The Economics of Ecological
Despite a loss in momentum since arriving full force a few years ago, the green movement is very much alive. In the promotional products industry, the green interests of end-users have led to an increase in eco-friendly products. According to Howard Headden, vice president of key accounts for Ash City USA, Lenexa, Kan., going green "resonates a lot more ... as we evolve and go forward." The green growth of the industry is evident on supplier websites, most of which now offer a section of eco products. Though the industry has come a long way since the beginning of the green movement, there is still a long way to go.
SOURCING NATURAL RESOURCES
The green movement entered the mainstream in late 2007 as celebrities and activists united to promote the importance of preserving the Earth. Ash City USA began selling ecological products shortly before the trend took hold in the United States—a decision driven by the company's Canadian roots. "Ash City Worldwide, the parent company of Ash City USA, is located in Richmond Hill, Ontario," explained Headden. "Canadians are a little ahead of the United States in both fashion trends and … worldwide trends," he said. The company's Canadian counterparts helped them find a market for green apparel by introducing a brand-new environmentally sound fabric. The fabric, a hybrid of bamboo and recycled polyester, uses the natural properties of bamboo to retain the antimicrobial feature, as well as UVA-protecting and moisture-wicking traits that are expected of performance apparel. This use of natural sources shows the kind of thinking companies are employing as they enter the green realm.
In addition to supplying green products, Ash City USA has implemented green business practices. For example, in its corporate offices, Ash City USA uses a water reclamation system that collects all of the rain water to help irrigate its landscape. If tax benefits exist for eco-friendly practices, Headden said they are not the motivation for Ash City USA's green business. For Headden, it is a matter of corporate initiative, which makes him "proud as an employee." Yet, being eco-friendly does come with a cost.
TOO MUCH GREEN FOR GREEN?
Headden believes that any dip in the green trend is due to the economy, instead of fading interest. People want to go green, but as Headden quipped, "You know they'll go green if they don't have to spend more green to do so."
Christopher Duffy, MAS, senior vice president of marketing and business development for Bag Makers, Union, Ill., agreed. "When [end-buyers] are given the choice and you don't bother their wallet, they're happy to take the eco," he said.
Duffy mentioned that before eco-products were in demand, Bag Makers would specially source them for end-buyers who requested them. "It would be a higher price, of course … and we'd give the price to the distributors and they'd suddenly say, 'Well, you know what? My customer's not that eco-friendly,'" Duffy explained.
To determine if price was the only objection to eco-friendly products, the company decided to absorb the extra cost of producing recycled paper bags and mark them the same as the nonrecycled bags. "The sales proved the people liked the eco versions, especially at the same price," said Duffy. For 2011, Bag Makers decided to eliminate the line of non-eco bags and give consumers the recycled ones.
Even though green products might not be the most cost-effective option, the pay-off is high for some. This is why having green products is a selling point that distributors and end-buyers should not ignore. Duffy explained that many end-buyers have asked to use the Bag Makers' eco-friendly icon, because they can "add it to their logo and add it to the bag," which sends a positive message. "It just supports that company being eco-friendly," he continued.
Because effectively promoting green products can be difficult, Headden advised distributors to sell to the 20 to 30 age group. The younger generation is very involved in the green movement so selling eco-friendly products to them is a no-brainer. Older generations will follow as they see the popularity and positive impact of green goods. Headden joked, "You can give something young to an older audience, but you can't give something old to a younger audience. You know, the 60-year-old would love to be 20 again, but the 20-year-old's not looking to be 60."
Headden noted that to succeed, the promotional products industry needs to make a conscious effort to point out which end-buyers are concerned about environmental issues. Once this information has been gathered there is room for distributors to sell into the green niche market.