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A vision of the future in COP25’s Green Zone?

William Thomson, MD of Gallus Events, reports from The Green Zone (exhibition area) at the world Climate Change Conference COP25 in Madrid:

Green in colour and in mindset, the UN have attempted to run a sustainable tradeshow at the hastily re-arranged Madrid COP25 UN Climate Change Conference.

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 exhibition industry’s plan to become more sustainable. 

This is why this exhibition, at the most important climate event in the world this year, is 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 the 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) was bound to pose increased complexities for the organisers.

For those understandable reasons the show floor was pretty empty. A 15-minute walk covers 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 have gone, the sustainable ethos has remained. 

On entering the exhibition, you are immediately taken in by the openness of the hall: great for the casual visitor, but it feels like emptiness to the experienced exhibition-goer. 

Instead of that slightly claustrophobic but comforting feeling you get when you enter a tradeshow, this one encourages you to breath in and experience the feeling of a pared back show floor.

At the centre of the hall is a round theatre, built for an audience of around 300. It makes a great central point for the show floor. Speakers bound on and off throughout the day.  

The ‘shell scheme’ stands are wooden and come with a large plasma screen for branding and display. 

Paper and plastics are out. There are no visitor badges. 

Look across the space and you will struggle to find anything that isn’t either totally reusable or recycled. 

Furniture, signage and stage sets all made of reinforced cardboard, grab your attention as you move throughout the hall.

There are interactive and educational areas spaced among the dozen or so stands, and it is clear that this Green zone has more of an educational focus than a traditional exhibition.

However, this is a tradeshow in all of its central aspects and it might just be the template for all of 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 is @williamevents

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