How to Green Your Promotions

Any organization that’s committed to sustainability throughout its operations needs to take a look at the promotional items it gives away to customers and prospects. If these high-profile items aren’t thoroughly green, your sustainability story is unlikely to gain much traction. Here are seven points to consider when seeking promotional items that reinforce your brand and communicate your commitment to sustainability.

1. Be practically green
Promotional products must not only be green, but also have a practical function. If your customer won’t use the item, it could promptly wind up in a landfill, thereby defeating your green intentions. For example, USB flash drives are great gift ideas because they can be loaded with your promotional message and used again and again. Better yet, eco-friendly flash drives made with lead-free solder are available to reinforce your message.

2. Reflect innovation and high design
If you want your organization to be thought of as innovative, your promotional items better be too. And if you want your customers to think of high design when they think of you, make sure that image comes through clearly in the caliber of your giveaways. Custom promotional items can be crafted to meet both objectives. The Grand Rapids Art Museum, for instance, was the first in the country to earn LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) from the U.S. Green Building Council. When the museum filled its gift shop, it opted for earth-friendly items like organic cotton T-shirts, journals made from 100 percent post-consumer waste, and hang tags produced using wind energy.

3. Tell the eco story
Try to develop promotional items that tell a story. If you can come up with an item that has an educational component to engage the user’s interest, chances are you’ve come up with a winner. Example: Office furniture maker Haworth of Holland, Mich., commissioned promotional items made from logs salvaged from the bottom of the Great Lakes. The logs sank during Michigan’s 19th century lumber boom -“ often along with the ships that carried them -“ but now have been resurrected to help tell Haworth’s sustainability story.

4. Source locally
You can’t claim to be eco-friendly and committed to quality if you’re giving away cheap imported items made of plastic. Sophisticated buyers have no respect for that sort of thing. Consider paying more for items made in the United States. Better yet, contract a local source to make custom items within your community. If customers and prospects care about your environmental commitment, chances are they’ll care about your community stewardship as well.

5. Be transparent
Be honest about where your organization is on its green journey. Don’t claim to have six green products if three of them are still in development and haven’t launched yet. Sophisticated buyers will research your claim and rule you out based on “greenwashing” -“ the increasingly common practice of hyping environmental accomplishments.

6. Consider the cost
Obtaining internal approval to use green marketing items isn’t always easy because going green typically costs a bit more. But many organizations ultimately feel that doing what’s right for the environment is worth the extra expense. The same goes for doing what’s right by the people who make promotional items. Organizations that care about sustainability typically show an interest in dealing with factories that are fair-trade certified, which means employees make fair wages and have good working conditions.

7. Use your own leftovers
Look at the materials left over from your manufacturing processes to see if anything can be salvaged and turned into a promotional item. Toyota, Herman Miller, Bissell, and Amway are among the companies using this strategy. Promotional items made from your post-industrial waste products can be a powerful and creative way to communicate the depth of your environmental commitment.

Promotional items can work hard to communicate your sustainability story and reinforce your brand. Done well, they can go from being just another trinket to a conversation piece that keeps customers and prospects talking favorably about your organization.

Karen Scarpino ([email protected]) is the president of Green Giftz of Grand Rapids, Mich., a “Woman-Owned Business” certified by Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. Green Giftz creates custom sustainable promotional items to help innovative companies boost sales and leave a lasting impact.