Editor's Picks: The Eco-Friendly Evolution


Around the world, the eco-friendly movement is galvanizing consumers and companies to reduce, reuse and recycle. These initiatives are nothing new—Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970 and the Don’t Mess With Texas catchphrase came out in 1985 for the iconic anti-littering campaign—but the movement continues to gather momentum and has become a way of life for many. Many promotional products companies are launching initiatives to respond to and support this movement.

One such company is New Kensington, Pennsylvania-based Polyconcept North America, parent company of suppliers Bullet, JournalBooks and Leed’s. This past summer the company refreshed its EcoSmart program, established more than 10 years ago, to offer more than 50 items constructed of recycled materials. PCNA is also one of several industry companies, along with apparel suppliers Vantage Apparel and Storm Creek, that has aligned with 1% For The Planet, an organization with a mission to build an alliance of businesses financially committed to creating a healthier planet. PCNA has agreed to donate one percent of sales from all EcoSmart products directly to environmental nonprofits.

Liz Haesler, PCNA chief merchandising officer, says PCNA has seen an increased demand for EcoSmart products despite the belief that eco-friendly products are more expensive. “From a bags standpoint, we have a good, better and best approach,” she says. “We’re trying to make sure we’ve got options at all price points.”

But EcoSmart is about more than just products, says AJ Dickson, PCNA global category director. “As a company, we responsibly source and responsibly manufacture our products, and we take great care with the selection of our vendors. EcoSmart is a movement within the company. It’s how we source, manufacture, package and ship product. It’s going to be an evolution.”

This eco-friendly evolution offers an opportunity for distributors who want to make some green by selling green. “People want to work for companies that care about the environment and give back,” Dickson says. “The opportunity for distributors is to align with that message. It makes good business sense for distributors to have that as part of their offering.”

Packaging is an element that goes hand-in-hand with products and has recently come under fire from consumers because of the excess inherent in all kinds of products from cosmetics to toys. It’s in eco-friendly packaging where Norwood, New Jersey-based supplier AAA Innovations is trying to make a big difference. Through an upcoming initiative called Bag the Plastic, the company is eliminating the plastic bags and nylon sleeves that come with their umbrellas.

“Umbrellas from most companies usually come in plastic bags,” says Jeff Nanus, president of AAA Innovations. “Many umbrellas also have a nylon or polyester sleeve that no one ever uses. The polyester sleeve also comes in a plastic bag. That all goes in the garbage.”

AAA Innovations is eliminating all the plastic packaging on their umbrellas. “We have replaced that with a biodegradable Kraft paper sleeve that looks like a gift bag,” Nanus says. “On one side of the bag there will be an eco-friendly message. The other side of the bag will be left blank for the end user to print whatever eco-friendly message they want.”

Nanus says the new umbrellas, to be introduced at The PPAI Expo in January 2020, will be offered at the same price point. “We looked at what we could do to make a big difference without raising our price and still help the end user accomplish their goals,” he adds.

While the initiative will start with AAA’s umbrella packaging, the plan is to begin eliminating excess packaging on their bags and possibly other products in the line. “Our canvas bags will be next, and one by one they’ll all go,” Nanus says.

The inspiration for the Bag the Plastic initiative came from outside the industry after Nanus read an article about how the toy company Hasbro is attempting to reduce the foam and plastic used in its packaging. “I think we’ll start the trend, and within a short amount of time many suppliers will follow us,” he says. “They’ll look at their business and realize it just makes sense.”

Along with the movement to reduce, reuse and recycle, consumers and companies are rethinking many of the products they use to lessen the amount of trash that eventually finds its way into landfills. Plastic straws and single-use plastic bags, of course, are some of the high-profile items being replaced, but for professional meeting organizers everything is fair game when working to reduce landfill waste at conferences, conventions and meetings of all sizes. A recent article in Convene magazine outlined some smart practices for reducing waste, such as not putting registration materials inside an envelope and providing all handouts online instead of in print. See the sidebar on p. 53 to learn more ways meeting pros are rethinking their meetings.

Featuring the soft, plush feel of lambswool without the guilt, the Eco Challenger Throw is constructed of faux micro “fur” and faux lambswool made from 100-percent polyester—30 percent of which is recycled material. Cuddly, warm and perfect for chilly winter nights, this throw makes a great incentive gift for companies that want to promote environmental awareness.

Pro Towels  /  PPAI 112755, S10  /  www.protowels.com

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Perfect for urban hipsters, fitness buffs and anyone who is environmentally-minded, the Natural Fitness Eco-Smart Yoga Mat is made from polymer environmental resin, an eco-friendly material that contains no harmful phthalates or heavy metals. Recipients can rest assured that the next time they stretch into child’s pose or bow into downward dog, they’ll feel good about the fact that their yoga mat doesn’t contain any harmful or toxic chemicals.

Incentive Concepts  /  PPAI 212912, S10  /  www.incentiveconcepts.com

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Featuring an all-natural, cotton canvas exterior, the ECO Laptop Messenger is a natural choice for busy commuters, students and anyone on the move. Designed to fit laptops up to 17.3 inches wide, it tucks easily under one arm, messenger-style, or can be carried like a briefcase. A dedicated, padded computer compartment protects your laptop, while separate sections for files, folders, magazines and accessories keep your gear organized and at your fingertips. Multiple anchor locations for the removable ID holder provide quick access to your important cards.

Mobile Edge  /  PPAI 314937, S1 /  www.mobileedge.com

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If your client is interested in going green from head to toe, these Recycled Polyester Shoelaces will fit right in. They are domestically produced, dye sublimated and come in various widths and lengths.

BamBams  /  PPAI 255565, S9  /  www.bambams.com

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Environmentally aware consumers will love receiving the Reusable Stainless Straw 10 in 1 Set, which includes eight stainless steel straws in different sizes along with a straw cleaning brush and cotton pouch. Each straw has a different colored silicone tip, so everybody knows which straw is theirs. Companies that advertise their brand through this reusable straw set can promote environmental responsibility to consumers who want to drink with a straw but don’t want to pollute the planet.

Leed’s  /  PPAI 112361, S13  /  www.leedsworld.com

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Sleek and contemporary, the Bamboo Insulated Bottle keeps 15 ounces of your favorite beverage hot or cold for up to 12 hours thanks to its double-wall insulation. Featuring a real bamboo outer wall and stainless steel inner wall, the bottle is also FDA-approved.

Visions  /  PPAI 110751, S9  /  www.visionsawardcraft.com

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An educational tool and promotional product in one, the Craft Gift Box Paper Straws are biodegradable and available in black, red or blue. This is a great choice for companies that want to communicate the message that reusable straws help reduce the amount of waste from single-use plastic straws, thereby protecting the planet’s oceans and marine life. Print a logo on the front of the box; the back of the box features the benefits of using eco-friendly straws.

Peerless Umbrella Co.  /  PPAI 112666, S9  /  www.peerlessumbrella.com

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Designed to cater to the eco-conscious consumer, the Woodlands Coasters are made of natural poplar wood and packaged in a reusable, natural jute drawstring bag. Each coaster in the set is unique in structure due to the color and size variations of the wood. Like trees, these coasters get better with age; repeated use creates a weathered patina, adding to their character.

Illini /  PPAI 111235, S7  /  www.illiniline.com

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Molded from 100-percent post-consumer recycled PET plastic, the UpCycle RPET Bottle With Flip Straw Ring Lid makes a great two-in-one giveaway or gift with double the environmental impact. The transparent bottle features a straight-walled, compact design, is BPA-free and food compliant, and comes in eight colors.

Garyline  /  PPAI 112004, S10  /  www.garyline.com

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Everyone needs a pen, so why not make it eco-friendly? The B2P Bottle-2-Pen Gel Roller Pen features a translucent barrel made from 89-percent post-consumer recycled plastic, so it’s good for the planet and for making a great brand impression. This fine-point pen features vibrant gel ink for smooth, effortless writing and is available in black, blue, red, green (shown) or purple. It also includes a four-color process label for your client’s logo or message.

Pilot Corporation of America   /  PPAI 112712, S5   /  www.pilotpenpromo.com

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With an exterior made of 100-percent recycled water bottles, the Parkland Vintage Computer Backpack combines eco-friendly functionality with a simple, clean design. The bag fits 13-inch laptops and comes with a hidden water bottle pocket.

Leed’s  /   PPAI 112361, S13   /  www.leedsworld.com

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The Eco Seed Pencil is a wooden pencil with bioplastic parts made from natural materials including cornstarch. Each pencil contains pesticide-free seeds hidden below the bio eraser cap. Simply remove the rubber cap, plant the seeds and watch them grow. Choose from basil, pine tree, cherry tomato, sweet alyssum and strawberry seeds. This creative, eco-friendly product puts a new twist on the theme of growth for any kind of campaign.

3D Promoplastic  /  PPAI 690397, S1  /  www.3dpromoplastic.com

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Made of seed paper, this Color Me Plantable Bookmark is a coloring “book” and bookmark in one. Recipients can get their creative juices flowing by coloring the bookmark and then planting it under a thin layer of soil to watch it grow colorful wildflowers, including bird’s eye, clarkia, black-eyed Susan, sweet alyssum, catchfly and snapdragon. It makes a great eco-friendly giveaway for schools and libraries.

Botanical PaperWorks  /  www.botanicalpaperworks.com

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Woodridge, Illinois-based supplier Orbus Exhibit & Display Group was recognized this year by Specialty Graphics Imaging Associations (SGIA) with its 2019 Sustainable Business Award. Orbus was recognized specifically for its reduced environmental impact through recycling.

In 2018, Orbus recycled and diverted 90 percent of total waste from landfills, up from 77 percent in 2017. The company recycled 107,000 pounds of aluminum, 260,000 pounds of plastic, 456,000 pounds of fabric and 742,000 pounds of cardboard, cores and paper.

Earlier this year, distributor Geiger (PPAI 105182, D12) was awarded the LEED Certification at the Gold Level by the U.S. Green Building Council for its Lewiston, Maine, headquarters. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification verifies a construction project has met or exceeded globally recognized green building standards. Companies recognized with this achievement undergo a rigorous third-party commissioning process to verify that the building has achieved its environmental goals.

In 2017 Geiger began the extensive renovation project that completely transformed its global headquarters. Of note is the company’s 696-panel solar array which generates 100 percent of the building’s electricity. Today, annual energy usage is less than 40 percent of what it was prior to construction due to energy-efficient LED lights, super-insulated walls and ceilings, and a natural gas heating system with a 96-percent efficiency rating.

The distributor was also recognized this year by the Maine Institute for Family Owned Business with its Environmental Leadership Award in recognition of its solar array and the fact that it’s a 100-percent carbon neutral shipper, paying UPS a fee to offset the carbon used to deliver every shipment from every supplier. The company also plants trees in the Amazon to offset all paper run through its company printers.

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Interest in eco-friendly products has never been greater. This demand is coming from a changing culture where plastic waste reduction is celebrated and laws banning single-use plastics are popping up in countries all over the globe.

In response to this planet-conscious movement, industry suppliers have reaffirmed their commitment to serving the needs of buyers with more eco-friendly product offerings. Here’s a quick primer on some of the terms associated with products in this category.


Polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, is the most common type of plastic used for water and soft drink bottles, and food containers such as peanut butter jars and household cleaners. PET is the most recycled plastic in the world. Used PET containers are sorted, cleaned and ground into pellets that are reintroduced into the manufacturing process.


Bamboo is a strong and fast-growing resource. Bamboo trees grow to maturity in only three years, so they require fewer natural resources such as water than other types of trees. Bamboo is not only 100-percent biodegradable, it is highly renewable because it is easy to plant and harvest.


Wheat straw is the stalk that’s left over after wheat grains are harvested. Traditionally, it has been treated as a waste. However, these stalks can be reclaimed and used to make eco-friendly products. Wheat straw is durable enough to become the barrel of a pen or even a lunch box.


When dumped in landfills, textile waste can take hundreds of years to decompose. Fortunately, the leftover cuttings from apparel and textile factories can be recycled and used to make products like tote bags and notebooks. Producing a cotton tote using existing materials that would otherwise be thrown away helps reduce CO2 and fossil fuel emissions into the environment.

Source: Polyconcept North America

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The Australian Marine Sciences Association and event management organization Encanta created a near plastic-free annual conference this past July in Fremantle, Australia, and then developed these tips to help other organizations do the same. Their tips should whet suppliers’ and distributors’ imaginations for ways they can better serve eco-minded meetings and hospitality industry clients.

  1. Stiff cardboard name badges with no plastic pockets
  2. Bamboo lanyards with metal clips (for name badges)
  3. 100-percent jute/cotton conference bags (can be repurposed as shopping bags)
  4. Option to pre-purchase a cup with an AMSA logo
  5. Espresso coffee carts with returnable cups that were washed and returned fresh each day
  6. Water jugs with glassware (or to refill personal water bottles)
  7. No packaged mints
  8. Sustainably sourced pencils and sharpening stations
  9. Printed pocket program for daily use
  10. Reusable plates, silverware and glassware
  11. Delegates were asked to bring their own reusable water bottles and coffee cups
  12. Dates were omitted from new banners for reuse at subsequent events  

Source: Convene magazine, the publication of Professional Conference Management Association.

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Brittany Glenn is a Dallas, Texas-area based writer and a former associate editor of PPB.

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