This post was originally featured on the SwagCycle blog.
Virtually all companies refresh or update their brand identity at some point. The reasons vary. Some do it to better reflect their current product mix. Some do it to enter new markets or attract new customers. Some do it to stand out from the competition better.
Companies spend a great deal of effort defining their brand goals and mission, and these decisions have significant downstream ramifications across a range of corporate initiatives, whether it’s their website and ad campaigns, or billboards and vehicle fleet signage. One category that also needs updating during a rebranding efforts is the array of marketing collateral companies go to market with, including business cards, letterhead, branded merchandise (water bottles, apparel, bags, client gifts), and other banners and signage used at tradeshows and other events.
I have personally witnessed many companies devote huge resources to updating and creating all new collateral, but then give little thought to how to handle the leftover, obsolete merchandise and materials bearing their old logo or messaging. This isn’t generally due to a lack of caring on the part of the company. Rather, it’s because the folks tasked with executing the rebranding effort – their brand marketing and procurement teams as well as external ad agencies, among others – have dozens of balls in the air, under very tight deadlines imposed by senior management.
Unfortunately, this means that a lot of these off-brand items often find their way to a landfill. Increasing the volume of material in landfills is not a viable strategy for a firm committed to sustainability. Nor is this practice beneficial to brand perception or the overall environment. In a recent global online survey conducted by The Conference Board in collaboration with Nielsen, 81 percent of respondents felt strongly that companies should help improve the environment. This serves as an indicator of public sentiment related to company actions regarding waste.
Landfill diversion is critical to stem the growing waste problem both in the United States and around the world. Environmentally-responsible companies can make an impact by thinking carefully about their obsolete branded items once a rebrand is complete. Here are some steps they can take immediately:
Often, companies know they have items in various locations, but there likely are different stakeholders in charge of their own pockets of inventory. For example, the brand team may be in charge of their swag, while their procurement/sourcing colleagues may oversee their print items. To complicate matters even further, their events team may “own” their banners and signage items used at tradeshows and conferences. In order to address these items systematically, a company needs to have a clear understanding of their current state.
Once the company identifies the pockets of inventory around the globe, one member of the team, likely in a sustainability or operations role, needs to be selected to manage the thoughtful disposal of these items (including recycling and/or charitable donations). A lot of cooks in the kitchen will lead to inconsistent results. One person, who is knowledgeable about the items and the potential solutions, and who is committed to the environment and thoughtfully managing corporate resources, will be far more effective. They certainly can and should collaborate with their colleagues, but this divergence czar needs to manage the work stream through completion.
Sometimes when a company rebrands, their senior management determines that their obsolete items need to disappear. In this case, the path of least resistance is often product disposal in dumpsters, which is unfortunate. At the very least, as many items as possible should be recycled. Other times, items can be donated to charities, but we often see that the brand marketing teams are just too busy to execute these merchandise transfers, especially when the items reside in warehouses around the country or globe. With a cohesive and consistent approach, more donations to worthy causes are likely.
If the items need to disappear, approaching landfill diversion through recycling thoughtfully will have an impact. For example, all paper based products can easily be recycled. Sometimes a portion of their documents are quite sensitive. Even then, they can be shredded and recycled with the right, trusted partners. The largest branded merchandise product category is apparel, and textile waste is currently a major problem. According to the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART), clothing and other residential textiles account for 6.3 percent of the waste stream in the U.S.; this is the equivalent of throwing away 81 pounds per person per year. Thankfully, branded clothing and other textiles can be recycled. For example, they can be made into shop rags or reduced to fiber for creation of new products like yarn, paper, insulation and carpet padding. We also have excellent partners who can help with other branded merchandise recycling, as well as upcycle old vinyl signage into custom bags and other items.
Often, companies are happy to donate obsolete promotional products, but have a tough time coordinating this process, or don’t know the right organizations to donate specific items to. For example, some of our charitable partners prefer clothing, whereas others prefer school/office supplies, and others are pleased to accept products like water bottles or battery sticks. By vetting these charities to ensure their organization’s legitimacy as well as specific needs, SwagCycle ensure that the right items go to the right charities to benefit the right people, at the right time.
Consumers want to buy from socially conscious companies, and people prefer to work for companies that share their values. Publicizing their charitable partnerships and their commitment to landfill divergence through thoughtful swag recycling will be beneficial to internal and external stakeholders.
Rebranding efforts are very labor-intensive initiatives that cut across virtually all facets of an organization. By following the above steps of knowledge sharing, communication and thoughtful disposition, companies will achieve positive results that leave the smallest environmental footprint possible.
I had a blast chatting recently with Mike Boyd on his Business of Family podcast. Here are some highlights.