Plastic products of all kinds can end up in landfills. In 2008, about 29.2 million tons of plastic made its way into landfills in the United States, taking up land that could be used for any number of other productive purposes. Obviously, that's not 29.2 million tons of branded sunglasses we're talking about – but considering that only 55% of consumers surveyed will hold on to a giveaway item for a year, plastic promotional products undoubtedly accounted for some of that. (Source: Environmental Impact of Promotional Products)
Your SWAG choices matter
- SWAG is a $23 billion / year industry. In 2011, it was a $17.4 billion. Education has the second largest industrial share of SWAG purchasing.
- The average time SWAG is kept is eight months (source: Global Advertising Specialties Impressions Study 2016 Edition).
- Environmental sustainability is a top commitment for our campus.
UE is committed to a more sustainable approach to promoting ourselves, both environmentally and economically. Because cheap plastics are among the worst for the environment, we need to weigh both cost and environmental considerations. The simplest answer is to use SWAG mindfully and strategically. Read: It’s time to stop spending billions on cheap conference swag (Fast Company, November 2018)
Choosing Effective Swag
SWAG should be selected to start a conversation with your target audience, and to continue the conversation after your point-of-contact making your marketing peer-to-peer.
- Make goal-driven choices. Consider: What is our goal? What is the action we want our audience to take? How will SWAG help that to happen? Is that the best way to accomplish our goal?
- Think about return on investment. Given our goals, does the outcome justify the expense? Can we measure the effectiveness of this approach?
- Value and Placement: How will will your swag be used? Is it something your audience needs? Is it visible? Is it cost-effective?
- Are there digital alternatives? Can you accomplish your goals through social media campaigns and contests, photo booth, a giveaway, or other forms of communication?
Read: Does Swag Work? (Fast Company)
Choosing Sustainable Swag
To accomplish a balance of affordability and reduce environmental impact, choose items that
- meet a need
- will be reused over and over (nice t-shirts, totes, coffee cups, notebooks)
- are compostable or recyclable (coffee sleeves, bamboo fabrics)
- have a small footprint (stickers, pop sockets)
- wearables must be of a quality, design, and message that people will want to use. Read: Fast Fashion Is Creating an Environmental Crisis.
- Talk to us!
At large events such as Decision Day, Welcome Week, or tabling, the primary value is the human contact. You can offer a small, branded item to attract conversation and promote your website, but the return-on-investment is in the conversation. These suggestions are relatively cheap, and although some are plastic, they are smaller, high-use items.
- Stickers – stickers with an appealing design may go on laptops, water bottles, notebooks and other high-visibility places.
- Pop Sockets and Phone Wallets - small footprint; live on phone; choose lower-impact plastics
- Pens – useful and cheap, but low visual impact. Consider multi-function (highlighter, stylus) or green materials (wood, recycled paper barrel)
- Coffee Cup Sleeves – high volume, high impact, recycled paper, compostable, very low per-item cost.
Higher Quality, Lower Volume
When the purpose of SWAG is to create a community or identify brand ambassadors, wearables – t-shirts, hats, bags – are recommended because they are highly visible, reusable, and fill a need.
SWAG that signifies belonging will instill a sense of pride. It should be given to people who will spread the word about your program. It is also good for creating nostalgia – for example, commemorating participation in a special event or completion of a program. This is longer view toward thinking about participants as future donors. On the flip side, giving t-shirts to people who are not going to wear them is not environmentally or economically sound, and waters down your brand. Here are some options to invest in.
- Coffee Mugs – high visibility, repeated use. If you choose travel mugs, invest in quality.
- Wearable items (t-shirts, hats, socks, bags…) for people who will promote your program. Choose high quality shirts that will be worn again and again. They become forward facing off-campus as well. Check out our Guide to Keeping T-Shirt Costs Down Without Compromising Quality.
- Pens – higher quality – choose pens people like and will use.
- Notepads / folios – good for conferences.
- Lapel pins – gives a sense of belonging, can be worn in professional environment, conversation starter. Make sure you get decent quality; cheap lapel pins send the wrong message.
The Case for Sustainable SWAG:
- It’s time to stop spending billions on cheap conference swag (Fast Company, November 2018)
- Here’s the thing about that piece on swag by Elizabeth Segran in Fast Company: she’s right.
- Branded Giveaways And Other Promotional Products: Do They Still Have An Impact? (Forbes.com)
- Green Swag: Tips for Keeping Your Logo Out of the Landfill
- Do the Right Thing: Why We’re Becoming More Mindful in Sharing Swag
Purchasing Guides (From the sustainable products industry; the overall promotional products industry, and universities that have researched sustainable swag.)
- Equiterre Guide to Sustainable Promotional Products
- University of Saskatchewan Sustainable Purchasing Guide
- UBC (University of British Columbia) Social Ecological Economic Development Studies (SEEDS) Student Report: An Investigation into Sustainable Swag (2015)
- Global Advertising Specialties Impressions Study 2016 Edition