How did big tech take on sustainability at CES?

Sustainability is very high on our priority list at WRG and we’re always striving to reduce our environmental impact. This is particularly true when it comes to the work we do as an Environments team – building exhibition stands, pop-ups and experiential activations. This year, when I had the opportunity to visit CES, instead of focusing on all the amazing tech, of which there was a lot (which I’ll leave to my colleagues to discuss), I was really keen to see how the exhibitors addressed sustainability when it came to their booths.

And? In short, it was a very mixed bag.

At one end of the spectrum, there were numerous booths (both large and small) where it appeared sustainability had not been considered at all. Sustainability simply didn’t come across, either in the content, the messaging or the creative approach to the build of the booth itself. I found this rather surprising considering how much scrutiny the tech sector is under generally speaking. You’d have thought they would have been more on it.

We also saw plenty of ‘greenwashing’ – which is personally, my biggest bug-bare. These were the booths that spouted sustainability messages on ‘living walls’ made out of plastic plants with AstroTurf floor coverings. I can never get over the irony of this approach and I think it’s a real shame that we see so much of it.

Here are a few examples of these

At the other end of the sustainability spectrum, there were a minority of booths that carried a clear sustainability theme both in their content and in their execution. They were interesting, but unfortunately, (in my opinion) many of these booths clearly compromised when it came to delivering an impactful experience and dramatising content for the visitor. As a result, they often felt as though something was lacking or even completely missing! I don’t know about you but when you’re attending such a prestigious show and you’ve invested significant time, effort and money, you need to be wowed. If all exhibitors took a similar approach, I’m not sure we would have come away from CES being suitably impressed.

So, who impressed me?

For me, the booth that got it right was Sony.

Interestingly, Sony didn’t shout about their sustainability credentials of their booth. There were subtle messages that you had to really look for, but no big ‘look how sustainable we are’ statements printed on the wall. The main structural elements of the space consisted of laser-cut voiles, lots of felt and a well-considered variety of lightweight fabrics. All striking, all sustainable. The overall lighting (all low voltage LED) was tastefully moody, but all areas of special interest were nicely picked out. The interactive podiums and experiential spaces were also made from natural materials and had been clearly designed to be re-used. It all felt premium, warm, tactile and inviting – and was consequently the perfect environment to show off an impressive array of shiny new tech.

Now I’m pretty sure that most visitors to the Sony booth didn’t even pick up on this subtly sustainable approach… and I think that’s where we all need to be. Sustainability isn’t a marketing fad that will come and go and it shouldn’t be treated as such. We need to make a fundamental shift in how we cleverly use materials and design going forwards, but not at the expense of the big ‘wow’. If brands feel they have to compromise on the quality of experiences to deliver ambitious sustainability targets, I fear some could return to the wasteful practices of old.

So, can we deliver sustainability and impact as an industry? With the technology and materials now available, smart design and creativity, I’m confident that we can!

Article by Mark Jackson Head of Environments

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