5 Simple Ways to Make Event Swag More Sustainable

5 Simple Ways to Make Event Swag More Sustainable

Live events are the lifeblood of the promotional products industry. After all, who doesn’t

Live events are the lifeblood of the promotional products industry. After all, who doesn’t love commemorating an experience with some fun and functional branded merch? The downside, from a sustainability perspective, is the amount of waste that’s typically generated when large groups gather. A California study found that the average participant at a public event generates around 2.5 pounds of waste per day.

To help ensure promo isn’t part of the problem, consider these five strategies to make your event swag more sustainable – and less likely to end up in a landfill.

1. Don’t print the event date on merch.
Recipients are more likely to keep and wear branded apparel beyond the event itself if the date isn’t included on it. “Based on our research, the usage of that garment, whatever it is, drops significantly once the year is over,” says Steve Starr, vice president of global programs at Top 40 distributor Corporate Imaging Concepts (CIC; asi/168962). “It makes sense – you don’t want to be wearing an old one.”

In addition to encouraging reuse beyond the event, omitting the date on swag allows clients to reuse any leftover swag at subsequent events without drawing attention to the fact that it’s not new.

2. Focus on quality – in both the product and artwork design.
Ask your clients to consider buying a smaller amount of quality swag that can be given out to high-value attendees, rather than bulk-buying cheap items that recipients might not even want. And make sure the artwork design isn’t an afterthought. Take cues from retail to help your clients communicate their branding in a subtle, yet effective way.

3. Make attendees opt in.
Rather than handing out branded merch directly at the event, consider an alternate approach where attendees fill out a form – or have their badge scanned – to share their contact info in exchange for receiving a promo item after the event. This serves the dual purpose of ensuring that only recipients who actually want a gift receive one, and allowing attendee data to be easily collected by the gift sponsor.

4. Consider live decoration on demand.
Live decoration – where companies have a screen printer or other apparel decorator on hand at an event – was a hot trend prior to the pandemic, fitting in nicely with the rise of experiential marketing. It taps into the power of personalization. “When people have the opportunity to take part and feel like they’re an asset in bringing something to life, there’s way more benefit to the brand,” Lucas Guariglia, owner of Chicago-based apparel decorating firm Rowboat Creative (asi/313715), has said. “People can get creative, and it gives them more brand buy-in.”

COVID-19 put a damper on the trend, to be sure. But with the return of live events, on-site decoration is also coming back.

From a sustainability perspective, on-demand decoration helps to ensure that attendees receive a promotional item with special meaning that they’ll treasure and use; plus, brands won’t be saddled with a bunch of unusable swag at the end of the event. Leftover blanks can instead be used for a different project.

5. Upcycle signage after an event.
Upcycling – where people find a creative reuse for unwanted items rather than throwing them away – has been growing in the promo world, with many companies opting for swag repurposed from pre-worn T-shirts or discarded wine bottles. “Upcycling isn’t just a trend. To us, it’s the only way the fashion industry can move forward,” Kathy Cheng, president of Redwood Classics Apparel (asi/81627), has said.

A great way to apply this principle to the events world is to find new life for signage, rather than relegating it to a landfill. Billboards and vinyl signs can be transformed into tote bags, wallets, backpacks and more. Redwood Classics, for example, recently collaborated with garment-recycling company Preloved to transform single-use street-pole banners from the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto into a collection of three functional, handcrafted upcycled bags. Rareform, another company in the upcycling business, takes used billboards and transforms them into a variety of accessories.

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