We all want to feel we are contributing to the fight against climate change and by purchasing sustainable merch for our employees and other stakeholders is a great way of doing so. It’s also a powerful way of communicating the values that we stand for as an organisation to the wider world.
However when you are putting together sustainable swag for your next campaign or event, how confident should you feel that the ethical claims made by your suppliers really do stack do up?
As we tackle the impending climate crisis head on, so the promotional merchandise industry is becoming awash with an increasing choice of ‘eco friendly’ products all claiming to help the planet; whether it be tackling climate change, reducing waste, cutting water usage and Co2 emissions and so on. But how valid are these claims, and how do you cut through the noise to identify those suppliers who really do have the planet at heart from those who are doing nothing more than greenwashing and exploiting the demand for sustainable products to make a quick buck?
It can often seem like a minefield to try and identify genuine sustainable products from those which aren’t, a job that can take up a lot of our time; a commodity most of us just don’t have these days.
So here are a few helpful tips of some of the things you can do to make sure your next event truly is a sustainable one.
- FIND OUT WHERE THE PRODUCTS ARE MANUFACTURED. It’s always preferable to buy from suppliers whose products are made locally rather than those produced on the other side of the world with a large associated carbon footprint.
- OBTAIN SAMPLES BEFORE BUYING. Always check the quality of the products you are buying to make sure they won’t end up in the bin within a few uses. A good example of this is the flood of reusable bottles available on the market all claiming to have sustainability at heart. Just because a product is classed as reusable, doesn’t always make it an ethical choice. Firstly many of these reusable cups are made in China with a large associated carbon footprint. Secondly many are manufactured in un-audited factories with little knowledge of employment rights and working conditions. Thirdly a considerable amount of the cheaper end cups are of poor quality, usually made of cheap plastics with no downstream recycling options. As a lot end up being discarded within a few uses, it makes the eco claims redundant with them being no more re-usable or sustainable than a single use version of the same. If you are buying water bottles, at a minimum try and purchase from a supplier who has a visible environmental and social impact. Ocean Bottle is a great example of this.
- ASK ABOUT PLASTIC Plastic pollution is having a major impact on our environment. It is believed that there are an estimated 14 million tonnes of plastic dumped into our oceans and seas annually with detriment to marine life as well as the communities who rely on the sea for their livelihoods. Always ask your supplier about the plastic content of the products as well as the secondary packaging itself. We have seen many examples of products which claim to be sustainable only to find that each item is carefully wrapped in single use plastic ! That is a clear sign that a supplier is doing nothing more than greenwashing.
- CHECK FOR CERTIFICATIONS/ACCREDITATIONS: Although you can’t rely on certification alone, it is good to ask your supplier whether the products they are offering are certified to an international recognised standard to reinforce the claims of being both environmentally and ethically made. Certification to B Lab for example is a great way of demonstrating that an organisation is a force for good with both people and the planet at heart. Other standards which can be used to verify a products’ ethical claims include Climate Neutral, Carbon Neutral PAS 2060, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) Fairtrade Foundation, Social Accountability SA8000, ISO 14001, Cradle to Cradle (C2C), Oeko-Tex, Recycled Claim Standard (RCS).
- DON'T ASSUME BUYING BAMBOO IS ALWAYS AN ECO FRIENDLY CHOICE The over exaggerated claims that by buying bamboo products you are making an eco-friendly choice does not always stack up. That’s not to say that bamboo doesn’t offer a sustainable alternative to plastics, (e.g. natural bamboo toothbrushes and disposable cutlery), but don’t just assume because you are buying bamboo you are doing some good for the environment. Yes bamboo is highly renewable, fast-growing, carbon-absorbing, and requires very little water or pesticides to thrive. However in China, the largest exporter of bamboo, it is grown as a monoculture, with large swathes of land being cleared to fulfil the increasing demand for bamboo products from the West. This is leading to the displacement of wildlife and a decrease in the biodiversity of existing ecosystems as a result. And what’s more, regardless of bamboo’s eco credentials, the distance it has to travel from China and South East Asia to Europe, greatly influences its carbon footprint meaning that a lot of these eco claims are over exaggerated. If you buy bamboo products always check to ensure they have been sourced from FSC certified plantations.
- SOCIAL STANDARDS AS A PRIORITY AND ALWAYS CHOOSE FAIRTRADE WHERE POSSIBLE Yes the Climate Crisis is an impending disaster that we need to take action on both as individuals and organisations, but in The West we seem to be overly focussed at the moment on ticking the ‘Climate Change’ box without considering how and where the products are made. It’s not enough to think we have done our bit by choosing a product for its eco credentials without also considering the people who have been involved in the manufacture. So what can you do ? Always ask your supplier for proof of social audits such as SA8000 and always prioritise products with the fair-trade label which validate the equitable relationship between employer and employee.
These are just a few things you can do to make sure that your intentions to buy sustainably for your next event are truly fulfilled.
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