William Thomson, MD Gallus Events, reports from The Green Zone exhibition area at the recent world Climate Change Conference COP25 in Madrid.
Green in colour and in mindset, the UN attempted to run a sustainable tradeshow at the hastily re-arranged Madrid COP25 UN Climate Change Conference last December.
Attending the exhibition area at one of the most important global conferences this year should fill you with excitement. However, it is in fact a bit underwhelming.
Strip away the beautiful stands you normally see at important events – those ones built to impress and attract visitors – and any exhibition would look a little bare. However, this is the future.
Stripped back exhibitions will have to be part of the events industry’s plan to become more sustainable.
This is why the COP conference’s exhibition, at the most important climate event in the world this year, was important for the industry.
The climate crisis and the increasing pressure to become more sustainable, has forced the industry to ask if we can have meaningful exhibitions without the bells, whistles, shell scheme and set-piece builds?
In trying to answer that question, this part of COP25 showcases not only the exhibitors, but the very idea of a sustainable exhibition.
Taking on that challenge with only five weeks’ notice (this event was originally scheduled to take place in Santiago, but moved because of disorder in the Chilean capital) was bound to pose increased complexities for the organisers at IFEMA Madrid.
For those understandable reasons the show floor was pretty empty. A 15-minute walk covered the whole site.
Spanish power giants Iberdrola and Endesa slipped in to fill the space vacated by the original exhibitors from Chile and, although many other exhibitors evaporated, the sustainable ethos has remained.
On entering the exhibition in Madrid delegates were immediately struck by the openness of the hall: great for the casual visitor, but it felt like emptiness to the experienced exhibition-goer.
Instead of that slightly claustrophobic but comforting feeling you get when you enter a tradeshow, this one encouraged you to breathe in and experience the feeling of a pared back show floor.
At the centre of the hall was a round theatre, built for an audience of around 300. It made a great central point for the show floor. Speakers bounded on and off throughout the day.
The shell scheme stands were wooden and come with large plasma screens for branding and display. Paper and plastics were out and there were no visitor badges.
Look across the space and you struggled to find anything that wasn’t either totally reusable or recycled.
Furniture, signage and stage sets all made of reinforced cardboard, grabbed the attention as delegates moved throughout the hall.
There were interactive and educational areas spaced among the dozen or so stands, and it is clear that this Green Zone had more of an educational focus than a traditional exhibition.
However, it was a tradeshow in all of its central aspects and it might just be the template for all our exhibitions in the years to come.
Adopting this innovative, stripped back approach to a tradeshow would see organisers and exhibitors spending considerably less on materials.
It would see shorter venue hires: this whole site will be cleared in a couple of hours, and in smaller halls.
Crucially, and perhaps most importantly, it would see the exhibition industry take huge steps towards removing the pile of waste that accompanies many of our shows.
Sustainability is perhaps the greatest drive for innovation in the exhibition industry, and we have a lot of innovation ahead of us.
William Thomson is MD of Gallus Events and on social media @williamevents