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Ecobuild: finding its own level?

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of Spring shall blow.

So, Ecobuild. What did we all think then?

For the last three years – definitely since its move from Earls Court to Excel – the self-styled ‘world’s largest sustainable building exhibition’ has been more about the build than the eco.

Sustainable building may well now been the mainstream (it has to be, for the future of the planet etc etc), but that epithet is being applied to a rather wider selection of products than it once was. I have slightly nostalgic memories of the rickety straw-bale houses and wacky-looking composting loos of the first exhibitions, all of which would look incongruous at Excel, next to the huge double-decker stands and slick marketing; sustainable building is big business now, not a cottage industry.

And, as a business, it has to cope with the ups and downs of the market. As does the exhibition business that serves it, about which, incidentally, Building Design Expert has written a jolly good blog, here.

Is that why there were so many ‘meeting spaces’ at Ecobuild – those areas with artfully laid out seating areas and coffee carts, aimed at disguising the fact that the stands that were supposed to be there hadn’t been, err, sold? Is that why the ‘back wall’ of both halls, but particularly the South hall, looked slightly odd, until you realised how much empty space there was behind it?

There was a definite drop in how busy the show felt as well, both on Wednesday and Tuesday compared with previous years and some notable names were missing from the cast list. The solar PV and thermal companies which were everywhere two years ago had also continued to drop off in terms of visibility at the show.

Is this indicative of the times we find ourselves in – that there simply isn’t the money in the industry to fund these huge, expensive marketing ventures? Or is it that all these things have an optimum size and that Ecobuild is now adjusting and finding its own level?

I remember the days when a show of that size – Interbuild – would require one to spend a week in Birmingham just to make sure you saw all that you wanted. Three days wasn’t enough to see everything at Ecobuild last year, nor the year before, especially if you wanted to take in any of the seminars.

I think it’s probably a combination of a number of factors. I just looked back at the blog I wrote after the 2011 show which was, rightly, lauded as the best building show for many years . I guess it’s hard to have one of those every year – especially with business as tough as it is today. And, remember, back in 2011, we were all expecting (well, hoping) that the recession was bottoming out and that by now (i.e. 2013), the market would be very much healthier.

Oh, how naive we were. That’s probably another reason why this year’s show was a wee bit smaller and quieter – this recession has gone on far longer and been far more painful than it ought to have been and we are all still suffering.

How successful exhibitions are is always a question that can only be answered when the quality of the enquiries is analysed days and weeks later, of course, but there were still plenty of people who seemed pleased.

The Green Deal and ECO schemes are still in their infancy, of course, but every time I tried to hunt out Wolseley’s Tim Pollard on the Plumb Center stand, he was knee-deep in punters all after info on how they could get involved in the scheme.

So that was nice.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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