The hottest movement around in both the promotional products industry and the country is – choose your label – green, sustainability, the environment, social responsibility.
It seems to have legs this time around, too. And it has come about four years sooner than a shy, futurist friend of mine had predicted. His forecast was based on the generational shifts taking place and the fact that kids brought up thinking green will be voting in 2012. That is certainly a part of the phenomena. The young people who grew up learning about the impact of our consumption on the environment are entering the workplace and having a voice.
In his eye-opening book, “A Whole New Mind,” author Daniel Pink points to three trends that are revolutionizing our society and moving us from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. The three factors – abundance, Asia and automation – are changing how we must think to excel in this evolving world. Material abundance is deepening the yearning for more meaningful lives. The sensibilities that this drives include beauty, spirituality, emotion, and a corollary sense of responsibility and connection to nature.
Many people point to Nobel Prize Winner Al Gore’s amazing presentation turned Academy Award-winning movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.” This, they say, helped convince many Americans of climate change, and the movement is resonating with a wide range of people. On the subject of global warming, even those who prefer to believe Exxon/Mobil’s scientists over hundreds of independent scientists from various countries cannot deny that we’re reaching a level of trash creation that has got to stop.
Business writer Polly LaBarre in Fast Company magazine wrote, “The United States spends more on trash bags than 90 other countries spend on everything. In other words, the receptacles of our waste cost more than the goods consumed by nearly half of the world’s nations.”
You and I are generating 4.5 pounds of trash every single day of our lives. That’s some 95,000 pounds that we’re leaving for our grandchildren to figure out what to do with. Our children and theirs may be challenged with fresh water to drink. There may be wars fought over fresh water tomorrow just as we fight them today over oil. One billion people on this planet have no source of clean, fresh water.
Being green is the right thing to do. Most faith-based belief systems call on their followers to be good stewards of this Earth. Most scientists agree that we cannot just keep ravaging the earth to create more stuff for us to throw away, pile up, burn up or pollute the only planet we have. But businesses are about making money and the moralistic argument usually doesn’t drive movements like we’re seeing in green. Are major corporations suddenly doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do?
In a recent survey, Fortune 500 CEOs identified environmental responsibility as one of the three most important issues facing organizations today. There are three reasons why green means a black bottom line. Organizations that are adopting and investing in environmentally responsible initiatives are:
The largest company in the history of the world is known for slashing every cost and blamed by many for the loss of American factory jobs and the commoditization of nearly everything. Yet, that company, Wal-Mart, will invest $500 million per year into energy-saving programs. Wal-Mart doesn’t do things to be politically expedient. According to its CEO, Lee Scott, creating more environmentally friendly products, demanding sustainable fisheries, adding clothing made from organic materials and setting targets to use 100-percent renewable energy in the near future “will make us a more competitive and innovative company.”
Why should a small company care that giant companies are going green? How about because it’s the right thing to do? Not enough reason? There will be a trickle down effect. You may not have a client like Wal-Mart, but they will be demanding that their entire supply chain clean up their act. And you are probably somewhere in the supply chain. If you ever respond to RFPs (requests for proposal), you can expect to start seeing a section asking you about your own eco-friendly policies and practices.
You also have the tools to be a solution provider. You can help your clients undertake sustainable and earth-friendly steps. You have a lot of tools at-hand that can carry the message to stakeholders throughout an organization. It’s up to you to make the right product choices. And it’s up to you to start at your own office and in your daily life to make a difference.
The good news is that we don’t have to make massive changes. We can make small ones on a daily basis. It will add up. It will make a big difference. It will also create opportunities to do the right thing. As promotional products professionals, we can be mindful to be recommending the right solution. Could you even say no to an order if it was not the right solution or a more earth-friendly solution exists?
Promotional products can be a very environmentally friendly medium. The message can be delivered on a useful, re-useable and multi-purpose platform that interacts with the recipient. And the recipient interacts with the medium. Undistributed products can and should be donated to schools, shelters, missions and places they’ll be valued and used. (Check out the Kids In Need Foundation through the link at www.ppa.org.) Promotional products have a strong record of ROI. The target audience actively accepts them. They engage rather than interrupt. And they can be an important element of a green campaign.
A company could replace disposable coffee cups a with ceramics or reusable drinkware, which can also suggest ways for employees to save resources and energy around the office. As the practitioners of this industry, we can make promotional products even more relevant and a smarter, greener choice for marketers. To do so, the industry has to work for positive change and we must be conscious of what we are selling, how it gets used and how it’s disposed of. Then, we can turn that into a positive message about a useful media that is long lasting and desirable. If we create opportunistic green junk, we will have the opposite effect.
We can have a much earth-friendlier message than:
Direct mail – The average household receives 1.5 trees’ worth of junk mail each year (which has an average response rate of 1.6 percent)
Phone books – These make up almost 10 percent of the waste at dump sites
Magazines – 60 percent of magazines at the newsstands aren’t sold and are hauled off to dumps
Newspapers – 10 million tons per year are tossed into landfills, not recycled – that’s 150 million trees’ worth
Even electronic media is not without sin. The players, sets, consoles, monitors, etc. are creating mountains of e-waste that, if not properly disposed of, leak lead, cadmium, mercury and other harmful chemicals into our water and air.
Being more conscious of our usage of resources and changing just one or two behaviors each day will leave this planet a better place for our kids and grandkids. And those of us in business are in a sweet spot for being examples of positive change.
This article was written by Paul Kiewiet for Corporate Logog Magazine. Reprinted with permission.
Paul Kiewiet, MAS, CIP, is a 25-year veteran of the promotional products and premium incentive industries and is the immediate past chairman of Promotional Products Association International. By connecting people with values as a speaker, teacher, facilitator, trainer and coach, Kiewiet helps people become their best selves. To learn more or to book him for events, visit www.paulkiewiet.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.