Eco-Friendly Freebies: 11 Ideas for Sustainable Swag

The promotional products industry is worth roughly $24B.

It’s hard to estimate the amount of plastic, food, and general waste that comes specifically from conferences each year. It’s harder yet to find any reliable research on the topic. However, anyone who’s anyone who’s attended one will tell you that the end of an event means full bins for the venue staff, and heavy consciences for organisers as they see more and more waste being produced under their name.

Besides financial waste, and the brand impact on attendees seeing promo gifts with your logo dragged out in a trash bag can have, the whole shenanigan of swag can make for an environmental disaster.

As such, I wanted to dig into a few alternatives. Not everyone (neither attendee nor organiser) wants to abandon swag outright, so I went on a search to find some eco-friendly options.

At Tito, we’ve always been keen proponents of the benefits of community involvement in events, so I recently took to a LinkedIn group where multiple hundreds of thousands of event organisers hang out to see what experience they had with eco-friendly freebies, and what they’d recommend. Some of the responses have been edited for clarity or length, but nothing else.

Boast a Humble Bag

1. “We’ve gotten great feedback on our reusable grocery bags. They fold up super small so you can travel with them easily.”
– A Marketing Programs Manager from Boston.

2. “Reusable grocery tote bag! These are awesome for promoting and always useful to have!”
– Seconded by a Live Events Producer from Miami.

An option for this approach is available here: 

3. “I had an Earth Day plastic bag drive and traded metal straws, wool dryer balls, reusable bags, and 100% compostable pet poop bags in exchange for plastic.”
– A Facilities and Events Manager from Detroit.

Eating and Drinking, With an Eco-Friendly Twist

4. “We did metal straws and they were a hit.”
– A Modern Marketing Maven from Atlanta.

You can also take it one step further by giving away…

5. “Metal straws with a small donation towards ocean revival on behalf of recipient.”
– A Global Head of Business Development from Toronto.


6. “You can get them engraved with your logo and/or our logo on a canvas storage bag along with a straw cleaner.”
– A Marketing Coordinator from Minneapolis.

An option for this approach is available here:

I do have to interject with an editor’s note on this one, though. While single-use plastic straws aren’t biodegradable, the metal option is something that may not be practical for all. Diversity campaigners have raised issues with plastic straw alternatives for a few reasons.

Here, Aleksei Valentín shared a chart detailing why you should consider having some plastic options for those who may have impairments affecting their ability to drink without straws:

Straw Chart

But back to the business at hand.

7. “I generally prefer useful items; something I need not worry about transporting. I saw one vendor do custom branded $5 Starbucks cards with sleeves that said something to the effect of, ‘Enjoy a cup of Joe on us.’ Everyone can use it, it’s easy to transport, and you can top up the plastic card to use again afterwards.”
– A Marketing Executive and Event Producer from Salt Lake City.

8. “Can’t go wrong with a reusable tumbler/water bottle. Plus there’s logo space.”
– A Senior Business Administrator from Houston.

Go Green, Keep ’em Keen

9. “Consider a biodegradable card that directs the potential client to subscribe to your services or promotions, with the promise to plant a tree for each contact. Add a disclaimer regarding the maximum number of trees to control your budget.”
– A Freelance Event Expert from Houston.

10. “At one of our events, every attendee received a small flowering plant as they left. Very affordable from a wholesale nursery and everyone loved it.”
– A Program and Event Coordinator from Raleigh.

11. “Another option along the same lines for the right event would be… live evergreen tree seedlings. You can get them wrapped in a small piece of burlap with your logo. The trees get planted at the recipient’s home and they remember that event and who gave it to them for years to come.”
– A Business Development Director fromm Philadelphia.

An option for this approach is available here:

Eco-Friendly Swag Companies

Now that you have some ideas to run with, I’m hopeful they’ve sprouted some ideas of your own (and would like to apologise for the pun.)

That said, while investigating this, I found some stand-out retailers that specialise in eco-friendly freebies, and thought they merited a mention.

Sprout World

In an ideal world, everything that comes to the ends of its use would get a second chance. Sprout World figured out a novel approach to this by creating a selection of pencils that grow into plants. As a step further, they only use sustainable wood sources, non GMO seeds, and natural clay and graphite.

Trusted by organisations as prestigious as the Marriot Group and the European Parliament, they’re a provider synonymous with longevity in many ways.

Planet Earth Promotions

There’s a lot to be said for small changes. One company embodying this ethos is Planet Earth Promotions. At first glance, the promo items pages on their site could be from any other swag shop, but its the ingredients that make a difference here.

You’ll find everything from aprons to tech, but you’ll also find their info page, where they share definitions around their eco-friendly approach and a list of the sustainable materials they use. Bamboo, corn plastic, and soy are just some of the substitutes they’ve found to create their many eco-friendly alternatives.

Some stand-out items on offer:

Eco Marketing Solutions

Eco Marketing Solutions has been providing businesses with alternatives to single-use products since 2008. They work with seven sister suppliers to offer even more options to boot. 

In order to reassure consumers, Eco Marketing Solutions puts an emphasis on social compliance and a strict code of conduct for its suppliers.

Some stand-out items on offer:

With that, we hope there’s some food for thought that you’ve found helpful here. It can be despairing to think that individual changes have little impact on climate change, but events are an opportunity to minimise our waste in numbers, so its encouraging to see this option being made available on a global scale.

For Further Reading:

  1. I Spoke with a Zero-Waste Contributor to See How She Would Run a Conference
  2. What I Learned from 8 Years of Conference Badge Design
  3. Overheard at the World’s Most Disappointing Conference