Conference Organizers: Bag the Swag

Even a conference like Opportunity Green can fall victim to the Cult of Swag. Stuart Karten wants it to stop.

Last weekend, I
attended the 2009 Opportunity Green conference. There were some inspiring
speakers with great messages. Len Sauers from P&G got me thinking about
small changes across product lines that can make a big difference in the amount
of resources consumed. Annie Leonard, who wrote The Story of Stuff, gave a
jolting reminder of the waste built into our materials economy.


In light of all
this, another of my takeaways was weighing heavily on my conscience, and my
shoulder–the Swag Bag.

swag bag

through my five-pound bag, I encountered piles of cardboard, paper, and plastic
wrapping–double-packaged disposable cardboard speakers, various logoed
notebooks and pens, and a stack of brochures and magazines. Some of the swag had
good intentions. We were encouraged to use our new set of bamboo dinnerware in
lieu of plastic utensils and a reusable water bottle and hand towel instead of
their disposable counterparts. But how many materials were used, even in these
supposedly sustainable gifts?And
how many people are going to carry these items around with them, even a week
from now? Not me.

Swag is one of the
biggest ways that conferences generate waste–it’s a $19 billion industry in the U.S. That’s
a lot of Customized Readymade Apparel and Products, if you’ll pardon my

All of these
freebies have a high cost. This became especially clear to me after last weekend.
Conferences that are aimed at encouraging consumers to “reduce, reuse, recycle” should start lobbying to stop the meaningless gifting of promotional products.
As Annie Leonard said, we can’t afford to fill the world with more stuff. Let’s Bag the Swag.

Inside PopTech’s Solar-Powered Bag FLAP


Read more of Stuart Karten’s Dear Stuart blog
Browse blogs by our Expert Designers

For 25 years, Stuart Karten Design
(SKD) has designed products that serve as brand
ambassadors for its clients and lead to greater market share and
increased profit. SKD’s team of 25 designers,
researchers, and mechanical engineers guide a product from
conceptualization through production. SKD is renowned for its medical products and its ear-centric devices, including communication headsets for Jabra and Plantronics, the Zōn
hearing aid for Starkey Laboratories, and noise-cancelling ear buds for
Ultimate Ears. SKD’s awards include IDEA, Red Dot, iF, Good Design and the I.D. Annual
Design Review. Conceptual “Epidermits Interactive Pet” was a part of MOMA’s Design and the Elastic Mind exhibition.
In 2008,
Fast Company named SKD among America’s top
five “Design Factories” in its annual Masters of Design issue.


About the author

Stuart Karten is the Founder and President of Los Angeles-based product innovation consultancy [url=]Karten Design[/url]. Since 1984, he has partnered with medical device, digital health, and consumer product manufacturers to build their businesses through design