As Earth Month draws to a close, we asked a trio of our distributor members to weigh in on why sustainability is important and how offering eco-friendly options is not just the right thing to do, it’s good for business.

Sustainability isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition – it’s an ongoing process of improvement – and each of these industry pros says it’s important to start somewhere. Below, we share a few of their thoughts, as well as some recommendations for eco-friendly promo products.

Lauren Piller, Eco Marketing Solutions

Lauren Piller is founder and marketing director of Eco Marketing Solutions, a distributorship based in Austin, Texas, that offers a carefully curated line of eco-friendly products via a paperless catalog and ordering process. The company’s mission and vision include 100% sustainable marketing strategies and “environmentally and socially conscious approaches to marketing and branded swag.” Here’s what she has to say:

  • I’m on a mission to try to end as much plastic promotional product usage and waste in shipping and all that for my products, for my clients and trying to get them more quality sustainable products that will last throughout the years.
  • I’m still trying to educate people. You know, spending a little more up front on a T-shirt seems like it’s going to hit the wallet hard, but at the end of the day, you don’t have to buy as many products. People will actually use the products, because they’re quality, which is the whole point of promotional products and marketing. You want them to actually wear it and use it. So I feel like it’s a win-win.
  • I think [people] think eco-friendly means everything has to look like kraft paper or very hippie, but you can make it very corporate now. All the nice brands have come out with eco lines that we carry, so it’s nice to show them that you can incorporate sustainability into a professional, corporate setting without it looking like it’s literally recycled paper.
  • I’ve had to stop working with some vendors recently because we’re just not aligned in our morals and values … [but] I’m starting to see a big change with vendors, so I think maybe another year or so, the push will come.

 Andrea Kramer, City Apparel + Merch

Andrea Kramer is president of City Apparel + Merch, an Ohio-based distributor. City Apparel uses recycled packaging for its outgoing shipments and recycles all packaging that is received, and they participate in the UPS Carbon Neutral program.

Kramer says demand for eco-friendly options has grown as buyers, both her promo clients and their end users, have become more interested in what they can do about climate change and other issues. More from her:

  • People are still price-conscious, but … they are looking for those sustainability items and open to those suggestions. And I love that all of our suppliers really are providing product categories so it’s much easier to identify when you’re looking for that type of recycled material polo or T-shirt.
  • About a year ago, we actually launched a uniform recycling program for any of our customers. We provide labels, boxes and destinations for de-branding their garments and make it a very easy solution for our customers so that they can be a part of that sustainability mindset and reduce their carbon footprint.
  • There are organizations in our industry that will do a rebrand. They’ll take your T-shirts and make cinch bags out of them, so they actually are being recycled and physically reused, pretty much in their natural state. There’s lots of opportunity for that.


READ MORE: Sustainability coverage from PPAI Media

Michelle Sheldon, Eco Promotional Products 

Michelle Sheldon is president of Illinois-based distributor Eco Promotional Products, which she launched in 2008 to offer eco-friendly products and practices in the promo space. The company has achieved B Corp certification and donates a tree seedling to Trees for the Future as a part of each order. Here are a few of her thoughts:

  • I wanted to provide better alternative solutions to the vast amount of wasteful, junky products companies were using causing environmental and social harm. In my previous career, I had attended, helped organize and worked large-scale events and saw insurmountable amounts of waste and very little brand value when it came to logoed promotional products.
  • I had a life-changing experience when my career took me to the Netherlands, where I spent several years learning about limited resources, the health and safety of products and how to put a value on work-life balance. My father had a traditional promotional products company, and I encouraged him to stop selling gimmicky tchotchkes and provide more useful, reusable and sustainable promotional products. Long story short, I put my money where my mouth was and launched Eco Promotional Products.
  • Our customers communicate with us the importance that their promotional products align with their values, goals and mission.
  • [re: apparel] Based on the suppliers we buy from, all the brands offer different levels of sustainability. It would be nice to find a product that checks all the boxes. It’s something we are working toward.

Here are some eco-friendly product options for more sustainable promo projects:

custom printed bamboo cutlery set

This three-piece Bamboo Fiber Cutlery Set includes fork, spoon and knife in a convenient carrying case not much larger than a smartphone. It’s perfect for use on the go to help eliminate the use of disposable plastic utensils. Through a partnership with 1% For The Planet, 1% percent of sales of this product will be donated to nonprofits dedicated to protecting the planet. Available in black, gray or tan with single- or multicolor imprint. (Read more about PCNA's ProudPath initiative.)

PCNA / PPAI 113079, S15 

 frosted glass bottle with bamboo lid

Drinkware is always a great promo option, as well as an obvious choice to help replace single-use plastics. Glass has become a popular alternative to stainless steel drinkware, and the h2go Rincon Bottle, an 18-oz. single-wall borosilicate glass bottle, includes a threaded bamboo lid and translucent soft touch finish and comes in an individual gift box. Cold beverages only; hand wash recommended. Available in five colors (frost shown).

ETS Express / PPAI 135148, S11

 reusable bamboo tumbler with spill-proof lid

Great for coffee shop merch or employee gifts, this reusable Earth Tumbler made with organic bamboo fiber holds 16 ounces of your favorite beverage safely under its matching lid. A silicone sleeve and spill stopper make it easy to use on the go, and it comes packaged in a blue gift box with bow. Part of the proceeds from each purchase go to PADI Aware to support ocean conservation and cleanup. Available in seven colors (blue shown).

Gordon Sinclair / PPAI 111537, S4

 recycled poly cotton blend T-shirt

This soft Unisex Recycled Blend Tee is made of a 50/50 cotton/poly blend that takes scraps from the cutting room floor, adds in some recycled poly and saves on water usage and energy by not re-dying it. Production is carbon-neutral thanks to a partnership with Available in five colors (royal heather shown) and sizes XS-4X.

Allmade / PPAI 743984, S1

 recycled polyester polo shirt keeps 12 bottles out of the landfill

The Visionary short-sleeved polo keeps the wearer cool and comfortable with fine gauge interlock fabric made of polyester from recycled plastic bottles, and a special lining keeps it looking crisp wash after wash. The men’s polo (shown in peri blue) features a three-button collar and recycles 12 bottles per garment. It comes in nine colors and sizes S-5X. The women’s version features a quarter-zip collar and recycles eight bottles per garment. It comes in seven colors and sizes XS-3X.

Storm Creek / PPAI 438091, S6

 recycled poly quilted bucket hat with all-over custom imprint

Each Puff Puff Bucket Hat keeps 18 plastic bottles out of the landfill. Made in the USA from 100% recycled ripstop nylon plus a water-repellent finish, the hat is reminiscent of a favorite jacket or quilted blanket and takes 50% less energy to produce compared to typical recycled materials. A full-bleed digital imprint on the entire item is included.

Numo / PPAI 112597, S9

 custom printed fanny pack made of recycled water bottles

With full-color printing all over the entire bag, this Recycled Canvas Fanny Pack made with up to six water bottles’ worth of recycled plastic, can be customized to fit any occasion and any style. Choose among 10 mix-and-match colors for the strap, buckle and zipper for 1,000 color combinations.

Pop! Promos / PPAI 564497, S1

 portable power bank with solar panel charger

Charge up to four devices anywhere the sun shines with the Solar Qi Power Bank. This 10,000 mAh power bank provides a large, full-color imprint area in addition to its built-in solar charging panel, 16 LED lights, three USB outputs, micro-USB input and Qi wireless charger. Drawstring carry pouch, hanging strap and carabineer included.

Acehigh Tech Corp. / PPAI 161597, S2

Eco FAQs: