It’s that time of year again: conference season. If you’re attending a conference this year, you are among the 225 million people attending more than 1.8 million events in the U.S.  Businesses spend about $565 billion on hosting, attending, and exhibiting at industry-related conferences. Promotional product giveaways cost businesses $20 billion a year.  This means a lot of giveaways are likely going in the trash. I myself am guilty of picking up lots of loot, just to throw everything away when I get home.

There are some businesses that are giving this more thought and greening the conference giveaway.  In recent years, the reusable bag has been a very popular green giveaway, hoping that this will have more of a life than the logoed koozie or plastic water bottle.

There are many ways we can be conscious consumers when choosing business giveaways. Let’s break it down using the 3 Rs:  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

1.  Reduce

The best way to eliminate trash would be to get rid of the excess of products altogether.  There are some creative ways to do this.  How about selecting a few higher quality gifts and have a raffle for people who leave their business cards at your booth?  It could be an iPod, a Bluetooth speaker, or a great gift card. 

Another idea is to spend your promotional budget on a charitable donation. Select a charity that is relevant to your industry and use signage to announce the donation.  Attendees will feel engaged in your work while learning that your company is charitable.

I also like the idea of keeping people engaged by delivering a service instead of giving away trinkets.  Bring in a local food truck, give away 5-minute chair massages, or provide locally made snacks that will interest attendees.

Doing something different will naturally draw people to your booth and away from the monotony of typical conference offerings.  Another way to advertise that you are an environmentally friendly company would be to purchase carbon offset credits for everyone’s travel to the conference. Use Green-e to help decide where to purchase offsets.

Supporting global social and environmental projects through ClimateCare with your promotional budget would be another interesting way to market your company.  Yet another possibility could be to select projects like saving elephants or protecting old growth forests with NRDCs Green Gifts.  Attendees will be interested in the project you have selected if you show video or provide other engaging information.

2.  Reuse

Providing reusable products is another way to green your promotional giveaways. There are many items available that are reusable. Help preserve natural resources by giving away heirloom seeds from Seed Savers Exchange. You can add to the appeal of reusable totes by purchasing bags made out of recycled, organic, and upcycled materials. Try EcoPlum for totes as well as upcycled leather coasters, reclaimed wood desk organizers, and recycled paper journals. Your booth will be a draw for the techy types with solar chargers and bamboo flash drives from Earthly Goods. Also, Resource Revival is another cool company making products out of recycled bicycle chains.  You can get bike chain bottle openers and luggage tags that stand out against other offerings.

It’s important to make a statement at your booth, calling out your reusable products.  This says to the community that your company cares about sustainability.

3.  Recycle

Another option is giving away recyclable and biodegradable products. You can get plant-able business cards that are made in America and printed with earth-friendly inks from Eco PromotionsPlanet Earth Promotions sells many products that are made with seeded paper in addition to biodegradable jute totes and compostable “rag” bags.  Earthly Goods also makes containers out of corn, which are recyclable and compostable. Put candy in the containers and advertise that you care about the environment. You can buy almost all categories of giveaway products in recycled materials.  For something different, try the soy/recycled wine bottle candles from EcoPlum or the pencils made from recycled newspaper and denim from Empire Promos.

 

Try to steer clear of putting your company logo on cheap trinkets. It isn’t worth the environmental impact. Replacing the old standard giveaway with thoughtful sustainable options is an excellent way to promote your business.  I would remember a company that was giving to the planet and promoting good sustainable practices. Wouldn’t you?

For more information on the purchasing with the 3 Rs in mind, see Sustrana’s three part series on sustainable purchasing here.