When talking about sustainability, we refer to the balanced use of resources, the protection of the environment, and the promotion of social equity to ensure the long-term health of the planet and all that inhabit it.
We must learn to embrace the concept of living more sustainably so that we can begin to address the many environmental challenges that are becoming more apparent by the day and to enable a more resilient future for us all.
Making more responsible, sustainable choices increases our chances of meeting this generation’s needs without compromising future generations.
From the most recognised high street brands to one-person start-ups, the promotional merchandise industry plays a significant role in the marketing and promotion of businesses.
Pens, notebooks, caps – if it can be branded (and most things can!), it has probably, at some point, been used to promote a brand.
But as our awareness of the importance of protecting our planet increases, this industry is now not only embracing but prioritising sustainability. And with consumers, quite rightly, demanding more sustainable options, there has never been a greater need for promotional products that are high quality, versatile and available in a variety of eco-friendly materials.
Determining the true sustainability of a product involves scrutinising its entire lifecycle – from raw material production to how we use the object and then its disposal once it is no longer needed.
Below, we explore some of the materials most frequently used within the promotional merchandise industry and evaluate their potential environmental impact, enabling you to make better-informed decisions as a purchaser.
Around 300,000 tonnes of textile waste is discarded per year. Less than 1% of the material used in clothing production is recycled into new clothing at the end of its life
Cotton has long been a staple material for the promotional merchandise industry, its versatility, softness, and branding capabilities making it a popular material choice. But, whilst cotton could be considered a more sustainable choice than many synthetic materials, the processes involved in growing it and turning it into the products we use are harmful to the planet. As sustainability becomes a paramount concern, the industry seeks eco-friendly alternatives, with organic and recycled cotton emerging as more responsible options.
Both organic and recycled cotton production uses significantly less fresh water and far less energy to process than conventional cotton. Whilst organic cotton is grown without the use of harmful pesticides and fertilisers, recycled cotton results in decreased volumes of waste heading to landfill. Although neither option is without any negative impact at all, both are significantly less damaging to the environment.
Plastic – probably the most prolific villain of the story when it comes to sustainability. But is that fair? Well, yes and no (but mainly yes).
The most frequently highlighted concern surrounding plastic is plastic waste. Cheap, mass-produced, single-use items are commonly made from plastic. And once they have served their purpose, where do they go? Much of it ends up in landfill, our beautiful oceans and other natural environments, where it takes anywhere between 20 and 500 years to decompose, causing harm to wildlife and ecosystems.
In addition to this, the production of plastic itself is harmful, generating greenhouse gases and contributing to climate change.
Even if you opt for recycled options with an intention to recycle again after use, you may be surprised to learn just how negatively impactful plastic recycling can be. It is uneconomical, energy-intensive, it degrades with each round of recycling, and often becomes more toxic after each process.
Fortunately, there are some incredible alternatives to plastic, many of which can do the same job but with far less environmental impact. Bamboo, stainless steel, sugar cane, and even wheat are all great examples of such materials.
For now, though, there are times when plastic is a legitimate choice, perhaps due to cost, availability, or its lightweight and easily transportable properties. But to make it a more sustainable option, addressing its end-of-life management through improved recycling and promotion of circular economy practices is essential.
If you decide to purchase plastic, opting for multi-use, long-life items and ensuring that they are eventually recycled will at least help limit its negative impact.
The properties of stainless steel make it an inherently sustainable material. It is robust, durable and has an exceptionally long lifespan, with products made from stainless steel potentially lasting decades.
The longevity of the material results in a reduced need for frequent replacements, conserving resources and reducing waste, with fewer raw materials required over time.
Moreover, stainless steel is highly recyclable. It retains its original properties throughout the recycling process and, unlike many other materials, can be recycled repeatedly without ever compromising its quality.
Stainless steel has become very popular within the promotional merchandise industry over the past few years, with items such as drink bottles, pens, and thermos cups increasingly made from this far more sustainable material in place of traditional plastic versions. But it isn’t just the environment that benefits from this material change. When the choice is between cheap, mass-produced, and single-use or stylish, strong, durable, and with a high perceived value, what would you prefer your brand to be associated with?
Paper is a fundamental product used in human communication for centuries. Now, in a world where digital communication dominates, there is still something about paper and a new notebook that appeals to almost anyone.
One notable trend in recent years, however, is the growing emphasis on sustainability. Recyclable and biodegradable papers, along with eco-friendly printing processes, align with consumers’ increasing demand for environmentally responsible practices and products.
Whilst there undoubtedly was a time when the production of paper led to deforestation, education, improved attitudes, and better forest management means the majority of paper today comes from responsible and sustainable sources, with forests in Europe now actually increasing in size.
Moreover, technological advancements have further contributed to the sustainability of paper products. More energy-efficient processes and the adoption of renewable energy sources have helped to lower the paper industry’s carbon footprint significantly.
That said, where recycled paper products are an option, this is the best choice for you to make. The process of recycling paper uses less energy, less water, and results in lower carbon emissions when compared with the production of virgin paper, and it can withstand at least five rounds of recycling before its quality becomes too compromised.
Wherever possible, Firefly Merchandise will offer you the most sustainable options we can. Whilst we believe in choice for our customers, we will also gently encourage you to consider items with the least harmful impact and provide you with the information to help you make knowledgeable decisions. If you’d like to see some examples of how we have done this in the past, our Case Studies and Product pages are a great place to head to.
Protecting our planet is one of our core values, and we are happy to shout about this from the rooftops. So, if you have any questions about the environmental credentials of any of our products, our sources, or how you can make a difference yourself, please get in touch!
With paper trails available on request, you can understand how and where your products were produced and feel confident that you are making the right choices for you, your business AND the environment.
Looking after your brand is critical to us, but so is our planet. We pride ourselves on providing top quality products that do not cost the Earth.
Should you wish to learn more about sustainability, several resources are listed below: