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Strategies for Sustainability in Dallas

By Stephen P. Ashkin | October 17, 2018 << Back to Articles

According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, an estimated 13,000 trade shows take place in the United States each year, representing 40 percent of all trade shows globally. The same organization estimates that more than US$70 billion is spent annually on trade shows in this country, and around the world, and more than 60 million people attend industry business-to-business trade shows.

While it certainly can help the economy, as you can imagine, holding, exhibiting, and attending all of these thousands of trade shows generates vast amounts of waste—an estimated 600,000 tons of trash to be more precise.* Plus, transporting and housing all of these attendees and exhibitors requires the use of tremendous amounts of fuel, electricity, and water.  

Additionally, there typically is a lot of eating and drinking at trade shows. In the U.S. today, as much as 40 percent of the food we produce is ultimately thrown away, and a comparable proportion of food served at trade shows likely goes to waste as well.

This tells us we have a lot of work to do to help make trade shows greener and more sustainable. The good news is that it can be done. It will take a conscious effort on everyone's part, but it is possible.

Among the ways exhibitors at the 2018 ISSA Show North America can help improve sustainability are the following:

  • Rent locally. Instead of delivering all exhibit items, see if some can be rented locally. This is often a cost savings and it can also help minimize transport needs, fuel consumption, and harmful emissions.
  • Select lighter materials. For exhibit items that must be transported, select lighter but durable materials. Lighter materials such as fabrics or aluminum require less fuel to transport, helping to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Spend more to save more. View your booth as an investment to be used more than once. Choosing quality materials that are more durable, longer-lasting, and sturdier may mean spending more to create your booth, but could save money in the long run. It can also help reduce the amount of resources needed to produce a new booth every year on an ongoing basis.
  • Reuse as much of your exhibit as possible each year. Booths and trade show exhibits tend to be costly. Reusing them or reusing the materials they are made of is a cost savings that also promotes sustainability and protects the environment.
  • If reusing the booth is not a viable option, recycle as many of the materials as possible. Many event venues now have programs to help separate landfill trash from items that can be reused or repurposed. It’s a good idea to check with the trade show venue, such as Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, where this year's ISSA trade show will be held, to see if they offer such a service.
  • Use bar codes or other technologies. As discussed earlier, vast amounts of waste and generated at trade shows, and much of this waste is marketing materials. Instead of physical handouts, use monitors and videos to display marketing materials. Bar code and other technologies can allow this information to be transferred to attendees’ smartphones. It's high-tech with no waste.
  • Print green. While going digital does have its sustainability benefits, many exhibitors still want something they can hand out to those who visit their booths. These materials can be printed using recycled paper and environmentally responsible inks. And if they are made of recycled paper and "green" ink, make sure that this is noted on the marketing item. Attendees like to see this.

Here's what attendees can do to promote sustainability in Dallas, TX, and at future ISSA trade shows:

  • Heat and A/C. The temperature in Dallas can vary considerably in late October, ranging from 56 degrees (F) to more than 80 degrees (F). When the room is not being used, adjust the thermostat to a temperature that requires less energy to maintain—one several degrees warmer or cooler than if the room were occupied.
  • Room electronics. Hotel guest rooms in the U.S. have been keyless for a long time, but most hotels never took the next step in this technology. That is, placing those keycards in special slots to turn on and off all the electronics in the room. These systems are very common in Europe and other parts of the world. But since they are not common here, we must take a few seconds upon leaving the room to make sure everything has been turned off. This will help save energy tremendously.
  • Refillable water bottles. Refillable water bottles are a must at trade shows. Not only is bottle waste reduced by refilling them, but because they are more insulated, they also help to keep water cooler throughout the day. In the United States, every second more than 1,500 plastic bottles are discarded, most of which end up in landfills. It is estimated that manufacturing all of these plastic bottles requires more than 900 million gallons of oil annually.
  • Make wise meat choices. Yes, Dallas is undoubtedly steak country, but keep in mind, raising cows requires at least ten times more resources than chicken, poultry, dairy, or pork. Chicken, dairy, and poultry are relatively similar in their "environmental burden," according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.** But "beef requires 28 times more land, six times more fertilizer and 11 times more water compared to those other food sources [and produces] up to about five times more greenhouse gas emissions."

Finally, I want everyone to remember that the professional cleaning industry has been a leader when it comes to green issues and we are beginning to play a leadership role when it comes to sustainability. Let's follow through with this in Dallas and take all the steps possible to make this year's ISSA Show most green and sustainability focused trade show ever.

*"Why Going Green Matters at Your Next Tradeshow," by Shane Shirley, Tradeshow News Network, March 6, 2014

* "Raising Beef Uses Ten Times More Resources Than Poultry, Dairy, Eggs or Pork," by Rachel Nuwer, Smithsonian.com, July 21, 2014.


Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm working to “green” the cleaning industry, executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, a nonprofit organization working to accelerate the adoption of green cleaning by building owners and managers, and cofounder of Green Cleaning University. He can be reached at 812-332-7950.

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