How Green are Your Promotional Products?

eco promotional productsAs a green business owner or sustainable brand, having a greener trade show may be high on your priority list. From generating less trash, to giving away greener swag, there are many ways to lighten your trade show eco footprint.

The promotional gifts industry has been awash with so called “green” promotional products over the last few years, with a large section of this huge industry being dedicated to items that claim to be kinder to the environment. While this sounds great in theory, what is the reality behind the eco-friendly credentials of these items and how might they benefit, as well as damage, the marketing ambitions of well-meaning companies?

A disclaimer, as a marketer working for The Promotional Gifts Company in the UK, I represent one of those companies that offer eco-friendly promotional products. What follows is not a sales pitch to convince you of the virtues of these items but hopefully the start of a debate into the true sustainability of marketing products in general, and whether in fact any disposable commodities can ever truly be labelled as “eco-friendly”.

Take a Look Around

Take a brief moment to look up from this article and have a scan around your office. Whether you’re working from home or in an open plan setting, chances are there will be branded promotional products in your eye line. From pens to calendars, coasters to mugs, the modern workplace is full of branded goods from suppliers and clients that are emblazoned with the company logo.

Now times the number of promotional items in your office by the number of offices in the world and you have a staggering amount of these products that are adorning the desks and walls of companies around the globe.

The promotional products industry is responsible for a huge amount of the goods that are manufactured, distributed, used and disposed of every year and so on the face of it, coming up with an environmentally friendly solution is a great idea. But when you are shopping for promotional products, it is worth reading the small print to see if these items truly match up to your green credentials.

Reusable, Recycled, Recyclable, Bio-degradable……

The list of credentials required for a product to be considered “environmentally friendly” seems quite open to interpretation. Just because a product can be reused, does it necessarily make it kinder to the planet? When browsing the eco-friendly section of your favourite promotional products website (it’s cool if it’s not mine, honest….), check the small print to see what actually makes that product “eco-friendly”. This is particularly important in the promotional products industry given the limited lifespan of the products in question.

So what should you look out for? Well the brutal fact is that promotional products are often only bought with the intention of a marketing a particular campaign, so very often they can quickly end up in the garbage.

The most popular products such as plastic pens and coasters are often not designed or built with longevity in mind, so in order to get the biggest environmental bang for your buck, choose items that are either made from recycled materials or are bio-degradable, preferably both. You can’t rely on your recipients to diligently place their promotional pen in the recycling when they’re finished, so the fact that a product is recyclable probably isn’t your biggest concern.

Sustainability, Transport and Ethical Practice

As with all high demand items with such a short life span, sustainability is an important matter with marketing products. Ensure that the products you choose are from a sustainable source that isn’t eating away at the planet’s resources. Closely tied into the sustainability of your products should be the ethical factors surrounding products that are produced in the Far East. Look out for CSR badges on the website to ensure that your supplier is committed to their sourcing responsibilities.

In some cases, even the most environmentally friendly of products still might not meet your green standards. In the production of any commodity there are environmental implications in the manufacture and distribution of goods. If your company is committed to being as green as possible, items that are produced and manufactured in the Far East then flown, shipped and driven to your office may still be lacking in the green credentials that you require. If this is the case then using even the most eco-friendly of products might do your brand image more harm than good, so bear this in mind when shopping around.

The liberal interpretation of the term “environmentally friendly” makes it very easy for companies to manipulate this into a marketing tool of its own. For the canny business owner who is aware of their responsibilities, it is important to see beyond this marketing and look at what is truly important in terms of the environmental impact of their promotional goods.

The important things to look out for are:

  • Sustainability – products should be made from sustainable or recycled materials.
  • Disposal – products should be bio-degradable. The fact that they can be recycled doesn’t mean that they will be.
  • Corporate Social Responsibility – your ethical responsibilities go beyond what the products are made from and extend to the working practices of the people that make them.

In some cases, using standard promotional items, no matter how carefully sourced, may not be appropriate, but there are ways of making sure that your marketing activities have as little impact on our planet as possible.

Guest Author Bio:

Alan Grainger is a B2B web marker in the promotional gifts sector and works for The Promotional Gifts Company in the UK. You can follow him @alanjgrainger on Twitter.

This post was written by:

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  1. Great post. We’re working on green marketing plus sustainability at uni, and your site has given me some good tips for my paper. Now on to find out which companies in my country are putting this in place, here in Australia.

  2. Alice says:

    The term ‘environmentally friendly’ is abused so often, it almost seems it’s about to lose all meaning, sadly enough. Your post reminded me of those email signatures that ask to pleas consider the environment before printing an email…these signatures especially stick out if they are added to emails of people representing companies that are anything but eco-friendly, ie manufacturers of cheap and toxic kinds of laminate flooring etc.

  3. Alice says:

    Sorry, Alan, I just re-read my previous comment and realized that it may come across the wrong way, so I’ll clarify: I agree with the main premise of your post, so it’s not the post itself, but the part where you say that while green promotion is wonderful in theory, but the reality behind eco-friendly credentials is different, that brought to mind associations with those email signatures :)
    sorry for the confusion.

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