket filled with chocolate candy bars … and a big sign at the top proclaiming them as a “low fat food”.

    With the story above about the trash bags, it definitely appears as though “green” is also on the verge of jumping the proverbial shark.

    Keep havin FuN!

  • 13 The Trade Show Guru // Mar 16, 2009 at 11:30 am

    Hey Todd,
    No problem. I’m seem to always be late, but fortunately, I can always blame the kids. πŸ™‚
    It does seem to me that “green” is the new “low fat”. I wonder what the first “New and Improved, Green AND Low Fat” product I see will be? It’s just a matter of time I suspect. ~ Steve

  • 14 Kay // Mar 16, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Hi Steve,

    Great article…you hit it on the nose right here: “One should also get a trade show display that is built to last and that can have its graphics easily updated so that you don’t need to replace your display every year or two…”

    Now THAT’S green!


  • 15 The Trade Show Guru // Mar 16, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    hi Kay,
    Thanks! πŸ™‚ I do believe that to even try to be “green” one must consider the “big picture”. ~ Steve

  • 16 Cath Lawson // Mar 24, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    Hi Steve – This is a really good point. And marketing solely on the internet would certainly be more green.

    I do agree that everyone is jumping on the green bandwagon and many aren’t genuinely green. A green off-licence just opened in our city and the only thing that is green about them is their shop sign.

  • 17 The Trade Show Guru // Mar 25, 2009 at 11:22 am

    hey Cath,
    I’ve seen too many companies that think they can have their business cards printed on recycled paper with soy ink and that makes their company “green”. There’s a lot more to it than that! ~ Steve

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