Conference Swag With Purpose

How many times have you returned home from an incredible sustainable business-related conference with a bag full of conference swag that you will never use or need again? 

Before the conference, you told yourself that you wouldn’t accept any more plastic flashlights, stress balls with smiling emojis, logo-enhanced t-shirts that don’t fit well (especially for women) or branded notebooks. Nobody needs another branded notebook for the notes that were never taken at the conference.

Yet, you unpack these items from your bag (the bag you received, branded with a major sponsor’s logo) and put them in a drawer with all the swag from the conferences you’ve attended in the past few months. It can pile up quickly.

The novelty of these items are very short-lived and the reality is that these items will be placed in the landfill at some point. With thousands of conferences happening across the world each year – this is a lot of unnecessary pressure on the planet.

Even with the good intentions of “sustainable swag,” energy and material resources are extracted from the planet to develop and distribute the items, and they will most likely not be recycled properly.

Companies spend large sums of marketing dollars on little items that are completely unnecessary and team members are tasked with the responsibility of finding the perfect little item that will convey the company’s “message.” 

I recently learned of a tech/software conference called the SpringOne Platform. Its goal is to be the “first swagless tech conference.” Amazing! Instead of a tote bag filled with keychains and cheap sunglasses, participants receive a token upon entering.

There are four collection boxes representing four different non-profits and participants can choose which organization they would like to support by placing their token into their desired box.  

More and more conference and event organizers are declaring that their gathering will be “swag-free.” There are so many more sustainable places that those marketing dollars can go, such as filling school school backpacks for children and granting teacher’s wishlists (awesome, Okta!), planting trees, or even offering conference goers a free yoga class. 

Imagine a world where all conference and event organizers donated to environmental and social causes instead of spending money on cheap plastic stuff made on the other side of the world by humans who would be better off in school! 

Conference swag does not instill customer loyalty. The ROI is incredibly low and challenging to calculate, and definitely not more valuable than the cost of adding more plastic into our soil.