The Advertising Specialty Institute found in its 2019 Global Ad Impressions Study that consumers hold on to a typical promotional item for, on average, one year and 23 percent of products are thrown away. It’s leading event marketers across the industry to scrutinize swag (one marketer told us recently they instantly rejected an RFP that mentioned the use of plastic disposable tchotchkes).

“Gone are the days of the stress ball you found on the trade show floor. It just doesn’t make sense,” said Dan Preiss, vp-experiential marketing at Dell Technologies, on a recent episode of EM’s Event Peeps podcast, “The Best of SXSW and What’s Next in Experiential.” “When it comes to our organization, sustainability is really important. We’re definitely being thoughtful not only about the experiences we build and the infrastructure it takes to do that, but the things that we give people.”

In the spirit of “leave no trace,” we’ve compiled three eco-friendly giveaways your teams and clients—and the next generation—will appreciate.



A sustainable upgrade to regular paper products, seed paper is biodegradable and embedded with flower, herb, tree or vegetable seeds. These plantable alternatives are crafted from post-consumer, post-industrial, recycled paper and are printed on with water-soluble inks for the highest germination rates. Seed paper products can take a variety of forms, including business cards, flyers, boxes, calendars and coasters. After use, consumers simply soak the paper in water, plant it under a layer of soil and see sprouts bloom in a few days. At SXSW earlier this year, communications firm Edelman hung branded plantable cards with sustainability messaging that attendees could take with them—“Plant me. Water me. Sun me.”

With an estimated 2 billion pencils used each year, SproutWorld’s plantable pencil gets a new life once it’s used up. Developed in 2013 by a group of robotics students at MIT, the Sprout pencil has since expanded into makeup with the launch of its patented plantable eyeliner and brow liner collection. Each pencil can be customized with engraved text and choice of seeds, such as basil, thyme, cilantro, cherry tomato, sunflower, daisy and spruce. Packaging options include personalized cards and boxes with planting instructions.


On a mission to tackle the global plastic pandemic, British company Polymateria created Lyfecycle, a self-destructing plastic that made its U.S. debut at the 2022 Chicago Marathon as the official participant recovery bag. Lyfecycle is plant-based, recyclable and time-set biodegradable plastic that is scientifically designed and proven to return to nature after two years, leaving no microplastics or toxins behind. The plastic can be used to create food containers, cutlery, wrappers and non-woven material. The marathon’s recovery bags—imprinted with “This bag is running out of time”—sourced renewable sugarcane to replace fossil fuels in the manufacturing process.


Companies can get involved in the conservation of existing forest ecosystems and the restoration of degraded forests by partnering with tree-planting organizations and bringing consumers in on the initiative.

Corporate reforestation partnerships were on display at CES this year, with Togg and Panasonic inviting attendees to virtually plant seeds that would lead to IRL tree planting. Participants at Togg’s “Digital Mobility Garden” could choose between planting European black pine or Calabrian pine seeds, a collaboration with social enterprise ecording. Panasonic committed to planting a tree, in partnership with One Tree Planted, for every attendee who completed the Green Impact Digital Experience, which continues post-CES.

Similarly, in lieu of swag, Reddit introduced its Karma Kash initiative at Cannes Lions this summer. Through signage around its activation, Reddit encouraged attendees to scan QR codes to choose a charitable organization to which the brand would make a donation.

Photo credit: Lyfecycle; SproutWorld; Reddit

Featured image: Flashvector

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