By Bill Beggs Jr.
St. Louis—It’s one thing to make sure there’s a recycling container in the lunchroom at work. It’s quite another to engineer an entire array of products to be friendly to the environment—plastic name badges, to boot.
Kleertech, one of the largest manufacturers of the vinyl badge-holders that meetings and events attendees wear, makes 2 million badges a month. Scott McKye, owner and founder of the company, has been a prime mover in the sustainability movement since the day’s when “green” was just a fad.
“Scott is one of the most obsessed people about sustainability you’ll find anywhere,” says Lew Shomer, executive director of the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO). “He’s bright, he’s creative, and he’s made turning plastic into green his life’s passion.”
SISO is one of several “insider” industry groups that have stuck with Kleertech even as the St. Louis-based company has worked out glitches in its products’ biodegradability. At the outset, badges kept on the shelf too long deteriorated after a year or so, as they had been engineered to do. Great in concept, a tad surprising in practice.
A few years ago, attendees at an American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) meeting were surprised to find their badges had grown brittle and were falling apart during the event. They were the beta testers, actually, and when they learned that the plastic was designed to behave that way, they got behind McKye’s product, and his overall efforts to drive the process of green meeting standards throughout the industry. They weren’t the only ones.
Kleertech and MM&E staff provide easy check-in service and the Bio-D Badge system to planners and vendors during the Kansas City PLANit Tech-Know Expo September 17-18, 2012.
Vikki Matthews of Missouri Meetings & Events in St. Louis remembers a similar experience. The company used badge stock that had been on the shelf a while.
“Shelf life was an issue,” Matthews acknowledges. “People didn’t mind. Planners at our event turned it into something fun.”
The badges don’t behave sort of like zombies anymore—they don’t fall apart once above ground. (We’ll explain why in just a moment.) Meet Event Services, a St. Louis-based rep for Kleertech, is fully behind the state-of-the-art green product line, from acetate lanyards to new vinyl badges.
“Kleertech has been very helpful during our trade shows over the past few years. They are very professional,” Matthews says. “We stuff the badges beforehand, and it’s a very easy product to utilize. For one thing, it’s the right size. It speeds up the registration process.”
So what’s so dramatically different about the new badges? They are fully biodegradable, now just via a different mechanism. Instead of breaking down after a certain amount of time exposed to the atmosphere, they will biodegrade in as few as six years in a landfill, via an anaerobic process. Unlike plastic shopping bags, which along with cockroaches may be the only things remaining after the Apocalypse, Kleertech’s badges, lanyards and other materials are broken down by bacteria in an oxygen-free environment. Six feet or deeper underground is ideal.
Badges and lanyards are as unavoidable at a meeting as booths and special suites where vendors try to ply you with cocktails.
And tons upon tons of materials have to be discarded once a show winds up. Since there are a whole lot of shows going on, day in and day out, all year long, this debris adds up. In SISO alone, says Shomer, members organize 3,500 events a year. That’s a whole bunch of badges. Shomer emphasizes that McKye is SISO’s go-to guy for sustainability issues, as he was the driver of the green initiative in the meeting industry. He wasn’t preaching to the choir, at first. Most companies got behind green because it was good PR.
And then, they did it because the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was gently breathing down their necks.
It was in 2008 that the winds of change started to blow at gale force, and McKye was like the skipper of a sailboat. He had a lot of help from able “crew members,” and credits meeting organizations for their foresight and intestinal fortitude.
“Risky as it was to go ‘live’ using untested high-tech biodegradable registration materials still in development, SISO’s trust and courage ultimately proved well placed,” McKye writes. “A cascade of environmentally conscientious materials and products are now viable solutions available to the entire world of shows.”
Sooner rather than later, of course, it will just be good business, says McKye.
“We won’t be paying more because it’s green anymore,” McKye predicts. “In 24 months, we’ll be paying less because it’s green.”