Green Ideas for Tradeshow Booth Design July 13 2017

by John-Paull Davidson, Boothologist, Boothster Founder

For the first 12 years of my career in design I dreamed of a day when clients would not dismiss using green display materials as being costly, unattractive, or “not right for our brand”. That day has triumphantly arrived. Today, clients are realizing that green booths and retail displays are not only affordable, but add aesthetic and brand value.


Green Practices in Tradeshow Booth Design


In 2006, I sensed this sea change in consumer demand and began integrating my stash of cool green materials into designs and articulated visually how the aesthetic of “sustainable modernism” could help propel brands ahead of the curve.  Boothster was founded and the clients started to find us through the magic of Google.

Back in 2006 the buzz words on Google were “eco friendly booths”. Today it has shifted to “green booth design ideas”. Additionally, people are using the word “sustainable” with more credibility, because over the past few years as the trend has grown, a lot of green-washing has occurred. Green washing, put simply, is providing misleading information about how “green” your product really is.

For example, a lot of companies that compete directly with us say that their booth or retail display is green because it utilizes aluminum. They literally have their booths made from a typical company and slap a eco friendly plastic piece on it and call it the most sustainable booth on the planet. What a joke. At Boothster we call ourselves Boothologists and this is one reason. We could and should take these companies to school about what it is to be green.


Sustainable Tradeshow Booth Building Materials


But all joking aside, you don’t need to go to school to learn how to be green in your life, and not with the booth/display you purchase. All it takes is some research, and some good common sense, and it goes a long way.

To start, here are some definitions:

  • Green: In this context, the term “green” is anything that does not hurt the planet or living things in this planet. Green, and “eco friendly” are often used interchangeably.
  • Sustainable: In this context the term “sustainable” refers to processes which serve to replenish natural supplies, rather than deplete them.
  • Green Washing: This refers to describing a product, service or action green when there is no evidence to support the claim. Green washing most often occurs when companies are trying to ride the wave of all things green by making false claims about their product or service.
  • Green Booth or Trade Show Display: A green trade show display is a trade show booth (signage, promotional graphics, display counters, wall displays) which minimizes the long term harm on the planet. Long term harm is caused by the use of materials that cause pollution such as plastic, aluminum and toxic dyes.
  • Effectively recyclable: If your product can be curbside recycled in any city in the USA it is effectively recyclable. If it’s recyclable in Portland but not in Texas, then it’s not effectively recyclable.
  • Cradle to Cradle: This is a design philosophy which means that any product you design must be designed with materials that biodegrade back into the environment with no toxic residue. Examples include wood, potato starch paper tubes and recycled paper panels (cardboard).
  • Biodegradable: This refers to if a product or material can biodegrade non toxically.
  • Post life booth plan: After your booth “dies” where is it going? Do you know for sure someone will recycle it? Hint: if your booth is biodegradable and non toxic, you don’t have to worry about it!

Secondly, I’d like to offer some tangible ways you can make your trade show display program green, eco friendly, sustainable (or whatever term you choose to use).


1. Integrate Sustainable Business Practices into your Trade Show Program

It really starts with talking about it. Make it a bullet point in your meeting agendas. Ask questions like:

“How can we make our trade show program more green?”

“Are the materials in our trade show displays/exhibits eco friendly?”

“Are we wasting a lot of brochures that never get read anyway?”

“Are our trade show vendors engaged in sustainable or green business practices?”


Are we using sustainable practices for our tradeshow booth design?

2. Use Common Sense

Its obvious that it is not very “green” to print thousands of brochures that get outdated and thrown away. Its also obvious that using something once and throwing it away in the garbage is not very eco friendly. But sometimes common sense is not enough.

3. Ask Experts, But Also Do Your Own Research

Many experts will tell you that aluminum is a green material. Billions of tons of trade show displays have been made from it and many companies tout that it is a green material. Yes, it is recyclable but when compared to durable recycled fiber tubes, or wood even, it is not green at all. In fact, aluminum mining causes horrible environmental and social degradation. Our philosophy at Boothster is to use recycled fiber tubes instead of aluminum for our trade show displays. The tubes are far more biodegradable and sustainable.

The more you learn about the materials, the more you can make informed decisions about what you are buying.

4. Interesting Facts About Cardboard:

- Cardboard glue is made from water and starch so that it does not make people sick when it comes in contact with food.

- Recycled cardboard is more malleable than virgin paper which makes it easier to create the ridges in corrugated cardboard.

This is one of many reasons we have replaced aluminum with cardboard for structural and signage applications for our trade show displays.

Sustainable properties of cardboard for tradeshow booth structures

TIP: Avoid using aluminum for display structures


Experts might also have you believe that plastic is an eco friendly material. Only kind of, because it’s recyclable. Its much better to use post consumer recycled plastic such as our 40% recycled PET bottle plastic. It’s also key to close the loop by making sure when you do use plastic, you make sure it gets recycled.

Honeycomb cardboard is even greener than plastic. When we have panel graphics made, we use cardboard or honeycomb cardboard.


TIP: Avoid using plastic for sign displays. Use cardboard!


There is a lot of misinformation about banners online. Soy or water based inks are touted as being “green”. Vinyl is claimed to be recyclable or biodegradable. Yes, some claims are partially true, but I go back to common sense. Natural materials like bamboo or cotton are obviously doing to break down in the environment naturally because they are natural. That makes them inherently more green than vinyl.

When it comes to inks, soy and water based have been around for a long time, but they don’t hold color without being laminated- with plastic. So you think you are making a “green display” choice when in fact 95% of the banner is not eco friendly. Its better to go with a direct print ink which adheres to a supremely green banner material like bamboo fiber. We are really excited about our new bamboo banner fiber banner material which is grown in pesticide free bamboo plantations, is 99.6% biodegradable and REACH certified. When you are looking for a graphic trade show display which prints millions of vibrant colors, its the most “green” or “eco friendly” choice for exhibiting at trade shows.


TIP: Use cotton banner material instead of vinyl for banners.

5. Get Creative to Stand Out

Trade shows, events and conferences are literally a sea of plastic, aluminum and rickety parts and pieces. Conventional wisdom these days says do a full color, vibrant printed banner display. By all means do so, and make sure it’s eco-friendly - but what if there is a better way to stand out? If you just need to communicate a simple slogan, why not go “old school” and do a screen print on the back of an old banner? That would certainly stand out on the trade show floor!

Conventional wisdom at exhibits, events and tradeshows also says build a lightweight structure out of aluminum. Instead, why not build it out of kraft paper tubes that are every bit as structural, more aesthetically pleasing and, yes, green. The reality is that ROI is the first priority for booth strategy. What I suggest is that going green will increase your ROI. Green conscious consumers will notice your trade show display because of its creative use of aesthetically pleasing materials.


Creative use of cardboard building materials for custom tradeshow booth design


To learn more about how Boothster can help your company or organization with green tradeshow booth design using recyclable materials and sustainable building practices, give us a call or fill out our contact form today!