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by Tim Jennings | November 29, 2016

Tim JenningsMy company has been making custom shipping and transport cases in the trade-show industry for a long time. Over the years, we've benefitted from a unique perspective that comes from being involved in a market at the periphery. That is, around here we get a sort of "big picture" view of industry movements, like trends and disruptions, much earlier than those more deeply entrenched in the market.

Over time, I've watched the number of cases needed per show — and the sizes of those cases — continue to grow as booth designs have become more and more elaborate. I've also seen the level of technology in case customizations increase right alongside the level of technology in the booth designs. And all this is great!

There's not much I appreciate more than a trade show or convention so full of technological wonders that I'm actually enjoying myself there. The problem is that the increase in technology and design complexity in trade shows has increased the toll the industry is taking on the environment. More tech, more giveaways, more collateral…all of this requires a lot of resources and generates a significant amount of environmental waste.

Fortunately, it just takes a few simple steps to get greener. And what's great is that taking these steps will not only help reduce your company's carbon footprint, it's awesome for your bottom line. Here are five tips we use and we've observed our customers in the trade-show industry using to increase sustainability.

Start thinking lean
Implementing a bit of lean thinking in your day-to-day practices is, by far, the best way to increase your company's sustainability. There are many ways to implement lean in the trade-show industry, but the quickest and simplest is to understand the gist of lean practices: Do more with less. If you can wrap your mind around that simple idea, you'll be well on your way to increasing sustainability.

With everything you do — from manufacturing to design and shipping — keep in mind that you want to minimize waste. If you're interested in becoming a lean company, start by learning more about lean from one of the pioneers, the Toyota Motor Co., on their official production-system page (bit.ly/1L3UxzA).

Reuse and repurpose
Granted, I'm in the reusable shipping-case business, but that doesn't change the fact that, in the trade-show industry, reusable cases are a no-brainer when it comes to green practices. Because the industry requires constant transport, shipping is one of the greatest areas of concern when it comes to sustainability. Reusable shipping cases reduce shipping-related environmental wastes like nothing else can. Not only this, but investing in them reduces packaging costs and the costs associated with damage—meaning long-term ROI.

And, of course, old booth elements absolutely beg to be reused and repurposed. Make sure your team knows that repurposing old materials is an essential element in the booth design process from the start. You might be amazed how such a framework can help with creativity. Also, remember to "think outside the booth." Old trade-show booth elements are an awesome resource for all kinds of design. Imagine ways you might use stands, lighting, signage or pop-outs for sales presentations and special employee events, or in your company's lobby. The list is virtually endless.

Use local resources, and don't be cheap
Analyze your exhibit to determine if there are any components that might make sense to rent rather than ship — things like lighting and simple display tables and islands you can easily incorporate with your custom elements. Not only does this save money on shipping and reduce the massive carbon footprint of long-distance shipping, it also helps boost local economies.

And don't be cheap! Investing in high-quality exhibit materials might cost a bit more in the beginning, but high-quality components could last for years, saving money over time and reducing waste.

Give back
When your exhibit components have run their course, don't send them off to a landfill. There are tons of organizations out there who could put your old exhibit to great use. Children's programs, schools, churches — the list could go on and on.

Nonprofit exhibitors are also always looking for booth donations. Finding groups in need is as easy as making a few phone calls to local organizations. In most cases, they will be more than happy to pick up the donated materials, making disposal a cinch for you.

Alternatively, you can always recycle your old exhibit materials. To get started, just contact your local recycling facility or do a quick Google search for trade-show recycling options. You'll find plenty to choose from.

Grow a green company culture
Change always begins in our heads. And when the individuals in an organization begin to think green, a green culture begins to develop in that organization. The small choices people in your company make each day will have the greatest effect on change. As a company leader, the best thing you can do to promote this culture is to begin thinking green yourself. Implement systems in your organization wherein avoiding waste is valued and rewarded — and everyone knows it. When you make sure your people understand that their everyday choices can make a real impact on the company's bottom line and on our world's future, you'll be surprised how motivated they'll be to make wise choices with long-term benefits for your company and our planet.

The above steps are just a few among the many we can all take to help ensure a clean, safe future for generations to come. And starting today just to take one step is one step in the right direction! If there are any green tips you know of or have taken in your organization that I didn't talk about above, please share in the comments. I'd love to hear about them!

Tim Jennings is president of Custom Case Group, a collaborative enterprise between Engineered Packaging Solutions of San Dimas, Calif., and SCS Cases of Crystal Lake, Ill. The company has been customizing protective storage and transport cases for several industries, including trade-show, medical, military and aerospace, for over 45 years.