6 Ideas for Sustainable Trade Show Swag

February 17, 2020

Al Torres

Al Torres is the co-founder and president of SummitSync, a meeting automation platform used by companies to increase the success of their event marketing investments. Al is a multi-time entrepreneur and seasoned executive with over 15 years of experience in sales, business development and growth strategy.

What’s worse than your swag being abandoned on a booth counter is your swag being thrown in the garbage on its way off the trade show floor. Not only is this a waste of your planning efforts and marketing dollars, but it’s also really bad for the environment. Think about all of those wasted foam squishy balls, plastic pens, paper pamphlets and post-it note pads waiting to be shipped off to a landfill. If we’re going to work on reducing, reusing and recycling in every other facet of life and business operations, we should also work on reducing waste at events, too.

There are thousands of events every year and even more businesses that exhibit and purchase giveaway swag and paper collateral. In order to reduce your company’s carbon footprint at conferences and trade shows, you can start by purchasing swag items that people will actually use and/or are eco-friendly. When you see that none of your swag has ended up in the trash cans, you can leave the event with a clear conscience.

Below are seven suggestions for sustainable, eco-friendly swag so you can win over clients and help save the planet, one less squishy ball at a time.

1. Photo Booth with Your Logo

If you’ve been to a wedding, birthday party or any sort of celebration within the past few years, you know that photo booths are trending. Everyone is grabbing their friends in the middle of a party, or in this case a trade show, to get in line for the camera, slap on a fake mustache and say “Cheese!” Skip the printed version of the photo and reduce paper waste by allowing photo-takers to send photos to themselves digitally. That way, you can capture their lead info and attach the photos to an email with information about your company, and any contact info. And don’t forget to print your logo on the photo — if shared on any form of social media, you’ll be getting extra exposure.

2. Reusable Lunch Containers — Reduce Food Waste and Help the Earth

For example, a Bently Bento Lunch Container is an eco-friendly giveaway and will definitely attract an audience off of the exhibit floor. The metal lunch box, which can be used to heat food when adding hot water, decreases single-use plastic on lunch breaks. Rather than ordering in every day, potential clients can use the lunch containers to save money, bring food from home and reduce their waste. Plus, you can customize the box with your logo. 

3. Metal Straws — Because Plastic Straws are so 2017

So, you care about sea turtles and you have a great product? If you want to show conference and trade show attendees you’re a true #environmentalist, metal straws with your logo are a great giveaway idea. This will encourage attendees during and post-show to practice sustainability in the workplace, ditch the plastic straws and go to work prepared to save the planet.

4. Create a Signature Drink at the Hotel Bar that Attendees Can Get for Free

After a long day of walking around, give your potential clients something to really take the edge off — a pen. Jokes aside, skip the swag altogether and opt for a freebie attendees are sure to take you up on — a free drink. Organize this with the hotel bar and see if you can create a signature drink named after your company. Because this is a more pricey freebie, keep drink tickets to yourself and give them to prospects after you converse with them. It will show potential customers right off the bat that you have great client perks.

5. Massage the Worries Away

It’s been a long day of standing, talking and getting the right contacts. But your company isn’t like regular companies — your company cares about the well-being of your potential clients. If your booth has enough space, consider offering free, 10-minute massages on the exhibit floor! Companies like National Chair Massage specialize in corporate events and trade shows, with a network of massage therapists prepared with chairs and supplies to set up at your exhibit. This is sure to bring a long line to your booth, and while attendees are waiting, you can give them your sales pitch and gather any lead information for easier follow-up. And don’t worry about breaking the bank — a massage chair can be booked for a price comparable to the price of a bulk order of pens or drinkware: $50–$80/hour, or $800–$1280 for 16 hours. 

6. Gift an Experience

Business events are a unique experience as many potential customers and business partners are all in person, in one place. Holding free events for potential clients, such as a yoga session or a networking breakfast, not only offers them the opportunity to take a break from a stressful few days, but it also presents you with the opportunity to connect with clients outside of the trade show setting. In this way, you can increase genuine interactions and work on winning over clients with your display of genuine customer care. 

A thought-out, environmentally-conscious freebie will undoubtedly help you stand out at your next conference or trade show. No, freebies certainly don’t make or break a deal, but in separating your brand from the typical pens or drink koozies given away by most other booths, the creativity and care you put into the quality of your giveaways will attract the right clients. Before attendees even enter your booth, they will recognize your company’s values and they will appreciate your company for it.

A version of this blog post originally appeared on our sister publication, TSNN

What are your favorite sustainable giveaways — either items you've received, or given out at events?


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