Exhibiting Green

April 9, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — While servicing client Turion Bamboo Traders at the NeoCon commercial furnishings trade show at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, Exhibit Design Consultants president Tim Morris had the opportunity to take in that industry’s culture of sustainability.

There are very few companies in the commercial furnishings industry that do not promote some aspect of sustainable business, particularly the industry giants from West Michigan, where firms such as Steelcase, Herman Miller and Haworth have made environmental concerns a central aspect of their business models.

Holland-startup Turion Bamboo Traders’ core value proposition was the use of bamboo as an environmentally sound building material. Across the aisle from the Turion exhibit was the U.S. Green Building Council’s booth. After lengthy conversations with the creators of the Leadership in Energy Efficient Design building standards, Morris was convinced that his industry — trade show exhibit products — was ripe for its own green movement.

“There was no doubt there is a need to do this,” Morris said. “We’re happy to be the first company to step up.”

He had been developing a concept for a green trade show product for several months at that point. Primarily a distributor of national brand exhibit products, Exhibit Design Consultants had found itself building an increasingly large number of custom “green-built” exhibits for local companies — the largest effort being the Turion Bamboo exhibit, the materials for which are used prominently in the exhibit firm’s new Turner Avenue showroom.

At last month’s EXHIBITOR 2007 trade show in Las Vegas, Exhibit Design Consultants launched EcoSystems, the first green-built, portable-modular exhibit system in the nation, and the Reincarnation Exhibit Recycling Program, a recycling program for trade show exhibits. Built with materials benchmarked to the LEED standard, the line is EDC’s first foray into manufacturing. Also the company’s first time to exhibit at its industry’s trade show, the launch won a Buyers Choice Award in the new product competition.

Where appropriate, EcoSystems components are certified by green standards such as Energy Star. There is no green certification currently available for trade show construction, but that could soon change. Morris has been appointed by the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association to oversee the development of green standards for the exhibit industry. He is working with local consultant Bill Stough, CEO of the Sustainable Research Group and one of the authors of the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association sustainability standard, the first green guide issued from a U.S.-based trade group.

Derek Gentile, president of the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association and president and CEO of Exhibit Enterprises Inc. in Detroit, said the introduction of EcoSystems is a big step forward for the exhibit industry.

“As the value of face-to-face marketing and communications continues to expand, so should our emphasis on minimizing waste and using environmentally friendly materials,” said Gentile.

EDC has plans to partner with companies such as Exhibit Enterprises to bring its green solutions to the national market.

“The exhibit industry creates significant waste and by-products that are regularly sent to landfills,” said Morris. “Our goal is to change this by raising the bar and creating an entirely new segment of our industry with environmental exhibit technology and recycling services.”

Through implementing its own internal recycling program, EDC was able to reduce its refuse by 75 percent last year.

A parallel movement is underway in the meeting industry, which shares much common ground with the trade show sector. According to Exhibit City News, five major meeting planning publications released cover features on green meetings last year, and educational sessions on “meeting green” were attended by standing-room only audiences. National meeting associations in both the United Kingdom and Canada designated sustainability as key themes for National Meetings Week in 2006.

According to the Worldwide Exhibition for Incentive Travel, Meetings and Events, 67 percent of meeting and incentive planners take environmental considerations into account when planning a conference or incentive program. Sixty-one percent of buyers believe that they or their colleagues would likely avoid a destination or venue known to have a poor environmental record.    

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