As a long-standing partner of the business portal “Das kommt aus Bielefeld”, we are sustainably committed to our region. As an encouragement and inspiration for companies that are still in the early stages of their sustainable activities, we have now shared our Green Story with the DKAB portal.
In addition to digital, we are also facing up to green transformation and report in our interview on our efforts and certified successes in terms of sustainability as well as the topic of digital trade shows.
A trade show appearance is commonly associated with a lot of packaging waste. The Bielefeld company formdrei Messe und Event GmbH impressively demonstrates that this can also be done differently – namely more sustainably. Managing Director Armin Hollensteiner and Sustainability Officer Fabian Räker report on how this can be done.
formdrei has been a “Sustainable Company” since 2013. Why did you take this step?
On the one hand, we want to operate sustainably as a company, and on the other hand, we noticed early on that our customers also increasingly have a “green expectation”. Because we were one of the first in the industry to be certified, this is – in addition to our many years of experience – a competitive advantage and at the same time a marketing tool.
What does the certification look like in concrete terms?
This is always a time-consuming affair. After all, certification is due every two years. The way we understand sustainability, it’s an ongoing process anyway. When the first certification was due, I was quite new to the company and first had to get to grips with the subject very intensively. By the time we had all the necessary documents together, I must have spent a net total of eight weeks. As part of the certification process, we have to demonstrate our sustainable behavior in eleven different categories. Economic, ecological and social measures have to be formulated. From the energy balance, to the mobility concept, waste management, supplier structure, responsibility toward employees, to the general cost and revenue structure, the areas audited can be quite different.
In each certification round, we also have to formulate new planned measures that we want to implement over the next two years. This is audited the next time. For example, we have installed an extraction system with heat recovery in our production – we manufacture in-house. Everything we do, we have to document and submit with photos or videos. If that’s not enough, an inspector will also take a look at the conditions on our premises.
The modernization of our carpentry shop and the replacement of windows and exterior facades are on the agenda in order to become even more energy efficient. In our industry, waste and waste avoidance are huge issues. We work a lot with reusable materials, rental materials and modular systems. This means that we store certain modules for our customers, which we individualize and creatively redesign for the next trade show appearance. We have set up a 5,000 sq m warehouse for this purpose. It all starts with sustainable planning.
We also use software for cutting optimization, for example, so that significantly less waste is produced. Some of the materials that cannot be used again on the construction site are reused internally. For example, we use carpet as packaging material to provide additional protection for our valuable material.
You also offer project-related certifications for your customers …
Exactly. This is a good marketing tool for customers to be able to advertise with a climate-neutral trade fair stand. There are two possibilities: One is the very comprehensive “Sustainable Project” certification, where you describe and prove sustainable measures in detail. For this type of certification, however, we require at least 8 weeks’ advance notice so that the exhibitor can use the certificate for advertising purposes in advance. A more cost-effective and less time-consuming alternative is the calculation of a project-related carbon footprint. This is determined by a specially developed trade fair stand calculator and the sum of the emissions is offset. The money is used to support sustainable projects in the region, but also internationally, such as reforestation of the rainforest.
You are on the road at trade fairs in Germany and in other European countries. Is regionality an issue for you?
Absolutely. More than half of our top 20 suppliers come from OWL. When we ask for offers, we always opt for the colleague from the region if the quality and cost structure are the same. Overall, 85 percent of our most important suppliers come from North Rhine-Westphalia.
Speaking of on the road, mobility is also an important issue for us. When we are commissioned to design and assemble a trade show booth, we inevitably have to travel to the trade show location for assembly and disassembly. We take great care to ensure that our vehicles are fully loaded.
A few trade shows were held during the Corona pandemic.
Digital trade shows were tried out. Is virtual the model of the future?
No, absolutely not. There is no substitute for presence. A trade show appeals to all five senses, and people – as we have learned in the last two years at the latest – are social beings who want and need direct interpersonal contact. Incidentally, trade shows are not as bad in terms of their eco-balance as is often assumed. This is because exchanges take place centrally and in bundled form, which would otherwise require much more individual effort. Some order fairs with good hygiene concepts have taken place despite Corona. And the participants were very satisfied with the results. Smaller and medium-sized companies need trade fairs to show themselves and their products. These do not have the marketing budget like large corporations or brands to reach their clientele. In addition, digital trade shows also cost a lot of money. There are also products that can only be experienced haptically or that require explanation. That works best in a personal conversation. In addition, trade shows awaken the spirit of discovery. In a short time, you get a good impression of upcoming trends and you can be wonderfully inspired.
After numerous digital formats that have been tried out over the last two years and have fallen well short of participants’ expectations, my forecast is that digital formats can at most usefully supplement face-to-face events, but never replace them equally. Hybrid events and digitization in general are already topics that concern us.
In which areas?
We have invested in technology and knowledge to digitally support face-to-face events. Here we can offer our customers efficient and sustainable solutions. But we have also used the pandemic internally to digitalize our warehouse. In order to reduce errors and thus save unnecessary costs, we work in our warehouse with scanner systems and barcodes that are linked to our merchandise management system via an interface. This is because subsequent deliveries due to forgotten material are not only cost-intensive, but also mean additional avoidable emissions. We will also be working with digital construction folders at trade shows in the future. An interface via a tablet provides a direct link to us in Bielefeld. Due to the pandemic, we are currently using various tools for video conferencing. While this type of communication is not suitable for sampling, we will increasingly hold pure consulting and presentation meetings digitally in the future in order to save valuable resources.
You can find the complete interview here.