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Practical Tips to Creating Sustainable Exhibits


Despite all the wonderful elements of our profession, there is one unfortunate aspect to exhibiting that can be hard to ignore: it can often be extremely wasteful. From shrink wrap to marketing collateral to packing material to obsolete booth components, we exhibitors are constantly discarding our excess. Add to that the fossil fuels burned when traveling to conventions or shipping our materials, and exhibition suddenly starts to look like one of the least “green” sectors of the business world.

When you’re looking to eliminate waste or reduce the carbon footprint of your exhibit, consider these practical tips.


Because exhibitors often increase or reduce their floor space every few years, it can be tempting to do a complete booth redesign to accommodate the changes in your square footage. But scrapping your old booth every few years is expensive and often results in more material in the local landfill. Utilizing modular booth design can help you easily add or remove components from show to show, or from year to year.

When you are building a new booth, ask your provider what recycled or recyclable construction materials are available, and which materials can be used to reduce shipping weight or changing signage. Be sure to build to standard trim sizes, to reduce the waste that comes from custom cutting (this is especially true with carpet). Nature’s Path Organic Foods saved more than one-third on shipping costs and two-thirds on installation costs with their booth design, which was made from lightweight materials and which requires no power tools for setup.

Other green booth building materials include FSC certified wood, biodegradable polystyrene, and LED lighting.

Try to utilize as much evergreen signage as possible, rather than signs intended for one-time use. When you do need to frequently change your messaging, digital signage can often provide you the flexibility you need. Look for the Energy Star logo whenever buying this or any type of electronic equipment.

Finally, if you’re not sure what your long-term exhibit needs may be, booth rental is a much greener alternative than buying something only for the short-term.


Make an effort to reduce marketing collateral, which one of the most common things attendees leave behind in their hotel room wastepaper baskets. Instead of handing out flyers and brochures, encourage booth visitors to scan a QR code with their smartphones, to access to digital documentation.

Similarly, give some thought to your booth swag choices. Cheap plastic premiums are another item that often has a very short lifespan. Instead, consider ordering locally-sourced items, reusable items, or items that promote sustainability behaviors with the end user—such as reusable tote bags, water bottles or metal straws.

Food is one of the biggest sources of waste at conferences; it’s been estimated that 50% of all conference and expo food ultimately ends up in a landfill. Much of this responsibility comes down to the caterer, but exhibitors can factor this by not over-ordering food for VIP events, or even when by selecting venues with food recovery systems in place. Savor, a caterer at McCormick Place in Chicago, won last year’s Regional Food Recovery Challenge from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


If you’ve outgrown your exhibit materials, some manufacturers may offer you a trade-in credit on your old booth. If that’s not an option, try to find an interested buyer. Many used booths will fetch a resale price of 10-40% of their original purchase, depending on age and condition. Ask your colleagues or take out some ads on exhibit industry and association publications. Craigslist and eBay are also great alternatives for finding local buyers outside of your industry.

If you can’t find a buyer, you may be able to donate your used booth to an area school or nonprofit. A growing number of trade associations have organized ways for their members to donate their obsolete booth materials to a worthy cause. To show their commitment to the future of material handling, MHI has developed a program that allows exhibitors from their ProMat and MODEX shows to donate booth materials to high schools, technical schools, community colleges, universities and similar training organizations. Talk to the meeting planners of your own professional trade association to see what options exist for donation within your profession.

“Going green” with your trade show activities requires a long-term vision and commitment. Whether you’re buying high-tech or analog materials, always consider obsolescence in your decision-making process. The more you can reduce, reuse or recycle your exhibit materials, the further you’ll go in reshaping the sustainability of our entire industry.

Skyline’s commitment to the environment includes the following:


Skyline modular systems are designed to be lighter weight and pack smaller than traditional custom exhibits, which significantly reduces shipping emissions.


Skyline offers almost all its systems as rentable options. This means that exhibit hardware can be rented/reused by clients and customized with only purchased graphics.


Many of Skyline’s modular systems are made of recyclable metals. And Skyline’s main production facility in Eagan, Minnesota recycles metal, cardboard, wood, paper, plastics, electronics and more, averaging 138 tons per year over the past three years.