The Secret to Sustainable Marketing at Trade Shows is a Plan

By David Betke


Many have debated ways to make events more sustainable, including event organizers and convention centers, and how to create eco-friendly trade show booths. However, it's crucial to also prioritize the marketing aspect of exhibiting at events. Therefore, we will discuss effective methods for reducing waste in your marketing budget and minimizing physical waste generated during events. This isn't just about using eco-friendly promotional items or printing catalogues on FSC-certified paper, but strategic planning.

Have you ever thought about the potential savings of reducing the number of catalogues and promotional items that are given to attendees who may never engage with your business? A 20% reduction at your next trade show could add up to significant cost savings. Additionally, this reduction could contribute to less waste in landfills, fewer trees being cut down for catalogue production, and less fuel being used for transportation.

 Better marketing can help reduce your impact on the environment.

Diminishing Returns with Trade Show Exhibiting

Exhibiting at a Trade Show is Expensive & Many Exhibitors are Experiencing Diminishing Returns; Continuing to Exhibit for Some is No Longer Sustainable.

Participating in a single event can easily incur a five-figure cost when you factor in expenses like renting space, displays, printed materials, giveaways, lodging, and travel. Moreover, there's usually a missed opportunity cost of being away from the office during the event. You're risking a significant investment if you multiply this by several events yearly.

Business owners and managers closely monitor expenses and demand accountability from their teams.

While a great show can generate substantial traffic and exposure, people tend to forget your key messages as they wander down the aisle. By the time they leave the show floor, they might not even recall your brand.

Expensive badge scanning systems merely collect attendees' badge information and produce a list at the end of the show. Unfortunately, these systems only work if someone agrees to let you scan their badge. Many attendees find this practice intrusive, and fewer allow themselves to be scanned. Ultimately, only a fraction of these leads is qualified, segmented, or sales-ready, resulting in even more expenses for post-show follow-up.

After attending an exhibition, exhibitors often return to their office and become so preoccupied with catching up on work that they fail to follow up with leads properly. As a result, potential business opportunities may be missed, and leads may become uninterested.

Don't get me started on paper waste. Some exhibitors opt to dispose of unused print materials rather than shipping them back to their offices due to cost-saving measures. This is an enormous waste of money and trees, even if you are using recycled materials.

Shockingly, an average of 1115 Metric tonnes of waste is generated per venue, as reported in 2017's Green Venue Report. Printed materials contribute significantly to this waste, and the carbon footprint of discarded catalogues and plastic swag is significant.

Organizations must focus on recyclables, disposables, food waste, public transportation, on-site waste bins, cardboard boxes, carpets, single-use materials, and sustainability guidelines to ensure an environmentally conscious event. Event organizers often prioritize environmentally friendly practices but may overlook the impact of individual exhibitors' marketing tactics.

Sustainable Event Exhibiting Booth

A Trade Show Marketing Plan Can Make Your Next Event The Most Sustainable Yet

Exhibitors must also take responsibility for their marketing practices. Fortunately, reducing waste can save money, making it a compelling business case. To start, exhibitors should develop a trade show marketing plan.

In the past, trade show marketing relied on the tactic of attracting as many individuals as possible to a booth, often through giveaways and swag, with the hope that some people would engage in meaningful conversations or follow up after the event. This approach has proved to be ineffective and results in a significant waste of resources. 

The better option is to focus on a handful of events that have traditionally delivered your best ROI, then optimize them for cost per lead. 

Having a trade show marketing plan that caters to your audience and drives action is crucial, which you can then measure. This way, you can ensure that your marketing efforts are both sustainable and effective.

GreenTaps™ smart nfc tap sticker

A Sustainable Event Strategy Goes Beyond Choosing Eco-Friendly Materials for Your Trade Show Exhibit, Printing & Promotional Products 

To create a more sustainable event for your budget and our planet, consider focusing on these nine product and service categories: 

1) Your first sustainable practice should be to prioritize reducing waste

Reducing waste is the most effective action. This includes avoiding handing out catalogues or swag to uninterested individuals. How to do this? Create a trade show marketing plan. If you have no one in your organization who can do this, find a supplier or service provider to help you. You can start here: Learn how to develop an effective, sustainable marketing plan for your next trade show

2) Go paperless! Help save forests and print costs

By utilizing technology like our GreenTaps™ app. This app lets your audience download catalogues or brochures on their terms, making it easy to say yes. At the end of the event, you get a list of segmented leads. This reduces paper waste, saves money and trees, and dramatically reduces the time to a sale or desired action. If you choose not to go paperless, choose a paper from sustainable sources like hemp, stone, or 100% post-consumer recycled pulp.

3) Choose eco-conscious materials for uniforms

If possible, have them printed digitally. Digital printing allows you to print only the necessary number of uniforms, reducing waste and money on shipping.

 4) Consider using reusable materials instead of single-use ones

Check with the organizer to see if they have a reusable lanyard library or purchase lanyards made from recycled or biodegradable materials. You can also opt for biodegradable corn cellulose badge holders. 

 5) Choose useful giveaways 

Ensure they align with your values, such as fair trade, organic, or reusable items. Make sure they reinforce your message and include a call to action. Many innovative options are available now, like compostable journals made from apples that have a leather-like cover. We also recommend using a bag manufacturer who repurposes printed vinyl banners into bags. Better yet, plant trees as gifts.

 6) Opt for LED lighting

They use less energy to save costs and reduce environmental impact. 

7) Consider carbon offsetting the transportation of your marketing materials.

To ensure the success of your event, it's essential to measure it against the goals you set before the show. To exhibit sustainably involves thoughtful planning not just on the appearance of your exhibit but also on engaging with your target audience while minimizing waste efficiently. By doing so, you can effectively reach out to those interested and likely to take action while saving resources on those who may not be interested. 

 Let's take a stand for your budget and our planet and begin the journey toward sustainability.

 If you need assistance in convincing your boss about a sustainable trade show plan, we're here to help.


 If you need assistance in convincing your boss about a sustainable trade show plan, we're here to help.

About The Author

David Betke has dedicated his career to helping brands that give back make a bigger difference. His campaigns have helped save a 65 000-acre forest forever, reduced carbon emissions in a city measurably, and helped recruit three senior engineers during the height of a labour crisis. One even generated a 6000% return within six months and attracted a couple of great customers for life. David has been personally recognized with seven national marketing awards.