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Save The Earth With Environmentally Friendly Promotions

By Cherri Gann

This month's target market focuses on possible business opportunities associated with environmentalism. Environmentally conscious organizations such as the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, Green Peace, National Arbor Day Foundation and governmental agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency were created with the goal of reducing consumption and protecting resources. At the same time, many for-profit corporations have willingly adopted earth-friendly policies as part of their business models or corporate missions.

Whether your client perceives environmentalism as an effort, commitment, philosophy, practice or necessity, it still needs to communicate its message in a way consistent with its mission. Although promotional products have been accused of contributing to taking up landfill space, there are companies in this industry that not only recognize the importance of recycling but also do their part to save the earth by providing the opportunity for others to do the same by making recycled products available for advertisers' use.

Want to help save the environment and make a little money on the side? Read on for some inside information.

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Environmentally conscious clients come in various types. These can be civic or non-profit organizations, government agencies, companies specifically created for or focused on a particular conservation effort, for-profit corporations that wish also to do their part toward saving the earth or perhaps municipalities that adopt an environmental issue out of necessity or regulation.

Whatever the ultimate motivation, one thing distributor Robert Stiffel, CAS, owner and president of Dallas, Texas-based ImagePro, has noticed is the public's basic awareness of the need to help the environment. "There's less of a need to teach people," he says. "Environmentalism is more in the general mainstream of thought." Stiffel, who spent 17 years in the recycling business prior to becoming a distributor, notes that he doesn't work with clients in this arena as often as he used to, but says he has noticed a willingness, and sometimes even a preference, among his other clients to pay attention to the environment through their purchases of promotional products made of recycled material. "I have an attorney client who has re-ordered the same pen made from recycled plastic and wood for several years," he says. "This is the pen he gives out imprinted with the name of his law practice. It's important to him to use a recycled item."

Recycled Promotional Products
This increased awareness has also increased demand for promotional products made of post-consumer recycled materials, and the prices are in many cases competitive with regularly produced products. A quick search in the PPAI e-Directory shows some 100 supplier members offer recycled or environmentally friendly products. One of those is Morco, Inc. "More than half of our line is available in recycled material," says Steve Dale, vice president of sales. "And in our case, we don't charge any more for the recycled material products." Dale says price is one of the first things distributors ask about, so it's one of the major selling points, but the company's primary motivation for making recycled material products is "because it's important and the right thing to do."

Jonathan Murtaugh, CAS, senior account executive for Rand McNally, adds, "We understand a distributor may be interested in a recycled product either because of a program's theme or a buyer's requirement. And, although we don't have anything specifically listed as a 'green' product in our catalog, we can produce our products with recycled material. All a distributor has to do is ask."

There's even an environmentally friendly alternative for the promotional products industry's largest selling product category-apparel. "Cotton is very chemically intensive to produce, at least the way many farmers do it," says Gary Oldham, owner of SOS From Texas, a producer of organic cotton and organic cotton apparel. Oldham's company is in charge of everything from the chemical-free soil where the cottonseeds are planted to the chemical-free finished garment, and every stage in between. He admits his T-shirt costs more than the most popularly used T-shirts in the industry, but it's comparable to the higher quality T-shirts offered by many apparel companies. "Our prices really haven't changed over the years," he says. "The difference is that more apparel is now produced offshore allowing for a lower price, and ours remains U.S. produced."

Distributor Evelyn Golden, MAS, CEO of Connecticut-based Signature Marketing, LLC, who specializes in marketing programs for ecologically aware clients, has also noticed a narrowing price gap. "I wouldn't say there are great price differences between recycled and regular products. It used to be that way, but we're finding more price equality. The price differences aren't burdensome."

Recycled Products Users
Who is using recycled promotional products and how? As you might expect, users of these products include environmental groups and agencies that are narrowly focused on earth-saving endeavors. For example, Golden's company is the official promotional products provider for America Recycles Day-a national awareness event each November in which all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands participate-that promotes the act of recycling and benefits of buying recycled products of all kinds.

Events observing America Recycles Day take place at all levels in the community, including the classroom. "People participating may conduct projects with schools and talk to the students about recycling," says Golden. "One focus might be recycling paper, and they will collect and separate it. Promotional products can be used to either remind everyone to keep on recycling or to give an acknowledgement for their hard work on the project."

Both for-profit and nonprofit organizations make up Golden's clients. "Clearly schools, universities and municipalities are charged with recycling, but there are also corporate clients who want to do the environmental thing," she says.

Stuart McClelland, marketing manager for Alpharetta, Georgia-based distributor eCompanyStore works with Boise Cascade Corporation, a manufacturer of office products and building materials, and provides the company with a Tencel® shirt to use as part of a public relations campaign. "Tencel is a wood-based, celluosic fiber that's environmentally friendly," says McClelland. "Since Boise is a manufacturer of wood products it is acutely sensitive of environmental issues."

Another of McClelland's clients, Georgia-Pacific, a leading manufacturer of paper and building products, sponsors some educational sessions for elementary school children. "Company spokespeople talk about all things wood and how to take care of trees and the forest," he says. "For these presentations we've provided a pen that is actually a tree branch with a hole drilled through lengthwise and an ink cartridge inserted."

Jeff Hurt, PPAI manager of education and certification, whose professional background includes working with environmental sciences, groups and agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, Keep America Beautiful, Keep Texas Beautiful and the Texas Department of Transportation's "Don't Mess With Texas®" anti-litter campaign, has advocated use of promotional products for these programs for years. "The goal of any of these programs is ultimately behavioral change," he says. "It's about going beyond people just knowing about it but changing their actions to actually do something to better the environment."

For example, Hurt says when the "Don't Mess With Texas" campaign started in 1986, research found the biggest litterbug was "Bubba"-the stereotypical boots-and-jeans-wearing, pickup-truck-driving male Texan who was tossing garbage out of his truck as he drove down the road. Consequently, campaign organizers used ball caps, T-shirts and can coolers emblazoned with the DMWT logo. "Anything that 'Bubba' might carry around was used as a promotional piece," says Hurt. "That gentleman seems to have gotten the message. Now, the demographic has changed slightly-still male, but slightly younger adults and teenagers." The campaign has taken to using hipper styled apparel, headwear and temporary tattoos-products that appeal to this audience.

Green Challenges
Environmental consciousness in this arena presents certain challenges for those wishing to do business. Regarding the products themselves, there can be limited color selection due to the nature of recycled materials as the production medium. And, some clients will have stringent requirements. Yours may be under specific mandates to use a certain percentage of post-consumer recycled products, and it might take more time on your part to locate products meeting those needs. Knowing what these mandates are for government agencies as well as city and county municipalities requires due diligence at the beginning.

Another challenge to working with government agencies and municipalities is that you have to bid for the business. Your due diligence could pay off here, however. "Once you're in, they'll recognize you as a preferred provider of that service for them and they'll use you a lot," Hurt says.

What about using a non-recycled promotional product in a campaign to promote recycling? Does the end justify the means? It depends on whom you ask. "Some put a 'Let's Recycle' message on a disposable or non-recycled item, but I think that loses the impact," says Golden. "They like the item even if it isn't made out of recycled material, and that bothers me because it's not truly being an environmentally aware individual-it's not doing the whole program. There are plenty of (recycled) products out there to work with nowadays."

Hurt's experience echoes Golden's stance. "The nonprofit groups want a product that will have lasting value to the recipient and not get tossed right away," he says. "It also should be made with an environmentally friendly process. Their goal is to reduce waste."

Stiffel plays the devil's advocate: "I've sold buttons to the EPA for years-buttons that aren't recycled. In some cases it just seems more important to the client to find something efficient and cost-effective that gets the message across." He cites another example where he worked with a client who gave away non-recycled cloth bags to supermarket customers to cut down on use of plastic grocery bags. "The cloth bags weren't made of recycled material, but the store's customers did cut down on usage of plastic bags. So wasn't that worth something? It depends on how you look at it."

Seeing Green?
"I think promotional products aren't used nearly enough," Hurt says. "PPAI has the research to show that promotional products in general have a lasting message. Distributors absolutely should go after environmental organizations-government or nonprofit-and find out what their needs are and turn on the creativity."

"I'm helpful to my clients by being as aware as I can of what they need and what's available in the marketplace," says Golden. "I'll take the time with a supplier to find out what a product is really made of before taking it to my client."

Hurt adds: "Environmental issues are broad and cover a lot of issues from animals or air quality to water and waste minimization. Build a relationship with suppliers who offer products with recycled content. Clients in this arena will ask how much recycled content is used and what type of process was used to make the product. Learn that information beforehand."

"For the sake of planet earth we need to increase recycling," concludes Dale. "I do it at home because I think it's important to use our natural resources wisely. There are people who think of promotional products as gadgets and junk. However, it's important for people to advertise and keep their name in front of their audience. Using recycled material promotional products fulfills both goals."

COPYRIGHT © 2005 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Cherri Gann is an associate editor for PPB.

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