Sustainable Swag

selection of UE swag including stickers, t-shirts, water bottles

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

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. 

  1. 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? 
  2. Think about return on investment. Given our goals, does the outcome justify the expense? Can we measure the effectiveness of this approach?
  3. Value and Placement: How will will your swag be used? Is it something your audience needs? Is it visible? Is it cost-effective?
  4. 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 

Yolo County Landfill. Photo: Davis Enterprise
Yolo County Landfill. Photo: Davis Enterprise
High-Volume Options

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. 

  1. Stickers – stickers with an appealing design may go on laptops, water bottles, notebooks and other high-visibility places.
  2. Pop Sockets and Phone Wallets - small footprint; live on phone; choose lower-impact plastics
  3. Pens – useful and cheap, but low visual impact. Consider multi-function (highlighter, stylus) or green materials (wood, recycled paper barrel)
  4. 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. 

  1. Coffee Mugs – high visibility, repeated use.  If you choose travel mugs, invest in quality.
  2. 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.
  3. Pens – higher quality – choose pens people like and will use.
  4. Notepads / folios – good for conferences.
  5. 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. 

Learn More

The Case for Sustainable SWAG:

Purchasing Guides (From the sustainable products industry; the overall promotional products industry, and universities that have researched sustainable swag.)