by Patrick Putzer (pictured right)
First, I would like to start by stating the fact that no one is more surprised than I am that I am sitting at my kitchen table crafting a letter about reopening tradeshows when September 2020 was going to be the biggest month of my tradeshow career with IMTS and MinExpo happening on top of the normally heavy September show schedule.
For more than 44 years, Emerald Carpets has manufactured the safest and most sustainable carpets available to the tradeshow industry. These products are available through almost every general service contractor in North America. Unfortunately, we are all hurting through something out of our control and many of the great people in our industry have been furloughed or lost their jobs. Under normal circumstances, you can get answers from these professionals on all items including flooring products but in many cases there is not anyone to get these answers for you today. I wanted to take this time to provide answers or correct statements about the health and safety and sustainability of carpets in a tradeshow environment.
Emerald Carpets sponsored the Together Again Expo and supplied all of the aisle carpet for this event in an effort to support the industry with a proper event—after all, a tradeshow without aisle carpet has the appearance of a flea market and not a tradeshow! My team and I read and review as many articles, plans for reopening and publications as we can. The two takeaways I see from all of our associations and publications is that we all want to get back to work as soon as we safely can and that there is inconsistency in the form of how we do this and what items and policies are safe and healthy. As a 25-year tradeshow industry veteran, I have a good understanding of how our industry works and I have an even better understanding of flooring, most specifically aisle carpets and booth carpets.
In all of the research we have done there are two topics that come up when flooring is mentioned in the many resources available for the safe reopening of tradeshows. The first topic is health and safety of flooring and the second is sustainability of flooring when the industry returns. Below I will outline the health and safety benefits of carpet versus alternative flooring options and outline the truths and myths of carpet sustainability in a tradeshow environment.
Carpet Comparison to Hard Surface Flooring or Concrete Flooring in a Tradeshow Environment
The majority of airborne pollutants in public facilities such as convention centers, stadiums/arenas and schools are outdoor-sourced. Dust, pollen and potentially viruses are introduced from an outside source. It is in the best interests of all of these facilities to have stringent cleaning policies to protect both the facility as well as the attendees and employees.
Below outlines the myths and realities of carpet and hard surfaces as it relates to cleaning and public safety:
Reality – An equal amount of airborne pollutants are introduced to a tradeshow environment from the outside from all products necessary to produce a tradeshow. The majority of these products have been proven to emit low or no VOCS. These are tried-and-true products such as signs, graphics, furniture, pipe and drape, walls, floor covering and booth properties. The remainder of the air pollutants are from the exhibitors themselves.
Myth – Hard surface or concrete flooring is healthier than carpet.
Reality – Carpet traps airborne pollutants and keeps four times more pollutants out of the breathing zone.
Myth – Hard surfaces are easier to clean than carpet.
Reality – Carpets vacuumed on a daily basis remove more airborne pollutants than hard surface since they trap more of the pollutants than hard surfaces. Carpets can also be safely vacuumed with attendees present. If hard surfaces are not cleaned properly they are twice as likely to reintroduce pollutants in the breathing zone.
Reality – To clean hard surface flooring effectively moisture must be added to the process. This can be done directly to the hard surface in the form of a liquid cleaner or by some type of sprayer or fogger. Although safe for human contact, this is not an ideal cleaning process when attendees are present due to the additional safety concerns such as slipping and falling on a wet hard surface.
Additional benefits to carpet over concrete in a tradeshow environment not related to health and cleaning:
Reality – Carpets add to the design and look of a tradeshow. Carpets hide the unsightly concrete floor in the convention center. Carpets can help separate areas or zones of a tradeshow by using different colors or designs in various areas of the convention center.
Reality – Carpet provides thermal insulation over the concrete floors which reduces energy consumption. The tradeshow floor is warmer in the cold months and cooler in the warmer months due to this insulation between the attendee and the concrete floor.
Reality – Carpet absorbs noise and allows for better face-to-face communications without any unnecessary distractions in a tradeshow environment.
Sustainability of Carpet in a Tradeshow Environment
Environmental concerns and how we produce “green” tradeshows has been a hot topic for almost two decades now. There are many companies and products that are presented as green, however, these products are not necessarily the most sustainable products available in a tradeshow application. Below I will outline some realities and myths of carpet and flooring products used on the tradeshow floor.
Myth – carpets containing recycled content are ideal for tradeshow use.
Reality – These carpets are marketed for residential or commercial applications where they are permanently installed and are designed to have a useful life cycle in these specific applications, typically years in length. When used on a tradeshow floor these products are used in booth space areas and most often only see one use or a life cycle of less than a week. The energy required to recycle these products is equal to or greater than the energy necessary to produce the product originally. These are also the same flooring products that exhibitors leave behind that typically end up in the dumpster after the tradeshow.
Reality – Domestically produced aisle carpets that have been popular in the tradeshow environment are the most sustainable flooring option available. These aisle carpets have been engineered to be used multiple times. Aisle carpet available through general service companies reaches the tradeshow floor an average of five times and in many cases 10+ times depending on the types of shows which the carpet is used. Aisle carpets that are used a minimum of five times save over 80 percent in energy consumption over life cycle of the carpet versus one-time-use flooring that potentially can be recycled.
Myth – Carpet makes up a large portion of the landfill waste from tradeshows.
Reality – An estimated 3-5 percent of landfill waste is carpet. This is carpet that exhibitors leave in their booth space that does not belong to the general service contractor. Since carpet makes up a much greater percentage of the weight on a tradeshow floor the real question is what is making up the other 95 percent of waste that goes to the landfill?
Nearly 100 percent of the carpet supplied by general service contractors is returned to their respective carpet depots. Although there is some percentage of waste on every tradeshow, the GC attempts to reuse all carpets. Reuse consumes less than 1 percent of the energy that is required to recycle carpet. The financial impact is just as important as sustainability when it comes to reuse of carpet. Carpet is an asset for the general service contractor just as tables, chairs, pipe and drape, and it is in the best financial interest of the GC to get the most uses out of any asset they own.
Myth – Needlefelt flooring produced internationally is a good “green” option to traditional aisle carpets.
Reality – This product is marketed as a 100 percent recyclable product. It is true that some of these offerings are recyclable and may not end up in the landfill, however, the energy necessary to recycle this one use product is not a true sustainable option for the tradeshow industry. The energy necessary to recycle this product is about equal to the energy used to produce it originally. Compared to traditional multi-use tradeshow carpets this “green” needlefelt product can consume 10 to 20 times more energy to produce and recycle.
Most flooring products can be recycled but the cost to recycle is prohibitive. After the end of the carpet’s tradeshow life, repurposing becomes a better alternative than recycling.
The technology is available to enhance the current multi-use aisle carpets into a 100 percent recyclable product that has a positive value once it has been converted back to its original raw material state. Emerald Carpets is making the necessary multi-million dollar investment in this technology. The question remains whether or not the industry is ready to invest in more than catchy marketing statements. Many show management companies request or demand a “green” flooring product but then use less sustainable options on their shows than the current multi-use aisle carpets. These companies are the same companies that demand sustainable products but are not willing to pay for true sustainable products.
In summary, Emerald Carpets will continue to produce the most sustainable flooring products for the tradeshow industry that can be obtained through your current general service contractors just as we have done for the past 44 years. As the only carpet manufacturer focused on the tradeshow industry we will be adding an anti-microbial sanitizing agent to all of our carpet styles to enhance an already safe flooring option. We will continue to invest in new technology that will enhance an already sustainable product for the tradeshow industry.
I look forward to the day I can see my friends and business partners in person instead of on my computer screen. Stay safe and hopefully I will see you all soon at the next industry event or on the tradeshow floor.
Patrick Putzer is a 25 year industry veteran and VP Emerald Carpets. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in the Nov./Dec. 2020 issue of Exhibit City News, p. 34-35. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecn_nov-dec_2020