Disposable conference swag: can it finally be eliminated?

      After a two-year hold, work conferences are starting to kick up again, along with the cheap merchandise that companies give out to its employees. These brands have produced over $64 billion in swag by promoting their low-priced items in bulk. According to Forbes, only 21% of swag or promotional items are kept for an extended amount of time. About half is donated or given away, and 23% is thrown away, which ends up clogging landfills.

      Over time, these items have made an enormous effect on the planet– adding to the already ginormous pollution problem. “Manufacturing these goods requires extracting raw materials and spewing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere,” says Elizabeth Segren with Fast Company.

     Because events during the last two years have been canceled or delayed, these wasteful products have not been needed. However, with this second chance, will companies make the right decision regarding how they treat the planet? The consumers themselves don’t want cheap swag, or maybe anything at all. Can we find a better alternative to it? There are many ways to do this, whether companies opt for more sustainable merch, or skip it altogether. Simon Polet, owner of Merchery, says we should “give (employees) the choice, so they can get something they will actually use for a long time.” According to a study by Cones Communications, about  63% of consumers in the U.S. want businesses to help improve environmental problems. “Companies spend millions of dollars on events that are designed to promote goodwill […] yet they often procure damaging items that are purchased as an afterthought,” says Forbes.

      If more companies buy their event merch from eco-friendly brands, such as Patagonia or Yeti, which help improve our environment, progress can certainly be made with our pollution problem.  “Coming back to a product over and over is the way to really cultivate loyalty,” says Polet.

      Doing away with the cheap merch can be a win-win for the earth as a whole. In the end, maybe giving employees what they want will end up being what the earth wants too.


Fast company