Exhibitions and events
Exhibitions and events

Let’s not waste the summer!

As businesses, we need to promote ourselves and gathering together at exhibitions and summer events is a brilliant way of doing so. For all the digital media channels available to us these days, nothing is quite as powerful as face-to-face contact. But traditional promotional display materials and merchandise tend not to be very sustainable and the events themselves create a lot of waste. With a season of summer events coming up (closely followed but the autumn exhibition season), it’s worth looking into this and thinking what we can do about it.

First let me say, there is no simple and easy answer. Improvement is dependent on every stakeholder playing their part, from exhibition organisers and sponsors to exhibitors and visitors, not to mention the venue organisers hosting the event. If you want to see what good practice looks like from a venue organiser’s perspective, look no further than the Glastonbury Festival, a not-so-mini city  of 175,000+ people that is assembled and disassembled for one week each year with all the impact on the environment that that entails. It runs an extraordinary recovery and recycling operation that embraces the three key factors of any sustainability journey – commitment, current best practice and continuous improvement.

In our own way, each of our businesses needs to do the same. When discussing sustainability with our customers at Planet Promo, we emphasise that it is a journey we are all on and not an end destination. This journey requires each of us to assume an obligation to do better today than we did yesterday, and to do better again tomorrow. That way we will make swift and positive advances. The power of everyone doing a little is so much greater than any one organisation doing a lot.

So what does that look like in practice and how can we modify the way we approach these occasions?

  • As promotional products specialists, our role must change. The model of pile-‘em-high-sell-‘em-cheap must go. We have to engage in dialogue with our customers about sustainability, bring awareness to the table about the impact of certain products in comparison with alternatives, be knowledgeable about the provenance of our wares and work with only the best manufacturers and wholesalers. We need to stress the need for less ‘stuff’, the benefits of fewer, better quality and more durable and recyclable products, The industry is too vast to know everything, but by being demanding of our suppliers, not just about the products they make, but the way they package and deliver them, we can (and do) press for improvements. And by being knowledgeable of best practices in our industry, we can offer better advice to our customers. Needless to say, this inevitably involves not believing everything we are told, as we have to be alert to greenwashing. Sticking a bamboo veneer on a power bank, for instance, does nothing to advance the cause of sustainability. And sticking a label on a product saying 'Eco' when it is not, is worse than doing nothing, because it not just wastes a label, but it deliberately undermines the good work many are doing.
  • Venues and organisers know waste will be generated at their events. But they have to place clear expectations on exhibitors to help minimise waste and to ensure that the waste generated is properly sorted and disposed of. This means providing and encouraging the proper use of better facilities. Too many venues have perhaps only two options – general waste and recycling - that are simply inadequate. They should also publish information about how they are making their events greener – the waste generated, the amount recycled, the energy used etc and make that a key part of their media packs.
    Recycling Bins
    Equally sponsors should consider whether it is really necessary for each visitor to be given a bag filled with information and giveaways. The chances are that a large proportion of what is given out will be neither wanted nor needed and will end up wasted. Far better for there to be an area where such stuff can be displayed and visitors given the opportunity to take just what they want or need.
  • As an exhibitor, we have the most influence. We can be demanding of suppliers of exhibition materials and event organisers. We should be asking them for the environmental impact statements for their events or certificates of conformity to back up any eco claims. We can ourselves create designs that are multi-use and not just one-offs and ensure those designs are printed on recyclable, non-toxic materials. Where one-off messages are needed, we can use technology to display these so they can easily be changed when needed. We can also select merchandise that has real value and durability. If we would be unimpressed to receive what we are giving away, the chances are that most other people will be unimpressed too. Giving out stuff en masse, just creates waste too. Better to invest in fewer, higher quality items, but as this creates increased appeal (not to mention additional cost per unit), we should control their distribution and only give them to recipients who fit the right profile and express a need. So we have higher cost, higher quality, more durable items, but fewer of them and selectively given. Of course there is merit in the sort of universal giveaway that might attract people to our stand in the first place and earn us the right to have a chat with them. So by all means have a fun and engaging item to which people can just help themselves (not forgetting their innumberable kids who always seem to be at home just desperate for Mummy or Daddy to bring them a gift back 😃). Just make sure it is truly sustainable like the examples below. There are plenty of options to choose from:                    

               Spinning Top                                                            Notepad                             

LEt's not forget also that the display banners we use are made of optimal materials. Roller banners are traditionally made of PVC. PVC is a cheap and widely used material that is very bad for the environment. It cannot be incinerated because of the toxic fumes it gives off and in landfill it leaches toxins into the ground and ultimately the waterboard. The better choice is a slightly more expensive material that is PVC-free and fully recyclable. Likewise there are now options for fabric banners and table cloths that are made from rPET material (mainly waste plastic bottles). They look just as good, as you can see below, and perform as well. So it is really a no-brainer.

  • As a visitor to these events, your role is simple. Before accepting anything, however well-intentioned it may be, think if you really need it. There really is little point in taking home another water bottle if you already have a cupboard full of them! And if you generate waste, dispose of it properly. That will maximise the chances of it being recycled.

So going back to Glastonbury’s own waste policy, we can see how the key messages of sustainability resonate with those relevant to promoting your business:


Around half of all waste created by Glastonbury Festival is reused or recycled. But with help from you we can do even better.

    • Please bring a reusable water bottle.These can be filled for free at our taps and WaterAid kiosks across the Festival site.
    • Please only use what you need.If every Festival-goer used four napkins instead of one, there would be an extra 450,000 napkins wasted unnecessarily.
    • Please use our recycling bins.It is not okay to drop litter on the ground. Help us by placing your waste into the correct recycling bins.
    • Take your tent and equipment home with you.Nothing should be considered disposable so please only bring equipment that is built to last.
    • Please avoid using disposable wipes. Even biodegradable wipes, which quickly breakdown into micro-plastics, are problematic environmental pollutants.

In other words: avoid waste wherever possible, take only what you need, make sure what you use can be used over and over, be responsible. This is the mindset change we can all make now...easily. With everyone together doing a little bit more every day, we achieve the biggest impact. Of course, I am not saying this solves all the problems. Far from it, but it is just one more beneficial thing and, remember, every beach consists of lots and lots of very, very small grains of sand.


How much more do we need?
How much more do we need?

I simply love this post from Phil Hobden

It poses a great question and points to a very obvious problem of the excess generated by promotional merchandise. And while he rightly directs a finger our industry, it is, of course, a far more widespread issue than just that. Our love of the latest tech, fast fashion, convenience foods, Amazon, big events etc creates extraordinary volumes of waste. Recycling arrangements are inconsistent from area to area and regulation lags far behind what is needed to clean up our planet.

Nevertheless, each of us has to do what we can. The sum of all our efforts is what eventually will make the difference and future generations will quite rightly judge us on the actions we take now. We have long been banging the drum for greater sustainability in our industry and recently changed our name of 20 years (Promobox) to Planet-Promo.World in order to stimulate more conversations with our customers around sustainability. In the meantime, there have been rapid and significant changes in an attempt to make promotional merchandise more sustainable. While this is welcome, some changes have been more effective and more real than others, although sadly many, it has to be said, are just greenwashing and offer little benefit. (e.g. Powerbanks wrapped in a thin veneer of bamboo, I am looking at you!). More change is needed for sure … and quickly!

How will this change come? In my humble opinion, there are 4 players in the game –distributors, buyers and consumers (arguably government too). Obviously we, as distributors, need to be knowledgeable about what has real sustainability and what is a sham and advise our customers accordingly. But we also need to be offering sensible advice in relation to the purchase of merchandise and be knowledgeable about the manufacturing, packaging, transport, durability and recyclability of what we sell. We have to encourage people away from the pile-‘em-high-sell-‘em-cheap mentality.

Buyers have a key role to play too. They can no longer make their claims to CSR and specifically sustainable practises while at the same time being uninquisitive about their merchandise and just buying on price. They need to be both curious and clear about the origins and impact of their purchases and simply be committed to generating less ‘stuff’. In a nutshell, for buyers this means: buy less, buy quality, buy appropriately and be demanding.

The third party in the love triangle is, of course, the end consumer. In my opinion they have as big a role to play as anyone else. Without being in any shape or form critical of you Phil for your collection of bottle (as I am just as guilty and have too many bottles, notebooks and pens), you only accumulate a cupboard full of bottles if you accept them when offered. It is possible to say “no, thanks, I have enough already!”. As an industry, we need consumers to reject ‘stuff’ just because it is free and only take what adds value to their lives.

With pressure from distributors, buyers and consumers, manufacturers will have no choice but to modify their portfolio. But they are cunning too – hence the plethora of greenwashing products that now abound. I mentioned bamboo-covered powerbanks earlier, just as an example, not as the worst offender. Does anyone really think they will save the planet? They are made in the Far East (lower regulation, higher transport footprint), they are generally of a very low specification (not valued long-term by consumers), they are made to price (cheap materials, not durable), they are coated with a thin veneer of non FSC bamboo (some panda’s breakfast) and are destined for landfill. But if buyers said no and consumers said no, they would not exist.

So what I am saying is that the change that is needed will only come from a team effort – the sum of all that we do. As distributors, buyer and consumers we have to reject the cheap, the flimsy, the excessive, the undesirable and the unnecessary. We are none of us perfect, but we can all commit to doing better today than we did yesterday and better again tomorrow for sustainability is a journey we are all on and the only destination is improvement.

Before signing off, let me thank Phil for his post. It is so right, so to the point. But all is not lost. After years of searching, we have found a truly sustainable corporate gift and are pleased to offer it to our customers. You can read about it here.  People will be able to pick one up at our stand at the @businessCulture in Hull on 10th April. I hope you can make it!

David Reid, MD

Choosing gifts that work
Choosing gifts that work

Good promotions don't have to be complicated, but you need to think about your choice and why it will be good for you.

A good promotional gift is one that not only promotes your brand effectively but also resonates with your audience, leaving a positive and memorable impression. Here's are some of the factors that help make a promotional gift stand out:

  1. Relevance: The gift should align with your brand and the interests of your target audience. Whether it's a tech gadget, a stationery item, or a piece of apparel, it should be something that recipients can use and appreciate in their daily lives. Remember, it is not about what appeals to you, but what appeals to your audiences!

  2. Quality: The quality of the gift reflects the quality of your brand. Choose items that are well-made and durable, ensuring they withstand regular use. A high-quality gift demonstrates that you value your customers and is also more sustainable. If you have £1000 to spend

  3. Utility: Practicality is key. Gifts that serve a useful purpose tend to be kept and used, increasing brand exposure. You are aiming to rent some space in the recipients mind, even if just fleetingly at first. But the more your gift is used, the longer that rented space lasts.

  4. Novelty: More than anything else, we get asked for 'something different' because novelty adds impact. But unless your choice ticks other keep boxes, it could also be seen as trivial or gimmicky. Fads come and are forgotten very quickly, whereas you want to hang around a bit longer So novelty can be more about eye-catching messaging or an irresistible offer than the item itself
  5. Aesthetic appeal: Visual attractiveness can significantly impact the perceived value of a gift. Choose items with appealing designs, colors, and packaging that catch the eye and evoke positive emotions.

  6. Memorability: Aim to create a lasting impression. Really, this is about getting all the other elements right. Something that is relevant, of lovely quality, very functional and useful, that looks good etc will linger longer in the memory. 

  7. Sustainability: In an increasingly eco-conscious world, environmentally friendly gifts resonate well with many audiences. Indeed, most now expect business to be more responsible. Opt for items made from sustainable materials or those that promote sustainable behaviours.

  8. Call to action: Include a clear call to action with the gift, such as visiting your website, following your social media channels, or redeeming a special offer. This encourages recipients to engage further with your brand.

  9. Distribution strategy: Finally, consider how you'll distribute the gifts to ensure maximum reach and impact. Whether it's at events, through mailers, or as part of a purchase incentive, the distribution method should align with your marketing goals and target audience.

Considering these factors, will help you select promotional gifts that effectively enhance your brand visibility, engage your audiences, and leave a lasting impression.

What is sustainable?
What is sustainable?

To be honest, pretty much everything we currently do is unsustainable. It's a depressing thought, but it doesn't mean that we can't or shouldn't do anything.

For example, in the UK and EU alone there are some 200+million households. If each household used just 1 less Tesco Tie Handle Swing Bin Liner a week and a roll of 30 weighs 200g, the net reduction in annual waste would be close to 70 million kilos! It is a staggering thought.

But today, at least, those bags are made from recycled waste. That is a big change from where we were, say, 10 years ago. So much more waste is being reused and single-used plastics are far less prevalent. We are moving in the right direction and that is the thing about sustainability - it is a journey, not an end destination.

In recent years, the promotions industry has made huge strides ... but it still generates volumes of landfill. Some of the innovations are also not what they seem and green-washing abounds. Take stone paper for example - made from ground stone and available in many notebooks. Less trees to fell - got to be a good thing, right? Except that ground stone doesn't stick itself together. To do this, a plastic is used. And when discarded, will the user know it is not paper? Because if it is discarded in the paper bin, it will contaminate it. Likewise notebook covers made from coffee ground are bonded with resin. 

Does this mean these innovations are bad? Well, not necessarily because if we put all our notes in the cloud, this just gets the vast arrays of energy hungry, CO2 emitting Amazon and Google servers churning even faster and heating our world quicker.

So what can we do? We still need to promote our businesses and will need to do so in different ways, none of which are perfect. But we can do better and if, instead of creating another zillion tonnes of waste, we reduce waste, it will make the world we leave behind less stressed, less under threat. So here are some tips for making your promotions more sustainable:

  • Be a Better Buyer
    Be super fussy. Make your distributor work for you and ensure you know the provenance of everything you buy. 
  • Manufacture and Transport
    Where are the goods made? How do they reach you? 
    Factory certification and transport can make a big difference. Your distributor should know or have access to this information, so ask for it!
  • Buy Less, Get Better
    The world's most popular promotional pen writes a very short distance (300m-ish), is badly made, full of environmental toxins and has travelled 10,000 miles from China. It is cheap, but it is tomorrow's landfill. Is this how you want others to see you? The best pens are made in Europe in carbon neutral plants and write better and longer (up to 8000m). The best of these give a lovely writing experience and will be brand ambassadors long,long after the cheap Chinese import has been ditched or fallen apart. So go for quality, buy fewer and be more selective when giving them away. Durability is a key aspect of sustainability.
  • Be Appropriate
    People like what they like. Make sure what you offer is useful to your audience and will be welcomed by them. Products that go unappreciated don't serve you well and are more likely to be discarded wastefully.
  • Materials
    Are they recycled or recyclable or derived from sustainable sources? Is it clear to the user what they should do with the product at end of life?
    Again, your distributor should know or have access to this information and you should pass it on to recipients.
  • Continuous Improvement
    Ensure your direction of travel on the sustainability journey is going the right way. As things change, better options will emerge. Be curious, be demanding of your distributor. Challenge yourself and them to do better.

To date, there is only one truly sustainable promotional product we know of. You can read all about it on our site under Your Company Forest.
And if you are replacing equipment or have manufacturing seconds that normally go to landfill, try A Good Thing. Read more on this site.