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  • Writer's pictureEleanor Loveday

What does 'Life Cycle Thinking' mean for sustainability in events?

Updated: 2 days ago

We could happily talk about sustainability all day, and we’re by no means the only ones either. Over time, more and more businesses in the events and exhibitions industry have been placing a greater emphasis on climate-positive efforts. In fact, sustainability has remained a priority for many businesses in the industry despite most having to cut costs during the pandemic. UFI’s 2021 report found that while 85% of companies stopped or decreased their overall level of investments in 2020, there was in fact ‘no’ or ‘limited impact’ for activities related to sustainability for 51% of them. This just goes to show that sustainable practice is becoming a non-negotiable for more and more businesses, something which we’re very happy to be a part of.

With April being Earth Month, and ending in Earth Day itself, it’s the perfect reason to talk about sustainability at a time when we need it most. Specifically, we’ll talk about where the events industry is currently, and share the plans that we have going forward. We’re striving for events to be a successful and sustainable part of marketing for the future, and won’t be satisfied until we get there. While we work towards that vision, we use ‘Life Cycle Thinking’ to help us look at the bigger picture. Avoiding the tunnel vision of only considering the environmental impact of materials, life cycle thinking helps us to make improvements across our entire business.

An exhibition stand for HDI Global

What is life cycle thinking?

‘Life cycle thinking’ is the philosophy that grounds our approach to sustainability. By applying this thinking, we aim to help clients consider the bigger picture when it comes to more sustainable events, avoiding the unhelpful acts of greenwashing while we’re at it.

An infographic showing stages of a product or service life cycle

Put simply, life cycle thinking helps us to consider the ‘life span’ of any materials we are using all the way from initial procurement and processing, to use, re-usage, recycling and end of life. By doing this, we can more effectively work to extend the life of our projects wherever possible, as well as minimising our environmental impact wherever possible at every stage of the cycle. Combined with our careful understanding of what each client would like to create for their event or interior, we can connect the right materials to the right job, and not just something that ‘looks green’.

Heard of ‘Reduce-Re-Use-Recycle?’ We thought so…

You might have heard ‘Reduce-Re-Use-Recycle’ plenty of times before, but Life Cycle Thinking shows us how important the order of these steps is.

By using the right materials and extending the life of everything we construct, we first reduce unnecessary waste. For example, our exhibition stand structures and architecture are provided as a hired ‘skeleton’ of timber and aluminium reused over decades, rather than being remade for every event. Looking at the range of stands we create, would you guess that the same structures are hidden somewhere underneath? Probably not. However, with the creativity of our exhibition stand designers and a combination of traditional and new techniques, the stand structures we use have been cleverly repurposed across projects, some for hundreds of events. This means we can stretch out the life of materials that might be harder or more energy intensive to produce. (The added benefit can be stretching budget further too.)

On the other hand, shorter lifespan elements like graphics are somewhere we don’t want to use high intensity materials. So, we’ve adopted recycled materials to avoid generating new waste and lower energy process like UV printing to make stand graphics significantly lower impact.

Sustainability icon, with image of an exhibition stand build

So, if you’re looking for a new, more ‘sustainable’ exhibition stand, the best solution may be a lot closer to home, not to mention simpler, and cheaper than you might think. It really does boil down to reducing waste, reusing elements where possible and reliably recycling when materials reach the end of their useful life. For example, changing an existing stand for one made of more ‘eco’ materials may seem like a smart idea that looks greener, but in reality, you could be short-circuiting the life span of the stand that has already been designed & manufactured.

If you are an exhibitor, you may find yourself walking a sustainability tightrope: you want your stand to outwardly reflect your sustainability values, but doing so may mean a tricky balancing act between what looks sustainable and what is actually the more sustainable option. If your sustainability credentials are part of your brand positioning, this can be especially difficult, and there isn’t always a ‘perfect’ solution. Our aim is to help you stay balanced on this tightrope of a challenge, and to always help our clients to make the climate positive choices that are right for their event. That’s where being a little creative helps too…

Smarter solutions

Alongside reducing waste and reusing materials wherever possible, we aim to partner with smarter suppliers for more climate-conscious solutions.

For an insight into some of our sustainable solutions, see our recent reel:

Graphic materials made from plastic bottles

The textiles we use for our fabric graphics are sourced from innovative suppliers, who use recycled materials derived from recovered plastic bottles in their manufacturing. This gives us a non-virgin, recyclable material that doesn’t compromise our client’s distinctive brand assets.

Textile printing with UV cured inks

Using UV print technology, we are able to reduce waste, chemicals, and energy by using inks cured instantly by light. The result? Vibrant colour rich graphics without the accompanying VOCs (volatile organic compounds) or solvents that are perfect for all sorts of graphic applications from lightboxes to stand walls and interior wall coverings.

Digital meets physical

By continually investing in new tools and systems, we are able to vastly reduce waste across projects. From helping plan out exact material quantities and specifications, to replacing printed literature with digital lead capture and more, digital and physical tools are making our events far more effective whilst reducing environmental cost.

Image x Ecologi: marketing for the future

Ecologi logo

Life cycle thinking is helping us to reduce waste, promote re-use, and improve the sustainability of our work for every project. So much so, that 90% of our projects are re-used or recycled. We’re proud of that number, but of course we want 100%.

We’re working on changing things for the better, but in the meantime we want to be honest about the ‘green gap’ that remains in events until we can close it for good. Partnering with Ecologi, we account for the 10% of projects that aren’t currently re-used or recycled.

That means that our work with each client funds global climate action initiatives, including carbon reduction and avoidance, as well as rewilding and community programmes. You can explore our Ecologi page here to see the projects that we’ve contributed towards.

Icons showing Image's Ecologi achievements. 109 trees funded, and 7.56 tonnes of CO2 avoided

If you’d like to be a part of Ecologi’s community too, you can use our referral link by clicking here. And guess what, using our link means that we’ll both get 30 bonus referral trees! Extraordinary all round, and that’s the way we like it.

We want events and exhibitions to be a successful and sustainable part of marketing for the future, and although there’s still a lot of work to be done, we’re glad that things are moving in the right direction.

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