Wednesday, 8 February 2012

10 Tips for Sustainable Event Signs

Peas and carrots. Milk and cookies. Signs and events. Some things just always go together. On-site graphics are a big sustainable event challenge. Reductions have huge benefits, financially and environmentally. But cut back too much and you better hope you're not the one staffing the information desk to bear the brunt of complaints from attendees having no idea how to navigate your venue. Not to mention listen to a disappointed creative department who complains the event doesn't have a strong brand.

So what to do about making signage more sustainable? A list of ideas to ponder:

1. Choose a venue that is easy to navigate. We've all been to them: event venues that make you wonder what the architect was thinking. Those places where you always seem lost, everything looks the same, and nothing makes it obvious 'you are here'. Then there are other venues that get it just right, designed in a way that makes it intuitive where to go and how to get there. Save yourself money and your attendees a big headache by choosing a venue that by its inherit design and existing signs minimises the need for temporary directional signs from the outset.

2. Take advantage of existing digital signage. More and more venues are installing digital signs for session space and concourse areas. Take advantage of it if you can. Onsite digital signage doesn't need to be shipped and can be programmed and corrected more easily than hard signage. It's also a great way to enhance sponsor recognition, especially if available in concourse areas.

Great use of venue-provided digital signage at EventCamp Vancouver
3. Consider directional staff. Granted, there is a cost involved and use of staff may still require branded items like shirts, or smaller hand-held signs. But in an age where we have less face-to-face customer service, providing smiling, helpful directional staff instead of directional signage can be a throw-back to the good-old-days of 'I remember when I could talk to a person and not a computer to get the help I need'. Plus, temporary local staffing agencies are becoming an essential employment resource for many people displaced by tougher economic times, helping the economic spin-offs of events to circulate in local host communities.

Directional staff help JavaOne attendees navigate a complicated event neighbourhood with the aid of floor plan signs printed on cardboard at the entrance to the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco
4. Divide, and conquer. I tend to think of event signs as coming in two types: one-time and multiple use. When planning for signage it can help to think of things this way in order to navigate the trade-offs involved in selecting substrates. Because one-time use signage is disposable it makes sense to make it out of most sustainable materials. Switching to paper board from plastic or foamcore is a great example of this and is something that can typically be done on a cost-neutral or cost-saving basis. In order to enable reuse other graphics may need to be made out of more durable options. For example, many large-scale banners are made of PVC, a less environmentally desirable material than recycled content fabric or compostable substrates which can be used for banners, but are typically more expensive and may not hold up well to multiple uses. However, if designed for reuse the durability of PVC banners or boards could be justifiable. On the flip side, banners that include temporary sponsor logos may be better produced using a recyclable or compostable substrate.

Non-dated reusable polyester banners made of recycled content grace the hallways to Cisco Live US 2011
5. If you can marry it, don't date it. Many events produce large branded installations, banners and kiosks. Many of these materials have high reuse potential, especially if venues are the same year to year or installations can be built according to standard specifications. So if you can reuse it, don't date it. Eliminating dates and locations is the easiest way to maximise your investment in branded event items you can't avoid.

The Canadian Tourism Commission uses generic, non-dated signage for Canada Media Marketplace
6. Print direct to substrate. Some printing processes use films that create waste in the printing process. Asking your graphics company to print direct to substrates like cardboard eliminate this step and therefore waste, while improving the ability to recycle signs.

7. Avoid grommets and adhesives that can limit recycling. Says it all really. Many of us are familiar with the need to sort recyclables, either at home or at the recycling plant. Mixing materials introduces one more un-necessary barrier to recycling, so avoid it if you can.

8. Substrate matters. Prioritise renewable materials and recycled content. Use as much post-consumer content as possible. This applies to paper, plastics and fabrics.

Fully recyclable cardboard substrates are a staple for temporary event signs at Oracle OpenWorld
9. Just say no to adhesives. There are some options that are emerging that are better for the planet, but adhesive graphics should be left out of your on-site branding if you can avoid them. New options exist on the market that are paper-based and include recycled content, which helps. However, glues used to adhere films make adhesive signage non-recyclable so if you're trying to eliminate landfill take it off your graphics list.

10. Donate and re-purpose. Sometimes you're stuck with a sign that is non-recyclable that you can't reuse. Over the years I've been amazed what artists, students, actors and farmers can do with event signage. So if you're stuck with a sign you'd hate to landfill ask your venue or the convention and visitors bureau if they know of any resource centres that could re-purpose your sign to a community group. Alternatively businesses exist that may be willing to take your banners to create bags, wallets and laptop cases.

Intel Developer Forum re-purposes event banners as stylish messenger bags that are used at other Intel events
Moscone Center donates vinyl event banners to local schools for murals and drama productions
These are just a few ideas that have helped event organisers maximise the impact of their event brand while minimising the impact on the planet. Welcome other ideas and examples!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks - some great ideas for a challenging topic