displays, exhibits

Value-Adding 'Green' to Your Trade Show Business

Janine Trutna is marketing director at BIG INK Display Graphics, a print provider in Eagan, Minn. She has more than 20 years of experience working in marketing, communications and product development in consumer goods, non-profit and business to business enterprises.

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As more sustainable practices become the protocol for exhibit buyers, print shops need to create some extra "value-add" to stand out with their customers and prospects. The examples explored below can mean the difference between landing the job or not.


It's always good practice to provide and help customers run through a list of ideas that can help them make their trade show exhibit more eco-friendly. Be sure your sales team has a list to use during sales presentations to show potential customers you have ideas on how to help them and that you can give guidance if they need it. It frames you as the expert in their minds. Your list should include two types of information: the products you provide and the products you don't.

Obviously you want to include all the substrates, stands, etc., that you carry and are eco-friendly. But more importantly--because this goes above and beyond what is expected and sets you apart from your competition with a value-add--you should include other suppliers or ideas that will also help make their trade show booth more sustainable. As more and more printers start providing and using the green angle in their branding--meaning everyone is essentially providing the same products and message--it is this second set of information that will set you apart from your competition. Here are some ideas about what to include on your How to Create a Greener Exhibit list:

  • Can the booth be designed with reuse in mind? Could part or most of the exhibit be used for more than one show, or more than one year? We recently produced life size "standees" of people, who were holding a blank white sign made of magnetic receptive material. The standee itself was going to be used multiple times, however the information on the white sign part would change as needed, simply by printing and applying different magnetic signs with a specific message. This greatly cut down on waste.
  • Is renting any part of the booth an option? Renting means the materials get more than one use and if a customer plans to change layouts frequently, renting means less in the trash. If you rent stands or booths, list what is available. If you don't rent, supply some contacts of businesses in your area who do.
  • Can you use substrates with recycled content or that can be recycled? Be sure to list all the different options your shop provides and their best uses.
  • Can you find hardware that is greener? LED lights, bamboo banner stands, aluminum frames, recycled rubber or jute rugs can have less environmental impact, and are often lighter to ship. List what you have available, or give a list of suppliers.
  • Can you use low or non-VOC products for finishes like paint, varnish and adhesives?
  • Can we print on fabric? We have seen a very large increase in the use of fabric in trade show booths. Fabric is much lighter than other substrate options, which reduces the energy needed to ship the exhibit. This has a positive impact on the "carbon footprint" of a booth, since shipping is often one of the largest carbon outputs when exhibiting. You can also encourage customers to search "carbon neutral shipping" or list options of companies offering carbon off-sets for the shipping of packages.
  • When you're ready to get rid of the booth, can all or part of it be resold or donated to a local charity? If you stock used displays you could buy back the booth and sell it to someone else, giving it another use and keeping it out of the waste stream. Or, you can suggest your client donates any items it no longer wants to its favorite local charity. If you want to give a top customer a stand out value-add, agree to donate the print for the donated banner stand or booth.


Once the trade show is over, the only options left of: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, are Reuse and Recycle. If you really want to set the bar high for your competition, offer your customers some creative options with reuse and recycle. Aside from asking about reselling or donating exhibit items, you can create another list (put it on the back of your How To Create A Greener Exhibit list, it reduces paper use) that highlights some ways you can help your customer be green even after it's all over. Here are some ideas about what to include on your Keep The Green Going list:

  • Would you like us to recycle your graphics when you're done with them? We offer a Zero Waste Recycling Program for all our customers, for any graphics we produce. This gives customers the option to send back graphics, which we then include in our internal recycling stream. If the customer has an event in town, we offer the free service of picking up the graphics when the event is done.
  • Would you consider repurposing your graphics into something else? We have been amazed by the number of companies that have contacted us with interest in using our scrap vinyl and other substrates for repurposing, usually to make some sort of bag. It happened so much, we finally approached one of the companies we work with, ZerOwbags.com, and asked if we could promote the idea of repurposing to our customers. They liked the idea, so we let all our customers know if they wanted to turn their graphics into bags or card holders or whatever else, we had the resource for them. Reused graphics is a great green trade show hand out or corporate gift, which really allows your customer to show their clients they are serious and creative about being greener.

As more buyers expect green as a service you provide, you need to find ways to set your shop apart from others. Sharing eco-friendly ideas, instead of just products, is a simple way to accomplish a green value-add. These suggestions are a starting point only; there's really no end to creative ideas that work. As a final suggestion, try sending customers your own green and above-and-beyond message, by simply making (or having made) a bag out of left over material from their job and presenting it to them as a gift. They will easily relate to it, since it's their graphic design and it gives you another chance to thank them for their business, show them you find creative ways to reuse and recycle that sets you apart from someone who is simply providing green graphics and not value-add green graphics.