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Conference Organizers: Bag the Swag

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

Looking 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 acronym.

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.

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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.