Launching SwagCycle – Working to Solve the Unusable Swag Problem

I love the branded merchandise industry, and am proud that our family business has become one of the nation’s leading firms in this space.

However, one thing that has bothered me for years is that when companies rebrand or get acquired, a lot of swag unfortunately can find its way to a landfill.  I’ve been working with my team to solve this problem.  Last month, we launched SwagCycle, a service focused on responsibly managing the lifecycle of branded merchandise.

An important term to consider is landfill divergence.  We want to ensure that items do not get thrown away, but instead get repurposed or recycled responsibly.

We’ve developed a simple and efficient 3-step process to address this issue with companies: (1) Assess the inventory of unwanted items; (2) Confirm brand guidelines to determine if excess items can live on with charitable partners or should be recycled; and (3) Match items with appropriate charities and/or recycling partners.

We’ve been working for quite some time to build a proprietary network of charitable and recycling partners to help companies repurpose and recycle their unwanted branded items in a responsible, ethical and affordable way.

The response from the charitable community has been amazing.  These include organizations like Second Chances, which accepts donations of clothing, shoes, and accessories to assist homeless and lower-income people to better their lives and to help minimize the amount of discarded clothing sent to local landfills.

We recently helped a leading educational company donate off-brand but very high quality bottles to the United Way and Boys & Girls Club of BostonHere’s a bit more information on that project.

If you’d like to learn more, I wrote a white paper about Solving the Unusable Swag Problem.

I look forward to your feedback!

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Crowdsourced Clean up: A Conversation with Litterati Founder, Jeff Kirschner

ImageBy Heidi Quigley, Special Projects Associate, Grossman Marketing Group

According to the “Keep America Beautiful” organization, over 51 billion pieces of trash are littered on U.S. roadways each year.  In a recent post, we discussed the growth of social media tools that help create awareness of the environment and how to improve it.  One tool we mentioned was Litterati, a global photo gallery of litter that allows users to share their findings and engage with brands. We recently had the chance to interview Litterati’s founder, Jeff Kirschner, to learn more about the project and the impact it has had thus far, as well as their future plans for growth.

Kirschner explained that he founded Litterati in an effort to reduce litter rates.  Litterati is an online resource that allows users to photograph litter with Instagram and share their findings with friends using the hash tag “#Litterati.” They are then encouraged to discard the litter properly.

In our interview, Kirschner shed some light on the world of litter. He told us that the majority of Litterati contributors range from 18 to 34 years old and are primarily a tech-savvy audience. As Litterati has grown, he has noticed a significant change in his purchase choices, his family’s behaviors, and also in his local environment’s level of awareness. The enjoyment and creativity of this “digital landfill” allows for users to create their own caption for their photos.  “People are literally titling their captions as if they are titling a piece of artwork, while others are more black and white. Notably, other than the photographs, everything on the website is black and white in-order to mimic the black and white origin of this issue—there is something that clearly does not belong there, so we must put it where it belongs,” Kirschner explained.

Litterati is about bringing people together that may not know each other, but are contributing to the same objective. For example, Kirschner mentioned two people who picked up cigarette butts within miles of one another.  These people did not know each other, but they picked up litter and tagged “#Litterati” within minutes of each other.

One of Litterati’s long-term goals is connecting large quantities of people who have the same universal goal of a cleaner environment. Kirschner said, “When dealing with a global issue such as litter, it can be overwhelming to people who are looking to find a solution.  However, if one person knows that there is another person close by doing the same thing, fifty other people in the same city, hundreds in the same state, and thousands in the same country, then suddenly people realize that they are not alone.  Although this problem is huge and daunting, it actually can be fixed if we all play a part.”

Kirschner also discussed the response he has seen from big brands.  He told us that companies such as Whole Foods and Starbucks are looking to integrate corporate sustainability into their many promotions. He reported that Whole Foods recently teamed up with Litterati users. During this promotion, each person who picked up and discarded an item of trash properly was rewarded with a free coffee.  In the future, there will be more potential opportunities for Litterati to collaborate on another promotion with Whole Foods.

Kirschner said, “Can you imagine if Marlboro or Newport recognized that their cigarette butts are everywhere and said that they were going to build a team to start block-by-block to pick them up?  Just the P.R. alone would be good for a company like that.”

According to the statistics that can be found on the Litterati website, cigarette butts are the most littered item. Kirschner stated, “Smokers have a natural tendency to throw them out on the ground and, in some ways, this has become an accepted behavior.  After recognizing the fact that this has been happening for many years and that there are many cigarettes in each pack, it comes as no surprise that this is the most highly littered item.”

The main idea of Litterati according to Kirschner is, “Individually we can make a difference. Together we can create an impact.”

5 Key Sustainability Updates for 2013

ImageBy Heidi Quigley, Special Projects Associate, Grossman Marketing Group

Although there has been a prolonged period of silence on “Sustainable Ink,” Grossman Marketing Group (GMG) has been anything but quiet.  We have continued to grow and develop as a company, maintaining our focus on environmental responsibility. In fact, our new Special Projects Associate, Heidi Quigley, who will be helping with this blog, just graduated from college with a minor in environmental studies. In collaboration with Heidi, we have come across several interesting articles recently and thought it would be beneficial to share them below:

E-waste is increasingly becoming an issue in this country, and many households are unsure of how to dispose of old computers, phones and other products. If you are looking for a responsible way to rid yourself of old electronics, The New York Times suggests contributing them to a recycling program.  In addition, people are welcome to bring in used electronics to most Best Buy and Staples locations.  You can even trade in old equipment for resale using Gazelle or Amazon. GMG has “The Big Green Box” in many locations around our offices so employees can easily drop these off at work, removing a barrier to recycling.

While some people are looking to recycle their used gadgets, social media tools are helping people create awareness of the environment and ways to improve it.  One interesting tool we have seen recently is Litterati, a, photo gallery of litter that allows users to share their findings and engage with brands.  Here’s a great video overview of the company.

Last month, President Obama announced his commitment to the environment through his Climate Action Plan. This proposal aims to reduce greenhouse gases, prepare the United States for the impact of climate change, and help other countries contribute to a cleaner future.

In addition to the Climate Action Plan, the Obama administration is in the process of deciding whether the Keystone XL Pipeline should move forward. The level of impact on the environment from the pipeline must be determined before any decision can be made.

As green marketing and eco-labels have proliferated, consumer confusion about environmental claims has grown exponentially.  In fact, according to the EcoLabel Index, there are more than 400 “green labels” in existence, with the numbers constantly rising.  Late last year, the F.T.C. unveiled the latest version of their Green Guides, new guidelines that all companies interested in marketing products as “eco-friendly” must comply with.  According to our friends at Cone Communications, the “new Green Guides seek to address persistent consumer confusion, cautioning marketers against making broad environmental claims like ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘green’ that are difficult to substantiate.”

We hope these are helpful for you – we will continue to share interesting content and observations related to the environment, green business and green marketing in the weeks and months to come.  Thanks for reading!

Five Principles for Sustainable Brand Innovation: A Discussion of BBMG’s White Paper

By Greg McCarthy (Summer Associate Marketing Intern, Grossman Marketing Group. Undergraduate Marketing Major, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth)

Greetings all – Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Greg McCarthy and I am a senior Marketing major at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Over the last 3 years at school, I have developed a deep interest in not only marketing, but also in sustainability, specifically seeing the ways it is implemented in business. Today, I have the privilege of getting to write a guest post for Ben Grossman’s “Sustainable Ink” blog on BBMG’s latest white paper Disrupt & Delight, which focuses on implementing “Sustainable Brand Innovation” in 5 principles. I connected with Ben after his presentation on a panel at the 3rd Annual Sustainable Economy Conference in Boston in April, and recently started working for his firm, Grossman Marketing Group, as a Summer Associate Marketing Intern.

Ben has mentioned BBMG in the past on this blog as a firm based in Brooklyn, New York, that has been a leader in sustainability for many years. To download the full white paper, please click here and then follow the prompts.

BBMG’s five principles describe real world examples about how we can get the wheel turning towards addressing major environmental issues in the business world. The white paper’s first principle, “Start with what’s Sacred,” explains how in order to address economic and environmental threats and maintain a commitment to sustainability, the approach to innovation “must begin not just with the technical marvels of polymers and solvents, but the values, hopes and aspirations of our shared humanity.” The principle features Chipotle’s recent advertising efforts to grow more organic ingredients and provide customers with healthier food.  Please find the video below.

Principle 2, “Design Holistically” describes innovation as being “interconnected.” BBMG believes sustainable brand innovation needs a “holistic approach” especially within business, and that product and service design must occur in an ecosystem that reinforces the health, sustainability and success of each part over time.  Levi’s Water<Less jeans are highlighted in this principle by describing their stylish design that also use less water in the production process.

The third principle, “Create Collaboratively,” transitions smoothly off the message that principle 2 sets, and discusses open innovation platforms, industry coalitions, and community-driven platforms as examples of collaboration that are helping to drive change. I particularly found interesting the example they used on Unilever’s Open Innovation, which describes how Unilever started an online platform for outside experts to contribute to the idea of “doubling the size of its business while reducing the size of its environmental impact.” For a link to read more about this online platform, please click here.

The fourth principle is titled “Be Playful” and focuses on the correlation between play and innovation. The creativity behind sustainable ideas such as RecycleBank and Save Up has created effective ways to “mobilize behaviors that integrate play, sustainability and social impact.”

The fifth and final principle, “Disrupt and Delight,” uses Nike as a focal point behind its message that consumers want good products and expect them to be responsibly produced. Some terrific quotes by Hannah Jones, the vice president of sustainable business and innovation at Nike, are featured: “What we have to do with sustainability is to make today’s status quo obsolete so that it just becomes the norm and default option because it’s better, easier and frankly more delightful to the consumer.” Jones also talks about how to “never compromise performance and price for sustainability or you will do a disservice to sustainability.” Here’s an excellent Q&A with Jones on GreenBiz.

Overall, – I thought BBMG demonstrated a strong connection when linking Sustainable Brand Innovation to the current issues our planet is facing. When combining the principles together, BBMG believes they can create new ways “to do much more with much less.” I strongly support this notion, and urge others to draw their attention to these topics.

Some Good Year-End Sustainability Reading

As we approach the end of a very busy 2011, I’ve been seeing a lot of interesting year-end articles that I’ve been saving to read later.  I thought it would be helpful to include a selection of them for you in one place:

  1. “A Manifesto for Sustainable Capitalism,” by Al Gore and David Blood, published in the Wall Street Journal on December 14, 2011.  They define sustainable capitalism as “a framework that seeks to maximize long-term economic value by reforming markets to address real needs while integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics throughout the decision-making process.”  They explain that research shows that “embracing sustainable capitalism yields four kinds of important benefits for companies:

    • Developing sustainable products and services can increase a company’s profits, enhance its brand, and improve its competitive positioning, as the market increasingly rewards this behavior.

    • Sustainable capitalism can also help companies save money by reducing waste and increasing energy efficiency in the supply chain, and by improving human-capital practices so that retention rates rise and the costs of training new employees decline.

    • Third, focusing on ESG metrics allows companies to achieve higher compliance standards and better manage risk since they have a more holistic understanding of the material issues affecting their business.

    • Researchers (including Rob Bauer and Daniel Hann of Maastricht University, and Beiting Cheng, Ioannis Ioannou and George Serafeim of Harvard) have found that sustainable businesses realize financial benefits such as lower cost of debt and lower capital constraints.”

  2. GreenBiz.com’s “Our 12 Best Stories of 2011,” includes a wide range of articles, including “Soap and Glory: A Peek Behind Method’s Methods,” “The Story Behind Google’s Huge Appetite for Energy,” “5 Myths About Sustainability Executives,” and “The Future (and Past) of the ‘Office of the Future.'”
  3. Most Read Paper and Packaging Stories of 2011 from our friends at Environmental Leader. There’s been a lot of chatter and innovation around the lifecycle of packaging and the need for manufacturers to be responsible for the the stewardship of their products from beginning to disposal.  It’s been an issue close to my heart for many years – along these lines, I was recently asked to become a charter member of the Product Stewardship Institute Advisory Council. This organization has played a critical role in bringing government, industry, and other stakeholders together to jointly develop solutions to difficult waste management problems for many years and I’m honored to be part of such a great group.  To learn more about the council, here’s a link to a PDF press release.
  4. 10 Predictions for Cleantech and Sustainability in 2012 from GreenBiz.com.  It covers renewable energy, green marketing, transportation, and energy efficiency topics among others.
  5. Lastly, I’m excited to share some positive news on Cape Wind.  This plan to build offshore wind turbines in Nantucket Sound has long been delayed by lawsuits and controversy.  This week, Massachusetts’ highest court gave the project the “green light” according to the Boston Globe.  Cape Wind CEO said he hopes project construction will start in about a year.  Here’s a link to the Boston Globe article.

I want to wish everyone a happy, healthy and productive 2012.  Thanks for reading!

Environmental Leader’s Q2 2011 Environmental & Energy Data Book Available

Our friends at Environmental Leader have recently released their Q2 2011 Environmental & Energy Data Book.  Here’s how they describe the document on their website:

The book supplies busy executives and research teams with a collection of charts presenting environmental, sustainability and energy-related data on a quarterly basis.  Our goal is to make the job of gathering essential information and metrics a bit easier for corporate decision-makers.

Data topics include Energy, Facilities, Sustainability & Strategy, Management Systems & Reporting, Carbon Costs & Markets, Marketing & Public Opinion, Transportation & Supply Chain, Emissions and Waste & Recycling.

Here’s a link to the download form. Enjoy!