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Greener Giveaways Guide

Greener Giveaways: Better for the Planet and Our Brand

People love stuff with the UMass Lowell logo on it, and we love to give it to them.

Unfortunately, too many of these giveaways are low-quality novelty items that end up in the trash. This is out of step with our institutional values around sustainability and with the values of our students, who are more environmentally conscious than ever.

University Relations and the Office of Sustainability have created this guide to Greener Giveaways in hopes of dramatically reducing this costly, unnecessary and environmentally unfriendly waste stream.

By adopting new ways of promoting ourselves, we can protect our eco-friendly brand and our planet. This guide is intended to point the way.

  • Ruairi O’Mahony, Director of Sustainability
  • Bryce Hoffman, Associate Vice Chancellor of Marketing

The Swag Hierarchy

UMass Lowell partners with the Post-Landfill Action Network, a nonprofit that specializes in waste reduction. The network’s “Hierarchical Ethical Guide to Swag” is the foundation of this guideline.

Following the diagram, UMass Lowell’s recommendation is to remain in the top three segments of the inverted pyramid.

The following graphic and description is used with permission from the Post-Landfill Action Network.

GRAPHIC: Hierarchical Ethical Guide to Swag. UMass Lowell partners with the Post-Landfill Action Network, a nonprofit that assists large organizations in the overall reduction of waste. Following the diagram, UMass Lowell’s recommendation is to remain in the top three segments of the inverted pyramid. AVOID IT Try experiences instead such as photo booths, event tickets, food, movie screenings, repair stations and more. The options are endless!  UPCYCLE / REUSE Consider options that don't require buying new such as decorating water bottles, clothing swaps, zines or book binding from reused paper, or screen printing items students already own.  USEFUL & ETHICAL If you must purchase new, consider products that students will actually use, are durable, and come from trusted, ethical sources. We recommend checking out some PLAN'S discounts on brands such as To-Go Ware, Klean Kanteen, People Towels and more.  USEFUL OR ETHICAL We understand that you can't always find affordable useful and ethical swag. At least try to buy one or the other! Useful items can include durable ballpoint pens, carabiners or sewing kits. There may be other swag options which are less useful but come from ethical sources. We recommend using these options as a last resort.  USELESS & QUESTIONABLE Please avoid buying useless swag from questionable retailers. This can include items such as fidget spinners, slap bracelets and so much more. Photo by Post-Landfill Action Network

The Swag Hierarchy (larger image)

AVOID IT

Try experiences instead such as photo booths, event tickets, food, movie screenings, repair stations and more. The options are endless!

UPCYCLE / REUSE

Consider options that don't require buying new such as decorating water bottles, clothing swaps, zines or book binding from reused paper, or screen printing items students already own.

USEFUL & ETHICAL

If you must purchase new, consider products that students will actually use, are durable, and come from trusted, ethical sources. We recommend checking out some discounts on brands such as To-Go WareKlean Kanteen, People Towels and more.

USEFUL OR ETHICAL

We understand that you can't always find affordable useful and ethical swag. At least try to buy one or the other! Useful items can include durable ballpoint pens, carabiners or sewing kits. There may be other swag options which are less useful but come from ethical sources. We recommend using these options as a last resort.

USELESS & QUESTIONABLE

Please avoid buying useless swag from questionable retailers. This can include items such as fidget spinners, slap bracelets and so much more.

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A table displaying UMass Lowell branded swag including: lanyards, wallets, pens, pins and more.
  • Ask yourself: is giving out swag really necessary to achieve your goals?
  • Give value, like personal attention, not stuff
  • Give fewer, better things
  • Have a drawing for one or two highly desirable prizes
  • Give items with an eco-benefit, like seed packets
  • Replace disposable objects with branded, reusable ones
A table displaying UMass Lowell branded swag including: water bottles, wallets, pens and more.

Certain common giveaways can be made greener simply by choosing a particular material or manufacturing process:

  • Water bottles: Choose aluminum or steel, not plastic. Metals are recycled at a vastly higher rate and can be recycled over and over without diminishing in quality. Only 30% of plastic bottles are ever recycled, and the market for recycled plastic is smaller. Plastics pollution in waterways and in the food chain is a major environmental problem.

  • T-shirts: Choose natural fibers (cotton, linen, wool) over synthetics such as nylon or polyester. When discarded, natural fibers do not harm the environment, but synthetic fibers contribute to microplastics pollution.

  • Packaging: Buy items in bulk with minimal packaging or no packaging whenever possible. It is not uncommon to see objects like first-aid or sewing “kits” that contain relatively few contents within overly bulky plastic packaging. If it is too delicate to ship without packaging, consider giving away something else.
A table displaying UMass Lowell and other vendor branded swag including: frisbees, cups, sunglasses, pens, bags, balls and more.

Shopping bags, pens, mugs, sunglasses, keychains, bottle openers, stress balls, Frisbees, post-it notepads, hand sanitizer, ice scrapers, letter openers, lip balm: these and many other goods fall into the category "things people already have and don’t really need more of."

They can be inexpensive on a per-unit basis, but they aren’t worth much to the people who receive them, and they are quickly lost, broken or discarded. A more original, durable or useful giveaway will do much more for the UMass Lowell brand than another worthless item for the junk drawer.

A table displaying UMass Lowell branded swag including: magnets, shirts pens and more.
  • USB Drives – In addition to being obsolete in the era of cloud storage, USB drives are regarded by experts as a security risk and as potential vectors for viruses and malware.

  • Flashlights and Small Electronics – if it has wires, a microchip or a battery, assume that it will end up in a landfill, where its heavy metals can negatively impact groundwater and wildlife. Nobody wants low-quality earbuds or another charger that quits in a week.

  • Single-use plastic or plastic-wrapped items - including balloons, candy, beads, glow sticks. If the point of the object is to use it once and then throw it away, don’t put the UMass Lowell name and logo on it.

Resources

The Post-Landfill Action Network has vetted and provides UMass Lowell discounts with the following vendors:

Access your discount by creating an account on Post-Landfill Action Network’s website using your uml.edu email address and logging into the PLAN store.

The Greener Giveaways Guide is a joint publication of University Relations and the Office of Sustainability.