Getting Ready to Ride the Green Wave
With the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, it became clear to the entire world, especially the athletes who were competing in a heavily polluted environment, that China was far from green. In fact, the more environmental measures the country pledged, the more it seemed they were simply papering over their carbon-created cracks.
Similarly, the promotional products industry isn’t exactly green, and tentative steps in that direction have been motivated more by consumer demand than by a commitment to change. Companies are succeeding, but for the industry as a whole, getting to a higher level of understanding is a struggle. “There’s been the green rush of ’08, like the gold rush of ’49,” explained Rob Lederer, environmental consultant to and board member of Prime Line, Bridgeport, Conn. “But the industry is trying to figure this out as fast as everyone else is trying to figure it out. The industry has not been historically aware or concerned with these things, so there’s a lot of uninformed people who are trying to become informed as quickly as they can,” he added.
As a result, for distributors looking for suppliers with genuine green products and credentials, there’s the very real fear of “greenwashing” (promoting products as “green” when they don’t have an actual environmental benefit), uncertainty about the validity of these products and perhaps paying a higher premium for them. “It’s so complicated. Green is not another product. It’s an entirely new language,” asserted Lederer. “To understand what makes things green requires a whole new outlook on the world; it requires rethinking everything in how a business runs and how it does business; that is not something you do by simply saying, ‘I’m green.’”
THE RIPPLE EFFECT
Responding to current threats on the environment must start at a basic level. In looking at whether or not suppliers are practicing what they preach, it’s encouraging to see business models being revised in tandem with product lines. Prime Line’s green initiatives began as a matter of cost and risk reduction in terms of how products are decorated. “Everyone with an imprinting operation has to deal with chemicals and those chemicals have to be handled safely and responsibly. In many cases, they are not. So in 1994, we began to make sure that our factory operations were handling all chemicals, inks, thinners and so on responsibly,” described Lederer, who is now president of New York–based Management Resources, a consultancy that aids companies in becoming greener and more socially responsible.