Promotional Merchandising and the Planet

By Hannah Cooper

Branded merchandise can be a great way to get your company or event’s name out there. Whether it’s pens, t-shirts, or key rings, companies big and small are utilising this marketing technique every day to make an impression. And it works! According to the British Promotional Merchandise Association, 96% of people who received promotional merchandise believed that it increased their awareness of a brand, and 79% believed they were more likely to do business with a brand that had given them promotional merchandise. This is great. However, if your company or event cares about environmental sustainability, how do you weigh up the cost of your merchandise versus the cost to the planet? In today’s world, the call for environmental sustainability is louder than ever before. As individuals and businesses alike strive to reduce their carbon footprint and minimize their impact on the planet, the concept of environmentally sustainable promotional merchandise has gained significant momentum. Gone are the days of single-use, wasteful items – now, promotional products can be both effective marketing tools and eco-friendly choices.

Whilst promotional merchandise makes an impression, research shows that only 21% of promotional merchandise is kept by the recipient. This leaves us asking the question: where does it end up? It turns out, more than half is given away and a whopping 23% goes straight in the bin and to incineration or landfill. If you have any consideration for the environment, giving away items that are immediately wasted is pointless and not a good look, raising concerns of overconsumption. But how do you reap the rewards without damaging our environment? We’ve put together a few tips on how you can utilise promotional merchandise in a sustainable and ethical way. 

Firstly, ditch the plastic. As a petrochemical, plastic has an extremely high impact on the climate and environment at every stage of its life. If you are going to offer merchandise such as pens, lanyards and key rings, consider using natural materials such as bamboo which will biodegrade if thrown away, instead of hanging around for hundreds, even thousands of years like plastic. You can find a supplier of bamboo pens here*. 

Next, think about what is useful. There is no point giving away snap bands to a corporate audience who will never wear them, or bumper stickers at a kids event where no one owns a car. People are more likely to keep hold of something if they find it useful. Tote bags, water bottles and reusable cups are all items that are going to be useful to most people. All of these items can be used over and over again, giving them the opportunity to make a lasting impression, whilst avoiding a lifetime in landfill. Longevity can also be as simple as avoiding adding dates to your merchandise. This works especially well for events. Opting out of adding the year of the event on merchandise, particularly on clothing items, creates a timeless item that won’t be replaced by the time the next year’s event rolls around. Moreover, any stock of merchandise left over can be used year after year without becoming outdated. Using the same merchandise again and again also counters consumerism, as people are less likely to take an item if they already have the same one at home. Go for quality items whenever possible, which will increase the chances that your customers or clients will keep hold of them, keeping your brand visible for longer.

You can also encourage sustainable behaviours with the promotional merchandise that you use. Choose sustainable materials – opt for items that are recycled or upcycled. Go for reusable items such as bottles, cups, straws, and cutlery sets which offer an alternative to their harmful disposable counterparts. Items that give people the opportunity to change their habits for the better (not only for their wallets but also for the environment) give the message that your brand values sustainability. It shows that you walk the walk, by giving people the tools to look after the planet. More sustainably sourced items often come with less packaging too, or packaging that can be more easily recycled.

Borrow Brew Cup
Reusable Coffee Cup

Lastly, the MOST sustainable option is forgoing promotional merchandise altogether. This creates no waste, requires no energy and sends the message that your company or event is taking a stand against overconsumption. Some great alternatives to promotional merchandise are virtual experiences or even collaborative projects that people can leave their mark on. An example of this is using social media filters, frames or hashtags that anyone can get involved in. Social media is an extremely powerful marketing tool, and allows your image to be shared all over the world- a much further reach than a branded pen would have. Virtual classes or workshops are also a great way to give someone an experience that they won’t forget. They might even come back for more as a new customer. 

But what are the benefits?

  1. Positive Brand Image: Associating your brand with environmentally friendly products can enhance your reputation and appeal to eco-conscious customers. It demonstrates that you are mindful of your environmental impact and are taking steps to mitigate it.
  2. Customer Loyalty: Consumers are more likely to support businesses that share their values. By offering sustainable promotional merchandise, you can foster a sense of loyalty among customers who appreciate your commitment to the environment.
  3. Reduced Waste: Traditional promotional items often end up in landfills, contributing to the global waste problem. Sustainable merchandise is designed with durability and recyclability in mind, reducing waste and conserving resources.
  4. Cost Savings: While initial costs for sustainable merchandise may be slightly higher, the long-term benefits include reduced expenses related to disposal and replacements. Moreover, sustainable options can lead to a reduction in packaging and transportation costs.
  5. Compliance with Regulations: As governments worldwide implement stricter environmental regulations, adopting sustainable promotional merchandise can help you stay ahead of compliance requirements.
  6. Educate and Inform: If you include information about the environmental benefits of your merchandise in your marketing materials and on the products themselves, you positively reinforce your messaging and explain why making sustainable choices is important to your business. This may have a ripple effect, encouraging other business owners to look at and overhaul their own merchandising to become more environmentally focussed – that’s a winner!

Whatever marketing tactic you want to go with, we hope this guide will help you feel confident that you are helping the planet at the same time as helping your business grow. Embracing an environmentally sustainable promotional merchandise strategy is a smart and responsible choice for businesses today. It not only helps protect the planet but also resonates with eco-conscious consumers. By making sustainability a core part of your promotional strategy, you can not only promote your brand but also contribute to a greener, more sustainable future. In doing so, you’ll demonstrate that your business is committed to making a positive impact on both your bottom line and the environment.

*Please note that we are not affiliated with any promotional branding companies and any examples given in this blog are purely illustrative. Please do your own homework on finding the best match for your needs – thanks!

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