by Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | February 01, 2008

The way you handle signage for an event speaks volumes about your company’s or client’s values. So it is rather troubling that most of us are still ordering truckloads of signage made of traditional materials such as foam core, Sintra, Gatorboard, vinyl, PVC, polystyrene-infused disposables and other materials deemed environmentally hazardous.

Foam core is still the most common material used for portable signage, but there are few ways to repurpose the material after the meeting. Foam core can be reskinned, but it’s a difficult process.

Vinyl banners, if stored correctly, can be reused for many years if the content printed on them is not going to change. But that isn’t the typical scenario: Logos change, meeting themes vary, even company or association names can be modified over the space of a few years.

It might sound daunting, but making signage greener and leaner is relatively simple.

Screen Savers

Projecting images -- on flat screens, pop-up screens, walls, floors -- is an outstanding alternative to printed materials. Assess what resources and technology you already have invested in or can invest in for long-term return. Flat panels, for example, are low-cost or, if you don’t want to buy them, easy to rent -- and they look cool, too. Panels can be reused again and again. Perhaps their greatest value is that the content broadcast on them can be modified instantaneously, meaning errors can be fixed or changes made in seconds. And the bright clarity of the images makes a strong impact.

PDA Power

PDAs are another great replacement for much of your signage: You can beam all the key event information, including agendas, general session details, maps and room numbers/names directly onto individuals’ own PDAs or even rent them for attendees and preload them with data. Strangely, the technology to easily and quickly zap information onto PDAs has been around for years, yet it is far from ubiquitous at myriad renowned high-tech events. Why? In part because signs are just so easy and cheap to order and produce.

Lighten up

Banish any sign that does not serve a distinct purpose. Your sign must provide a critical function that will either identify, direct or give essential information that cannot be reasonably replaced by another method.

Many signs become obsolete the moment they are printed -- for example, the gigantic at-a-glance agendas that can change radically by the time a meeting takes place or even during the event.

Some signage is wasteful and redundant. While creating a branded and distinct footprint in a venue is vital, you don’t need to put your own signs on the rest rooms or over the exit signs to complete the group’s “owner-ship” of the venue.

Get Creative

Create your own alternatives. Organizers of a recent confection convention leveraged their candy-making skills to spell out their messaging and “baked” their signage out of pastry ingredients. Other groups have used signs made of natural materials such as bamboo, wood, leaves, etc.

Push the Vendors

Put the onus on your vendors to come up with better signage solutions -- and offer to partner with them on creating better alternatives. General contractors and printers are pursuing more environmentally friendly and innovative signage options for their clients, but the industry has a long way to go. Until more completely recyclable and environmentally viable options exist, keep challenging your partners and vendors to think green.

Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM,is senior event operations manager with George P. Johnson Experience Marketing in San Carlos, Calif.