SITTING IN ON A BRAINSTORMING SESSION with Autodesk’s event marketing group must feel a bit like a meeting with Al Gore. The company has become an innovator in designing exhibits and events that leave little environmental footprint but still pack an awe-inspiring punch. Just one look at the brand’s eco-friendly plywood trade show booth and it’s pretty clear—at Autodesk going green doesn’t mean sacrificing exhibit substance or style.
François Graton manager-trade shows and material resources at Autodesk is the go-to guy for keeping the company’s green philosophy alive both in-house and on the show floor. He will present a deep dive into Autodesk’s green events strategy at this month’s Event Marketing Summit in Chicago (register at eventmarketer.com/summit) but he took some time to give EM readers a sneak peek. Check it out:
Make It Policy. Autodesk has deemed it corporate policy to make all the events it stages and attends greener. To reinforce its commitment the company has outlined best practices to be used by all its designers and event organizers. They govern a wide range of issues including paper use and waste disposal choice of venue plastic use and travel to and from the event. And it’s not just a policy for Autodesk employees. The company is setting an example and it expects its partners to follow suit. “By doing this we put pressure on our suppliers and vendors to go this way too ” Graton says. “It’s a choice everybody has to make.”
Manage Your Materials. Autodesk’s dedicated material resources department headed by Graton is responsible for designing building installing and dismantling the brand’s booths. By making this function a dedicated department Graton and his team are able to concentrate on making the company’s events as environmentally sustainable as possible. “We are very careful of the choice of materials so we are using only non-toxic wood and reusing all the steel and recycling fabrics ” Graton says. “We are even careful with shipment crating and packing to avoid a large number of trucks. Everything we build is reused and then at the end of its lifecycle is recycled.”
Measure Your Impact. Autodesk has been working with its show venues to collect consumption data from previous years so they can track how much energy they use and how the brand’s environmental impact decreases from year to year. At this year’s Autodesk University event in December which is expected to draw about 9 000 attendees Graton’s team will measure the venue’s electrical consumption before during and after the event to find out how much additional use there was with the goal of using less next year.
Another goal this year is to launch Autodesk’s environmental impact data management system to all the company’s event owners. Internal event managers will learn about Autodesk’s environmental best practices policies and will receive data collection templates and will thereafter have to follow the guidelines when designing and building Autodesk events and exhibits. The information will be released via webcast—another low-impact green meeting technique.
Engage Your Attendees. To make an event an environmental whisper rather than an air-horn don’t be afraid to green up the attendee experience. For AU Autodesk has asked attendees to help shrink their carbon footprints by carpooling if they drive to the event. At the event area hotels will put in place or enforce policies that ask guests to reuse towels and shut off heat or air conditioning while not in their rooms. The event venue will shut off lights in unused meeting rooms use washable or recyclable plates and will make sure recycling bins are plentiful and in plain sight. For its part Autodesk will not hand out water bottles to keep attendees hydrated. In their place will be water coolers and bottle refill stations in strategic locations and high traffic areas.
Also at AU handouts that had previously been printed and distributed on paper will be posted instead on Bioboards (read: eco-friendly bulletin boards). Any handouts deemed essential will be printed only on recycled paper.
There will be fewer giveaways too and those freebies that are still floating around will be either biodegradable or reusable items. Last year Autodesk distributed goodie bags to hold the various giveaways available on the trade show floor. What’s so green about that you ask? They were made out of the previous year’s signage and banners.
Make the Investment. To truly go green Graton says there has to be a shift in corporate mindset not for the p.r. benefits (though those are nice too) but for the real benefits to the future of the planet.
“We’re taking this seriously ” Graton says. “It’s not just to show off it’s more a thing that is incorporated in everything we do at every level.”
Buying organic and environmentally-friendly booth materials is usually more expensive he admits. But Autodesk is committed to it anyway. For example the plywood Graton’s team used to construct Autodesk’s trade show exhibit didn’t use formaldehyde (an ingredient in regular plywood). The cost? About $10 more than the regular stuff—per sheet. But Graton says not to lose hope. Being green isn’t all about cutting bigger checks from your marketing budget. It’s about strategically offsetting some costs with others. “There are ways of saving ” he says. “With catering if you are really careful of the quantities you order then you are going to save but for the quality it might cost more. So there’s a balance.”
Though going green isn’t all about looking good the halo effect generated by green event practices can be a nice addition to your corporate branding efforts. “From what I see it’s a very positive message that has been sent outside [of the company] ” Graton says. “I think it’s our responsibility to start somewhere and it’s just helping the industry to change. I think we have a good influence.”