Smart Ways to Exhibit Green

Virtual Lunch

The trade show industry isn’t necessarily known for being environmentally responsible – but a few trailblazers are working hard to change that.

Al Mercuro is one of them, and in this rebroadcast of Virtual Lunch he shares some often overlooked ways to be more sustainable at trade shows and events. You’ll discover how to:

  • Creatively repurpose everything from graphics to print materials
  • Take advantage of EDPA’s new sustainability partnership
  • Tap into solutions you may never have considered
  • Start the conversation within your organization (or with everyone involved in your event)

Here are the links mentioned in the interview:

About Al Mercuro

Al Mercuro
Al Mercuro

With over 30 years in the trade show and event marketing industry, Al Mercuro not only has a wide range of experience, but also an intuitive ability to match unique client needs to innovative solutions for both live and hybrid virtual events. Al’s experience & background in event promotion and musical production are an added benefit to his expertise in the trade show industry.   

Al has a passion for educating his clients on being more sustainable at their events. He’s a Member of the Sustainable Event Alliance, the Live Event Coalition, National Trade Show Alliance, as well as a founding member of MUSE (Members United for Sustainable Events), and serves on the Sustainability Committee of the EDPA and The Event Safety Alliance.


[00:00:00.490] - Marlys Arnold

You're listening to the trade Show Insights podcast. Season 17, Episode 3. I'm your host and exhibit marketing strategist Marlys Arnold, bringing you tools to improve your exhibit results. On today's episode brought to you by the Exhibit Marketers Cafe, we've got a rebroadcast of our virtual lunch where we're busting some myths and giving you some practical tools to make your trade shows and events more sustainable.

[00:01:02.350] - Marlys Arnold

With over 30 years in the trade show and event marketing industry, Al Mercuro not only has a wide range of experience, but also an intuitive ability to match unique client needs to innovative solutions for both live and hybrid/virtual events. Al's experience and background in an event promotion and musical production are an added benefit to his expertise in the trade show industry. By the way, if you ever have a chance to talk to Al about it, ask him some questions about the music industry. He could tell you some interesting stories. But anyway, Al has a passion for educating his clients on being more sustainable at their events. He's a member of the Sustainable Event Alliance, the Live Event Coalition, National Trade Show Alliance, as well as a founding member of Muse, which is Members United for Sustainable Events and serves on the sustainability Committee for EDPA and the Event Safety Alliance. So welcome, Al. Good to have you with us today.

[00:02:01.750] - Al Mercuro

Thank you.

[00:02:02.810] - Marlys Arnold

Or I should say on this side of the camera because you're often one of our attendees, but good to have you as our guest today.

[00:02:11.080] - Al Mercuro

It's my pleasure.

[00:02:12.850] - Marlys Arnold

So let's start out because obviously from your bio, we can tell you're very passionate about sustainability. So give us a little bit of background about how that has become such a hot button issue for you.

[00:02:25.820] - Al Mercuro

Well, the first thing that I found out years ago was the sort of a pet peeve of mine is build and burn exhibits. I learned that in Europe and in Asia, this was something that was very common there, thankfully not so much here in the US. And the reasoning for that, I found was a lot of the shows, especially like in Germany, would be every four years they would be longer in length and clients would ship their booths. They will almost be built on site as a custom exhibit, and there's no reason they felt for shipping them back due to the fact that they didn't want to pay for the shipping, but also they were probably going to change the booth down the road anyway. But when you think about it, it really is a waste. And there are other alternatives to that. And it's encouraging now that again, the US is not doing it as much. But even overseas, things are changing in Informa announced last year that they're coming up with a program to do away with the build and burn type of programs and deal more with rental solutions, which is a great solution for international exhibitors and things like that. So there are no alternatives to doing that.

[00:03:47.610] - Marlys Arnold

And the link that we just put up is for. And if you're listening to the podcast, it will be in the show notes. But it's an article that Al wrote about build and burn and how to move beyond that. So I just wanted to point that out because I know I actually one of my blog posts a long time ago was linked to a picture, and it just literally looked like an explosion or a tornado had gone through or something. It was just all of these huge, massive piles of trash from a build and burn type show. I think that one was in Asia, but yeah, it just seems so inconceivable.

[00:04:28.290] - Al Mercuro

It's horrifying to see that much being just thrown into dumpsters. And actually, one example I have here in the US was our office for about ten years was located in Midtown on 18th street, and we were on the fifth floor of a building. On the first floor there was a sort of a small boutique venue for special events and mini shows and things like that. And the Italian trade office had come in and installed a three week exhibit there, which was almost a museum-like setup. And one day I'm walking to work and I see three dumpsters out on the street and I see the entire exhibit being tossed into the dumpsters. I saw it first hand, and it's really horrifying. And that's when there are other alternatives, perhaps that at that time people didn't know about. But thanks to organizations like the Sustainable Event Alliance, which I got involved with in January of 2020, just before COVID hit, I went to an actual live meeting of the New York chapter. And I was thrilled to see other like minded people there, like myself, that were in the live event business. I wasn't the only one representing the trade show business, but there was a company there from Materials for the Arts, and they take materials from whatever company you might be throwing out, like, say, for example, rolls of textile fabric.

[00:06:05.230] - Al Mercuro

They would take it bring it to their warehouse in Queens, New York, and would allow artists, theater groups to come in and just use this material. So it was a great reuse or repurposing of material that would normally get thrown in a dumpster. And they take materials like this from all over. There was another company at the meeting that takes TV and movie sets, which is very much like custom built exhibits. And they would do the same thing. They would find new homes for them wherever they may be that people might find and find other uses for. So it's encouraging to see there are companies out there doing those kinds of things and to try to become one of those companies. I mean, within the trade show world, that's what we should be striving for as well.

[00:06:54.690] - Marlys Arnold

Well, exactly. And I think that's so genius. You talked about repurposing the materials and using them for something else. EDPA has a brand new partnership that they've developed with a company that does that. So we've got a link for that and go ahead. And while we put that up, tell us a little bit about how that all works.

[00:07:13.260] - Al Mercuro

Well, I was very excited about that because just joining that committee, that's part of our goal is to educate the people within our industry to start utilizing vendors that are doing things that will be positive for the industry. And this company, I believe, is called I don't have my notes here in front of me.

[00:07:33.790] - Marlys Arnold

But let's see, I have it down here. Vycom,

[00:07:37.950] - Al Mercuro

Vycom, yes. They'll take materials from your production floor, plastic materials, whatever, scrapings, whatever. And they'll have a program that's listed in that link, and you can sign up for that at your manufacturing sites to join their program. And they'll pick up the stuff and then find other uses for it, which is really what it's all about, not to even waste the waste materials that are being used.

[00:08:04.010] - Marlys Arnold

Well, exactly what I love about this program is, like you said, they'll come pick it up. So that removes another one of those excuses of like, well, how do I get it there and what do I do with it? So they're making it very streamlined and very easy to be a part of this program because you don't have to take it anywhere. You don't have to worry about it. They'll just come and pick it all up. So I think that's great.

[00:08:27.250] - Al Mercuro

And going back, I guess about twelve years ago, we got involved with representing Ecosystems Exhibits, and they're made from recycled materials, which is great. And I thought that was a phenomenal thing to get involved with that. Unfortunately, as much as companies missions were to be buying from sustainable manufacturers or vendors, the price at that time was extremely high. And that was a big roadblock for a lot of my clients. They just didn't feel like that's not something they wanted to invest in. And over the years, though, my mentor, Tom Beard, who works through Classic now, which is part of Ecosystems as part of that now, informed me in 2019 that the pricing had just come down to almost about the same price as doing a regular build.

[00:09:22.150] - Marlys Arnold

That's so awesome.

[00:09:24.010] - Al Mercuro

That was like a light going off just coming on and saying, well, now there's no excuse. The company should have no reason now to not buy these type of things. I found out, to my dismay, that some of my trade show marketing folks still didn't really care about it that much. So I went after the sustainability directors at companies, and that's their job. That's their job, to find vendors or to then recommend those type of vendors to their marketing team, to their trade show directors, things like that. And I did right before COVID in 2020, January. That's when I was starting to do this and made some nice inroads at that time, which got put on hold, unfortunately. But they're starting to come back now. So we're starting to see some positive things coming out of that work well.

[00:10:13.660] - Marlys Arnold

And I think that it's going to build momentum as it goes forward, especially since we've removed some of those myths or barriers. Like you said, I've got the link for the Ecosystems Green Guide. So they've got a really great outline of, like, different things that you can be thinking about in your exhibit to go more green. But like you said, using recycled elements. I mean, when Alan and I moved into this house, we had to rip out every piece of carpet in the whole house. And so we were able to recycle in and recycle out. So we found a local guy who comes and picks up all the carpet and pad, and then they go and they recycle it somehow. And then we also bought carpet that was made from recycled plastic bottles. So who would have known had I not gone looking and discovering these things? A lot of it does take maybe a little bit more investigating. But that's why I think things like Ecosystems Green Exhibits and the EDPA Recycling Partnership. Like I said, the more that these things become standard in the industry, then I think that removes that barrier of, oh, this is way too hard. I don't want to have to figure this out.

[00:11:25.630] - Al Mercuro

And with my work with Muse, Michelle Fox, who founded Muse, she curated a list of 500 vendors.

[00:11:36.310] - Marlys Arnold


[00:11:37.390] - Al Mercuro

So if you're a member of Muse, you have access to this list of 500 members of vendors that are all sustainably connected in the live event industry. So, again, there's not too many exhibit houses in there. But if you are doing live events for your clients, beyond the trade show exhibit, there's a lot of vendors you could be there recommending to your clients or possibly even using yourselves to produce an event if you're in that area that you're producing events as well.

[00:12:10.330] - Marlys Arnold

And that's a phenomenal resource. I mean, like you said, if that's for members only, that alone might be a way to.

[00:12:16.940] - Al Mercuro

No, it's a good reason to join.

[00:12:19.630] - Marlys Arnold

And we've got a link to the Muse organization as well. I think they had some great points on there, just like bullet points on there about let's see, did I jot that down? It was like 600,000, I guess. I didn't get that in my notes, but it was like tons. Oh, Alan is showing me off camera here. Tradeshows produced 600,000 tons of waste each year. Shockingly.

[00:12:53.150] - Al Mercuro

If you think about the premium items, the literature, even water bottles, plastic water bottles that are used at various different events, concerts, trade shows, whatever. I help run a concert venue in my town, and we were selling plastic water bottle water in the lobby for years, and it just hit me that there are other alternatives out there, and they may be a little more expensive. But actually, Tom Beard with the Ecosystems booth when they went, they exhibit that shows themselves gave out boxed water. I saw in one of the photos and I asked Tom, I said, was that received very well? He said, oh, yeah, people just loved it. And so we invested in that with my concert venue. And our audience didn't mind paying the extra money for the water because they knew what we were trying to do was good for the planet. And this was great with our audience. And I think the same thing happens to happen at trade shows. People have to start thinking in that direction. There are other things you can do. Instead of giving out a cheap pen, there's other things trying to teach your clients not to bring as much literature as you know, not just because people don't like it anymore, but the fact that it is a waste in terms of it gets thrown away at the show.

[00:14:16.760] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and on that, I actually looked up Rama from LEV Promotions, who is often a guest or an attendee here at Virtual Lunch. Rama had a newsletter about recyclable sustainable giveaway items. So we've actually got that link to share as well. To talk a little bit about you. You mentioned earlier about being able to recycle some of the materials. But tell us, you shared with me previously a great story about graphics, how graphics were repurposed after one of your clients shows.

[00:14:49.330] - Al Mercuro

Well, I got two quick stories I can hopefully tell you about that. One had to do with exactly what you just mentioned. The IMEX Show USA one in Vegas. They use a company called Meet Green to produce their shows. And Nancy from Meet Green told me that. I asked her, what kind of things are you doing to help the environment? She said, well, one thing was because they deal with travel related destination graphics, which is often a thing that doesn't get recycled. Graphics is not something that people think about hardware. Yes. Not the graphics as much. And she said, well, because there are destination shots. They had these large murals of these great destinations that they donated to senior citizen homes to put in their common areas to make them more exciting to be in these rooms. And it's something I never thought about. But that's something that people do.

[00:15:48.170] - Marlys Arnold

I absolutely love that. I love that because it's so clever. It's like it's a beautiful graphic. It's not ready to be destroyed because it's still in good shape. So why not give it to somebody who can actually use it and enjoy it?

[00:16:03.430] - Marlys Arnold

Yes, a lot of them are dated sometimes. They might be something they're not going to use the next time anyway, so they will get unfortunately trashed if it doesn't find a new home. And my other example is something first hand back in the 90s I used to be the exhibit house for a small show in New York. It was a one day show called Magazine Day. And it was all publishing houses that would bring their magazines to give out to advertisers that's who went to the show. And they would just bring boxes and boxes and boxes of magazines or whatever the current issue was. And I noticed the first year I was working on it, I was there when we were doing the dismantling, and I saw unopened boxes of magazines. They weren't even open because they brought so many with them. They were just getting thrown in dumpsters, literally. The hotel was just taking them out into dumpsters. And I asked the woman that was running the show. I said, that's a shame. I said, there should be another way to handle that Besides bringing less magazines. And she says, well, do you have any ideas?

[00:17:09.190] - Al Mercuro

And I said, well, off the top of my head, I said, maybe people in hospitals could use them. She said, well, I don't have time to really investigate that. So I said, well, let me make a couple of calls. I called five local hospitals in Manhattan. They're all welcomed that opportunity to take those magazines in. And so I had my local messenger service the next year, pick them up and deliver them to the five hospitals. And I felt better. I felt like I did something, which is the point that we all have to start doing that, do something that makes a difference in whatever you're doing, whether it's the water bottles, whether it's finding a new graphic location to use a graphic. But just to take everything that you're doing at a show and just trying to see, can I do this a little bit better for the healthy environment?

[00:18:01.450] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and I think the whole idea with the magazines, that was genius. I don't know that I would have thought of hospitals. I would have wanted a way to help and to repurpose them. But yeah, I mean, there's probably a lot of places that could use good reading material. And schools is another thing. I've seen some exhibitors that have had leftover giveaways of something that would be of interest to kids. And so they donate those to schools. So there's just really so many ideas. Silvana says that's awesome. She loves the example that you shared.

[00:18:37.930] - Al Mercuro

We worked with Avon for years, and they would have tons of makeup that was left over. And there's a company called Dress for Success that we donated to. They were going to end up throwing away most of the stuff anyway. And it was in our warehouse. And we just said, hey, there's got to be another use for this. And I recommended Dress for Success. That helps people looking for jobs, finding them close, and they can use makeup at the same time. So again, it's that thinking outside the box, trying to figure out who can use this what where can be used, the repurposing, the reuse of it is extremely important.

[00:19:19.030] - Marlys Arnold

Well, back to the topic of recycling the graphics. I've known of people that have taken those acrylic graphic panels and repurpose those into like make tote bags or things like that. So, again, there's so many different resources out there, so many different organizations that are using things that can be repurposed. But, of course, another way to be more sustainable in your exhibit structure is to rent the exhibit, because then it just gets used by somebody else and you don't have to store it or figure out how to dispose of it. So have you seen that rentals are starting to catch on from an environmental standpoint?

[00:19:58.660] - Al Mercuro

Well, the funny thing with that story is rentals have been around forever, right? I had one client came to me a few years ago, and they had been working with another competitor, and their show is every three years. And they bought a nice big custom booth from them and they were looking to get something different. And the first thing I said to her, well, since it shows every three years, I said, Why would you consider renting? And she said, well, the other company never offered that to us. And I said, well, in your situation, that makes better sense. It just means you don't have to pay for the storage over the three years. And she agreed totally. So I won over that account with that just offering a rental solution so the whole build and burn thing can be solved that way. We've been offering rentals for years. And when you think about it, a lot of the custom modular exhibits out there, the aluminum extrusion exhibits, which have been around forever, even pop up boots. When you think about it, the ones that came out even 35 years ago had lifetime warranties. So you still use the hardware for some clients of mine still have them from decades ago.

[00:21:17.160] - Al Mercuro

And they changed the graphics every so often. That wasn't meant, I don't think, to be an environmental thing, but it's sort of, when you think about it, is something you're using over and over again, not throwing it away.

[00:21:31.570] - Marlys Arnold

And Silvana shared that she's donated magazines for hairdressers, lounges and dentists waiting rooms and places like that. So, yeah, things like that, there are so many different ways to do it. Another thing, and I had mentioned this in our teaser links portion at the beginning, talking about the Lemons exhibit in New York. But that's one thing they're doing with QR codes. So you scan QR codes. And that's something that I think that exhibitors can start really utilizing. Instead of having stacks of literature around your booth, you can have the QR code. So people can just scan that on their phone and download that PDF or connect to whatever resource it is that you're providing so that you're not just piling stacks and stacks of things on the tables and your booth.

[00:22:18.400] - Al Mercuro

Fortunately, that's changing. I think with the different buyers that are out there today, I think that's a whole different mindset. I think that people have to use those kind of technology now that people have bought all the smartphones, they can use things like that more often.

[00:22:33.710] - Marlys Arnold

The QR codes were kind of like floundering until COVID came along and found out, yeah, they found a whole new life. And I think QR codes are here to stay now because it is a really simple way to give people the information they need in a very small footprint, first of all. But also, you don't have to worry about the cost of printing all those things and shipping all those things and just make it a lot more streamlined that way. So all as we're wrapping up here, any other things that you think that we need to really consider? As far as I've got a couple of other links that I've included for a couple of posts that I've done in Trade Show Insights of busting some of those green myths and then a list of links to other resources. But what else do you think that is important part of the conversation that hasn't happened so far?

[00:23:30.190] - Al Mercuro

Well, a couple of things. One, I was encouraged recently with an agency here in New York which reached out to me to ask about our sustainable built exhibits. And they were going to start this year approaching their clients to educate their clients and kind of use that as a way of getting in the door with new clients that they were trying to bring in, and they were looking to gather vendors like myself to work with them and partner with them. And that was the first agency I ever saw doing something like that and taking that kind of initiative to go in that direction. And then a second agency I saw just last month is doing the same thing. So that's catching on. So that's part of that whole idea of getting people to start thinking this way towards making their clients think to be more sustainable. And that's what I've been trying to do as well, just educate the clients, trying to get them some hints along the way to help them do this. And it's just going to help us all, I think in the end, to kind of help save our planet a little bit more.

[00:24:39.670] - Marlys Arnold

And that's very true. And I think that the more this conversation happens across the board, whether you're a supplier, whether you're an event planner, whether you're an exhibitor, I think that it needs to be a conversation that happens from all angles because there are different things that all of us can do. And maybe as an exhibitor, you could go to your show organizer and say, hey, did you realize there are ways to recycle this or recycle that or repurpose this. So I think having that conversation and keeping that front of mind as we go forward is so critical and Mel says great overview about sustainability, so I think this is an important conversation that doesn't happen nearly often enough, especially in our industry. But Al, thank you so much for your part of Virtual Lunch because you have so much experience in this and you've introduced us to a lot of great new resources. I hope everybody goes and checks them out.

[00:25:39.210] - Marlys Arnold

You can find all the links mentioned during our interview in this episode Show Notes at and if you'd like to join us for an upcoming Virtual lunch, you'll find info on If you enjoyed today's episode and would like more, you can subscribe to the podcast and automatically receive future episodes on your chosen device. Simply search for Trade Show Insights in Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, or virtually anywhere else that podcasts are found. Then click the subscribe button. Trade Show Insights is protected by the Creative Commons Copyright license. You may feel free to share this recording with colleagues or embed it on your own blog as long as it's shared in its entirety and is not used for commercial purposes. To learn more, please see the link in the Sidebar of the Show Notes. Well, that's it for this episode Trade Show Insights. Be sure to check out our Show Notes and archives at Tradeshowinsightscom. You can also connect with me using the social media links or the contact page on the site site. I'm Marlys Arnold, thanks for listening and be sure to join us next time for more tools to improve your exhibit results.


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