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When Naperville-based Nalco Company was ready to replace its set of tradeshow displays, the company faced a question of growing concern among companies that aim to reduce the environmental impact of their tradeshow activities: What to do with the old, but still functional, displays?

A sustainability services company, Nalco, helps its customers reduce water and energy use, providing an Environmental Return on Investment, or “eROI.” As in all its operations, the company wanted to apply that same sustainability commitment to its tradeshow program by helping reduce environmental impact, including carbon footprint.

For help, Nalco turned to Nimlok Chicago, its longtime exhibit builder. Like Nalco, Nimlok Chicago strives to minimize environmental impact in the design, fabrication and storage of each exhibit it creates. While recycling Nalco’s old tradeshow exhibits was an option, Nimlok found a better solution: reuse.

Deborah Venable, Partner at Nimlok Chicago, reached out to the University of Illinois-Chicago, her alma mater. The school gladly accepted Nalco’s exhibit property, consisting of seven freestanding panel displays and three table top displays.

It was a “win-win” for both UIC and Nalco, which Venable was happy to facilitate.

“Our exhibits are built to last, and most still have life in them when a client is ready to upgrade to a new exhibit,” said Venable. “We’re always happy to help find a new use for the property, keeping it out of landfills and helping a client stay true to their ‘green’ goals.”

Rodney Shrader, Professor of Managerial Studies and Faculty Director for the UIC Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies, says student teams participating in a business plan competition will use the displays for presentations. This will help provide legitimacy in the eyes of potential investors, partners, customers and others.

“Having professional displays could increase chances for successfully launching new businesses and allow the students to more effectively leverage scarce resources—a challenge for any start-up,” he said.

The Engineering Department also will use the displays for competitions and to promote career fairs for students. In addition, engineering student societies will use one exhibit when visiting high schools to encourage career paths in math, science, engineering and technology.

“The displays will really help us open up horizons for young people,” said Kathy Corcos, UIC Department of Engineering Cooperative Education and Internship Program Coordinator.

For Nalco, donating the exhibit properties was an ideal solution.

“Clearly reuse is always a better option, even over recycling,” said Kathy Schillinger, communications specialist at Nalco. “In this case, we’re thrilled to be supporting higher education, especially among future innovators, scientists and engineers.”

Nimlok Chicago also designed and built Nalco’s new exhibit properties to be “green” in every sense. Constructed entirely from recyclable materials, the displays incorporate energy-efficient LED lights and graphics printed with water-based inks. They are also lightweight and compact, enabling Nalco to reduce by half its carbon footprint related to shipping to and from trade shows.

While “green” exhibiting is the tradeshow industry’s fastest-growing issue, Nimlok Chicago has long maintained environmentally responsible production standards. In 2010, Nimlok became the first North American company in its class to achieve ISO 14001:2004 status, which recognizes its high level of commitment to environmental protection.

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