Cleaning up Swag
How Can One of the World’s Largest Polluters Lessen Its Impact?
By Kevin McCracken, Co-founder of Social Imprints
Second only to the fossil fuel industry, the retail clothing industry is a major global polluter, responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions and 300 million tons of plastic produced annually. Promotional products, such as T-shirts and branded gear, is a leading sector that contributes to the huge environmental footprint of the clothing industry. Yet, swag is a $20 billion industry in the United States that is continually growing, especially as gifting swag has proven to be a useful strategy to foster workplace loyalty. It’s not going anywhere. So, herein lies the question: How should companies and the promotional products industry continue to develop products that unify teams, foster loyalty and engender company pride, while also reducing their negative environmental impact? Currently, there is no perfect zero-carbon, zero waste, zero-environmental impact solution to swag or promotional products. However, we can do something. In absence of a long term, future-proof solution, we suggest strategies for promoting conscious and thoughtful spending, responsible sourcing and negative environmental impact mitigation.
Invest in Quality, not Quantity.
The average time people keep promotional products in the U.S. is 16 months before throwing them out. This is a problem, because it means lots of products – apparel, drinkware, tech – go to waste, and with good reason. Many companies try to get the lowest price, but this is not the way to go. Why? Because making price the only consideration leads to cheap, impractical stuff that does not fit the end user.
The key to reducing landfill waste is to buy consciously and thoughtfully. Branded products should feel like a gift – something that the recipient will cherish and want to keep. No one wants a gift that feels like an afterthought. Invest in products that are well constructed, thoughtfully designed, and intended to stand the test of time. What would you want to keep and use? That’s the question to ask.
As the saying goes, you vote with your dollars. So, if you're going to purchase promotional products, “vote” for eco-friendly practices by purchasing products from companies and vendors that seek to reduce their environmental impact. These eco-friendly approaches can include ethical labor, water and energy reduction, and give back programs. An ethical swag provider should have a catalog or filter that makes it easy to find the products from vendors that are doing their best to mitigate their impact or give back to the Earth.
Next time you are in the market for new swag, ask your branding company for their sustainable offerings. If they are doing the right thing, they should have a catalog or filter for eco-friendly products and suppliers.
Mitigate Your Environmental Impact + Track Progress.
Consider the ways you can compensate for your carbon, or partner with vendors who do. There are companies and nonprofits who offer to protect rainforests, create green spaces and compensate for carbon with tree-planting services. See who you can partner with to mitigate your environmental impact through these existing offerings.
Also, if you are doing the right thing, consider setting up methods for measuring and tracking your progress. Some swag providers even offer portals that report and track your sustainable choices, based on your support for diverse workplaces and vendors, eco-friendly products, sustainability initiatives and more – to help you meet your Sustainable Development Goals.
With no known long-term solution, we must do what we can to prioritize thoughtful spending and responsible sourcing. Strategies that incorporate sustainable thinking will help create a greener promotional products industry. While the path toward sustainability is not always clear, it is important to do your part toward a brighter and cleaner future for the health of our Earth and future generations. Let’s get to work!