During Monday’s PPAI Expo Conference, session speakers empowered attendees to become leaders in sustainability and DEIB. Corporate social responsibility can be daunting, but there’s a starting point for every industry business. Each session encouraged attendees to take that first step toward sustainability and DEIB, no matter how small.

Here are the big ideas from each session.

Conscious Consumers Are King

Consumers have high expectations for the companies they buy from. PCNA’s global chief merchandising officer Liz Haesler and chief revenue officer Holly Brown led the breakout session, “Conscious Consumerism: A Seismic Shift in Buying Behavior.”

“When you talk about social responsibility, sustainability is really just the start,” says Brown. “Consumers are looking for so much more. There’s a recent LinkedIn survey that shows 75% of consumers today demand that companies give back. Demand – that’s a strong word. DEI is also at the forefront of everyone’s mind.”

Conscious consumerism means that buying decisions are made with the intention to benefit or limit impact on the environment and society. This macro trend is being led by a new generation of workers and buyers. According to Forbes, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025.

“Being renewable is the largest driver of change and innovation in our industry,” says Haesler. “Eighty-seven percent of business leaders expect to increase sustainability investments in 2023 and 2024.”

Along with renewability, Brown and Haesler shared three other product trends for 2023.

“The first is called futureverse. That’s how our world is changing specifically to technology. Technology like AI is reshaping and advancing many industries. Tech is the new universal category,” says Haesler.

Technology enriches our daily lives. From headphones to smartwatches, trending technology will be smaller, newer, more innovative and perfect for a hybrid work style.

“The tech opportunities for clients are endless,” says Haesler. “Technology is also typically the most viral gift. The latest technology gets people excited, and when you’re excited you post, giving your client more brand recognition.”

The next trend for 2023 is care culture.

“It’s about who and what we value. It’s re-prioritization of well-being over work and planet over profit,” says Haesler. “Care culture becomes fundamental to our well-being, communities and economies. Current research says customers care deeply about wellness. Seventy-nine percent believe that wellness is important, and 42% consider it their top priority.”

Products like wellness kits, home fitness, indoor games and plants will be popular in 2023. Lastly, brands and collaborations will be huge opportunities for promo this year.

“Retail brands are about a consumer’s experience with a recognizable product, and they stand for value. This is becoming more important. If you lead your client conversation with brands and stories that resonate with them, you do two things: You introduce them to the idea that you are their source for brand names, and you have a deep understanding of their strategic priorities,” says Haesler. “Choose the brands that resonate and build a story to support your efforts. These stories are critical.”

We Need Waste Diversion

There’s a global waste crisis. Only 13% of waste is recycled globally. Over half of all trash ends up in landfills. Globally, landfills are the third largest human-caused source of methane emissions, causing health, social and environmental problems.

Principal and waste diversion specialist at Waste Not Consulting Ashlee Baker led the breakout session, “Sell Promotional Products And Have A Positive Environmental Impact – Your Clients Are Asking.” Baker encouraged attendees to set bold goals for reducing waste. This means suggesting products and creating campaigns with the end in mind. 

“I want to have that clarity of mind as a consumer that when I’m done with a product I can throw it in recycling and it won’t end up in a landfill,” says Baker. “It’s taking care of waste at the front end. You can’t just rely on other people to do the work. You have to make a plan so it’s easy for your end user and everyone else down the line to do the right thing.”

Waste diversion is about moving waste away from landfills and incineration. By rethinking design, reducing and reusing materials, recycling and refusing harmful materials, a circular economy can be created, leading to a zero-waste system where every resource is used.  

“If we have these cool and innovative products, they should be front and center on your website. Make it easy for your clients to find what and why your support these efforts,” says Baker.

Industry companies can begin their zero-waste journeys by introducing sustainable products, using sustainable packaging, switching to eco-responsible shipping methods and partnering with zero-waste, closed loop companies. Business owners should even strive for a B Corp certification or TRUE Zero Waste certification.

“Set the bar high,” Baker says. “B Corp and TRUE Zero are huge in the industry, and consumers respond. It means something, so be a leader, not just a follower.”

It Takes All Of Us

To build a world where everyone can be seen, heard and valued, we need everyone. Monday’s session panelists – HALO’s Johanna Gottlieb, Social Good Promotions’ Kara Keister, SanMar’s Natalie Tenner, The Inclusion Practice’s Sonya Kaleel and moderated by HALO’s Dawn Olds, MAS+ – discussed “The Case For Diversity, Equity, Inclusion And Belonging (DEIB).”

“Always start somewhere,” says Keister. “Start small and start today. It is noble, but it’s not necessary to completely revamp your business model from scratch. There’s no reason to do that. If you are a distributor, maybe that just means looking at the supply you are using. As a supplier, maybe you look at the voices in the room, making sure you have a wide representation.”

Panelists recommend taking small steps. Open and honest conversations in safe spaces are great places to start expanding DEIB efforts.

Kaleel says, “Be clear on your ‘why.’ The work can get really challenging. There is always something happening in the news and society. If you are grounded in your ‘why,’ you are anchored. Also, you can’t do this work alone. These problems have been here generations, and we need to find ways to uproot them. Know your why, be connected to others and just get started.”