Is Sustainable Signage an Oxymoron?

June 12, 2017

Whether directional, advertising or general information, signage is a vital component of tradeshows providing necessary information to participants. Often, it is also one of the least environmentally friendly aspects of events and tradeshows. While it may not possible to do away with this form of communication, it’s environmental impact can be minimized by reducing, rethinking, recycling and reuse.

As large tradeshows and events become more sustainable, we are learning valuable lessons from their challenges and solutions. These three examples show how creative thinking and attention to detail can lead the way.

IMEX America: Each year after the show, large graphics created for exhibitor booths are left on the show floor to be discarded. The abandoned booth graphics are wall-size photos of beautiful destinations and, in 2016, were re-purposed to grace the walls of Veterans Village. The team collected and donated 1,250 lbs. of furniture and signage to Veterans Village, a local crisis intervention center that offers intensive support services for veterans.

Oracle OpenWorld: The numbers speak for themselves in this excerpt from their Sustainability Report: “Signage totaled 130,915 square feet in 2016, a 21% decrease from 2015. Of the total amount, 55% was recycled, 14% is available for reuse, 1% will be repurposed, and 29% was sent to landfill.” One creative solution was repurposing the 1,200 square feet of Oracle OpenWorld fabric banners into draw-string backpacks for future event giveaways.

EclipseCon: As early adopters of sustainable events, show organizers started by not putting dates on general directional signage and reusing them for five years. This saved the Eclipse Foundation over $15,000.

While these three organizations are well along their journey to more sustainable events, you might be just getting started.

Consider implementing the following basic practices for your events:

·      Limit the number of signs necessary.

·      Reduce the use of disposable signage by designing signs for re-use. By not including the date or location, signage can be available for use in subsequent years or by other events, which can have a very favorable impact on your budget.

·      If signage is necessary, use recycled and recyclable or bio-degradable materials, especially if it’s only for one-time use.

·      Electronic signage provides the benefit of being easily updated without wasting materials and should be used wherever possible.

·      Avoid using foam core and vinyl to the greatest extent possible. These substrates use polluting chemicals and are not easily recycled.

Events are dependent upon many vendors and it is no different with green initiatives. The earlier you can enroll them in the process, the easier your job will be. The graphics and signage vendor plays an important role in your event, so great care should be taken when choosing this partner.

Consider including this checklist early in the RFP process:

·      Company has a written sustainability policy. (If yes, please provide)

·      Company is able to offer chlorine-free or chlorine compound-free paper options (i.e. Process Chlorine Free).

·      Company offers digital proofs.

·      Company offers paper made from recycled content.

·      Company offers papers certified for conformity with sustainability criteria (i.e. Forest Stewardship Council, Rainforest Alliance).

·      Company is able to offer more sustainable alternatives to foam core signs (i.e. cardboard substrates).

·      Company is able to offer PVC-free banner and sign options.

·      Company uses Energy Star® copiers, fax machines and computers with these features enabled.

·      Company purchases packaging material that is made from recycled content material or is recyclable.

·      Company has a written policy to purchase sustainable options for all items procured within their operations, including consumables (paper, cleaning supplies, etc.) as well as hard goods (furniture, equipment, etc.).

·      Company offers more sustainable ink options (i.e. UV, vegetable based).

·      When shipping, company is able to provide SmartWay or similar certified options.

·      Company participates in a recycling program for materials produced during typical operations, including paper, plastics, electronics and ink cartridges.

·      Company participates in the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership.

·      Company has policies and practices in place that provide a healthy, safe, inclusive and equitable work environment.

Start early in the process, rethink all signage and visual communications, and make a plan for the materials after the show ends. Remember, your event doesn’t have to be 100 percent sustainable the first year, or even the second, but every step will make a difference. Share your accomplishments with your key stakeholders. Today’s attendees will be pleased to hear you are considering the environment when planning and it will reflect positively on your organization’s brand.

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