It’s official: greenwashing is a thing. Merriam-Webster, keeping the English language on the same page for almost 200 years, added 370 new words to the dictionary in September. These neologisms include business-related terms like supply chain and shrinkflation, as well as slang ranging from adorkable to yeet.'

Here, we take a closer look at three newly added terms of particular interest to the promo products industry:

1. greenwash has embraced this verb, coined in the 1980s, which indicates a deliberate effort to make something, such as a product, policy or practice, appear to be more environmentally friendly than it really is.

Why does this matter to promo? Environmental responsibility is a leading cause for consumers worldwide, and 85% of respondents in a 2021 study – millennials and Gen Z in particular – indicated that sustainability is a significant purchase factor. Further, 1 in 3 are willing to pay a premium for sustainable goods – and the promo industry still has work to do to overcome an outdated reputation for dealing in “trash and trinkets.”

It’s important to avoid misleading or confusing consumers, so provide evidence to support your green claims, says David Callet, lawyer and consumer product safety compliance expert. He suggests the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides as a helpful resource for marketers. As Callet told PPAI Media earlier this year, “If you’re going to make a claim based on science or fact, you need to have ‘competent and reliable evidence.’ It can’t just be because you said so.”

2. plant-based  Like greenwash, this term to describe products, especially foods, made primarily or entirely from plant materials has been around a while. But its entry in the dictionary marks a tipping point in the growth of consumer demand for foods, clothing and other goods not derived from animal or petroleum sources.

As highlighted by PPAI Media earlier this year, plant-based materials that are good for the environment are also good for your clients’ brands. Because they can break down in a natural environment without leaving toxins, end users can feel that they – and the brand that gave them that green promo product – are making responsible choices.

3. virtue signaling – Defined as “the act or practice of conspicuously displaying one’s awareness of and attentiveness to political issues, matters of social and racial justice, etc., especially instead of taking effective action,” this is a cousin to greenwashing.

Consumers and employees want authenticity, action and evidence, not carefully worded corporate statements and pithy social media posts. If you haven’t already, take steps to make corporate social responsibility and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts integral to your operations – and be sure to share your efforts and successes with your customers.

See below for a few plant-based products with eco-friendly bona fides.

The fashion industry is notoriously wasteful, but plenty of apparel brands are making great strides toward sustainability. This Unisex Organic Cotton Tee from Allmade is made with 100% organic cotton in a process that saves over 64 gallons of water compared to a conventional cotton tee, and the company is certified carbon neutral through a partnership with Available in eight colors (shown in beacon blue) and sizes XS-4X.
Allmade Apparel / PPAI 743984, S1 /

The handcrafted Hilana Upcycled Fethiye Throw Blanket, made with 50% recycled cotton, is a soft and durable gift that can do double duty as a picnic spread or beach towel. The blanket measures 71 x 59 inches and comes in beige or blue (shown), and purchases support environmental nonprofits through a partnership with 1% For The Planet.
PCNA / PPAI 113079, S15 /

With this 20oz. Glass Food Storage Container With Bamboo Lid, recipients won’t need single-use plastic bags to carry their lunch or store their leftovers. The heavy-duty glass container is microwave and dishwasher safe, and the lid, which can double as a cutting board, is lined with an airtight silicone seal.
High Caliber Line / PPAI 205801, S10 /

Packaging is just as important as the gift. This eco-friendly Small Box Mailer includes a QR code recipients can scan to learn how the box is made of recycled cardboard and how to recycle it again. Dimensions: 8.5 x 7 x 3.5 inches.
Gemline / PPAI 113948, S11 /