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Is SWAG Sustainable?

How you can go green without breaking the bank.

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NO MATTER WHAT industry a company is in, chances are people are talking about “going green.” Just about everyone knows the planet is in trouble right now, and that all of us need to do what we can to reduce waste and limit our carbon footprint. The print industry is in a unique position to effect change both within the industry and outside of it by using a more environmentally friendly approach and by offering more sustainable options to your customers.

Improving your environmental impact starts with reducing waste, which is never a bad thing for your business to do. Computers and AI can play an important role here – using digital design software to finalize artwork with your clients instead of creating physical iterations, for example. AI algorithms can help optimize print layouts to minimize wasted material. And remember, cutting down on waste is always good for your bottom line. (See page 32 for more AI benefits.)

If possible, consider a waterless printing process to cut down on the volume and number of solvents needed. Similarly, your staff should be trained in how to use solvents and any other chemicals effectively, to minimize wastage.

Along with reducing waste from your printing process, you can and should embrace more sustainable materials for your shop. When possible, choose dyes or inks made from eco-friendly sources instead of heavy chemicals. Soy-based and/or water-based inks have greatly improved, and they can look just as good while reducing your overall environmental impact. There are also plenty of green (or at least, greener) options for papers, fabrics, glues, and other print materials. Even simple things like using both sides of a surface (especially for test runs) can go a long way toward making your shop a greener operation.

Don’t forget to include your supply chain in your green considerations. Can you use more environmentally friendly shipping materials, such as biodegradable packaging? What about reusing packaging with your suppliers or clients? Again, even small improvements here will add up to an important impact over time.

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Speaking of clients, you can enact positive change outside of your own business by offering sustainable options. Every retailer knows that bags are a fantastic way to build brand awareness; someone walking through a mall or down a busy street carrying a bag blazoned with your company logo is the equivalent of someone carrying a billboard with them at a fraction of the cost. And when that bag is a reusable tote instead of a “disposable” plastic bag? Even better, as people won’t just see that logo on bags when a customer walks out of the store, but they see it several times as a bag is used and reused over the course of weeks or months.

How Screen Printers Can Go Green Without Breaking the Bank

Of course, bags aren’t the only way companies can get their names out there. As a printer, think of ways to reinvent the traditional “swag bag” offerings as something more sustainable. Many companies have adopted “green” products to give to customers, only to discover those items are quickly discarded. This is a double negative, because it doesn’t help the brand and it ultimately leads to more pollution. To be successful at picking out swag, retailers not only need to find eco-friendly options, but also ones that will drive brand value.

One of the best ways to build brand loyalty and awareness is by giving away small items that people are not only going to keep, but display. A better option is something like stickers or temporary tattoos. While branded items (such as water bottles or coffee mugs) have their place, they’re not practical for giving away in the thousands because of their high price point. Temporary tattoos, stickers, magnets, and other giveaways can literally cost pennies and still have the same kind of visibility that shopping bags get – without ending up in landfills or the ocean.

All too often we are presented with a dichotomy between items that are ecologically friendly and items that are nice – with the implication that going green automatically results in a sacrifice in quality. The good news is that this is a false distinction, and that savvy businesses can find impactful, inexpensive ways to support their brands without damaging the planet. As a printer, ensuring that your clients have these options available will go a long way toward reducing waste and improving sustainability.

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Andrew Witkin is the founder and CEO of StickerYou (stickeryou.com), a global, e-commerce leader in custom-printed, die-cut products that empower consumers and businesses to create high-quality materials for personal expression, marketing, and packaging.

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