Sustainable exhibit design: How one Canadian company is changing exhibits for good

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In a big design and production facility in Brampton Ontario, one exhibit company is revolutionizing how their corporate event clients save money, reduce waste and fight climate change.

Meet The Taylor Group. You may not know them, but odds are you know their work, having designed experiences for 30 of the top 50 brands in the world. In fact, Time Magazine recently identified their work for Intel as the Number One most eye-catching booth at CES 2015 (photo below).
Sustainable exhibit designNow you might assume that this kind of experience must come at a big cost to the planet. And indeed, there are unavoidable impacts involved in moving and manufacturing show assets. However, Taylor is also piloting an innovative approach to sustainable exhibit design that helps them weigh and measure the environmental costs and benefits of mindful sourcing, shipping, storage and reuse of materials for clients.

Originally developed for Intel, this program was designed to address the challenge of creating fresh and creative brand experiences while avoiding the need to build new assets for each event.

So what has Taylor done?

The first step has been to develop their own material take-back and recycling program for all building materials. This means that when a Taylor asset reaches the end of its useful life it is kept from landfill, with materials recycled or donated for alternative uses. In fact, in 2014 Taylor enabled donation of an LG exhibit to Habitat for Humanity (photo below).
donation of an LG exhibit to Habitat for HumanityThey have also conducted a complete inventory of where fabrication materials are harvested and manufactured and how they are distributed, in order to estimate the environmental impacts involved in sourcing. Yes, all the way down to where timber, plastic, and paint comes from, and how these materials are shipped to Brampton, and then onward as assets to client event sites.

Taylor has integrated this information into a unique tool that can show clients the environmental impact of multiple event designs before, during and after the design process. So if a client wants to use wood over plastic, or fir instead of birch wood, Taylor can show the environmental costs and savings inherent in one over the other, even down to comparing the different impacts of thinner versions of the same material. Most importantly: they can estimate impacts before assets are constructed, so clients can opt for reduced footprint materials.

For example, let’s say an asset calls for:

  • Fabric banner material to cover a 1000-square-foot installation. Taylor can calculate the anticipated carbon and waste footprint of a variety of textiles, which may range from four to 240 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent for the amount needed, and cause between 10 to 270 kilograms of solid waste.
  • Wood for a 100-square-foot counter unit. In addition to cost differences, Taylor can advise clients that different wood choices can range from 10 to 127 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent, causing 20 to 140 kilograms of solid waste.

When added together, this can inform clients of the impact of design choices, and ultimately the total carbon and waste impact of their asset, before final specifications are approved and construction begins (photo below).
This can inform clients of the impact of design choices, and ultimately the total carbon and waste impact of their asset, before final specifications are approved and construction begins.To acknowledge the significant impact that shipping and storage can have on exhibit footprints, Taylor has factored in the long-term impact of both in situations where assets are intended to be reused on an ongoing basis. Application of this tool to actual asset use patterns is proving through experience something that was only previously assumed: that environmental benefit doesn’t necessarily always increase by merely using and reusing good green materials. You have to pay attention to mindfully shipping and storing the asset, too.

For example, in 2014, Taylor created a group of new demo kiosks. The impact of sourcing materials, manufacturing the kiosks and sending them to their first show was initially estimated at 33 metric tons of carbon – roughly equal to the annual emissions of seven cars. Since then the kiosks have been stored in proximity to a series of three events where they have been reused one or two times (depending on the size). This reuse and mindful storage has enabled 16.5 metric tons of waste and 17 metric tons of carbon to be avoided, compared to creating, shipping and disposing of new assets for each event.

In effect, mindful management for reuse has cut the potential environmental footprint by half compared with new assets, within only the first six months of use. How much environmental “good” is that? The landfill equivalent of 1.3 million plastic bottles and carbon equivalent of 40 barrels of oil. At this rate the initial impact of the assets will be recovered within three uses, suggesting significant lifecycle benefits over the many years they anticipate to be used.

Not to mention reduced the cost for shipping and manufacturing.

Taylor’s program is innovative because it does not rely solely on traditional “green” exhibit practices, like using only natural or recycled content materials and ensuring they are recycled. The program also considers where materials are coming from, their embodied carbon footprint and anticipated lifecycle to make better, more sustainable choices that can specifically be measured.

For more information on the Taylor Green Asset Solution program please contact Kailin MacKenzie or Paige Freeborn. This program was developed in partnership with Intel, MeetGreen and the Carbon Accounting Company.

-Photos courtesy of The Taylor Group.

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