The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

February 12, 2009

Hey, whatcha got in that swag bag?

First of all, thank you all for your support. I’m grateful to everyone who left an encouraging comment on my Fark post. I’ll write more about it in my own comment on that post. Right now, I need to ask for your help again.

The annual Blogher Conference is coming up in July. Last year, it was held here in San Francisco. This year it will be in Chicago. But that’s not the only difference. After several of us bloggers made our green voices heard critiquing last year’s event, the organizers listened and have put together a Green Team for suggestions of how to make this year’s conference as eco-friendly as possible.

I’m happy to be a volunteer on the Blogher ’09 Green Team. We’ve already had one conference call and discussed all kinds of issues, from how to get attendees to the hotel from the airport using group transit to planning buffet-style menus requiring no disposable tableware.

One of the ways that conferences generate waste is through the give-aways that sponsors include in the swag bag that each attendee receives, as well as offerings at vendor booths. Sponsors are very important. They provide the necessary funds for creating the conference in the first place. But their promotional materials can be less than eco-friendly. This year, we’d like to offer the sponsors a list of useful suggestions for the types of items we can really use and that won’t just add to the mountains of cheap plastic junk and piles of paper already cluttering up our lives.

Who needs another plastic Michelin Man key chain?

Unfortunately, I’m out of ideas. So, if you have some, I’d love to hear them. We’ve thought of suggesting gift certificates and coupons instead of actual items, stainless steel water bottles, smaller items that can easily be packed in a suitcase since women will be traveling from all over the country. The conference attendees will include many, many moms as well as child-free women and even some men. What do you think? What kinds of gifts would you be thrilled to take home rather than leave behind in the swag recycling room? What kinds of offerings might actually get used rather than tossed in a closet and forgotten?

I don’t know who the sponsors are this year, but they might include computer hardware, software, web sites, car makers, children’s products, cosmetics, food & beverages, publishers, clothing, and any other kind of company that might want to sponsor a women bloggers’ event. So please help me brainstorm. No idea is too silly. I love the thought that we are helping companies to help us all be more green.


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louis vuitton
14 years ago

to protect the environment ,we should use less unreusable bags .
as a matter of fact ,the reusable bags are convenient .

14 years ago

Green Resolutions is right!

A note about Indigo from the mixtress: My packaging is post consumer recycled packaging and can go right back into your compost (both the cardboard soap boxes and the glassine ‘market’ packeting). For special events, I can customize logos, colors, etc. I also source all of my local ingredients (honey, produce, herbs, flowers, etc) from my farmers at my farmer’s markets. Indigo is very Green company!

you can find out more at:

Green Resolutions
14 years ago

Did anyone mention handmade soap? I just wrote a post about Indigo Bath & Body. When I read that some of their products were in the SWAG gift bags at the Grammy's 2008 Starry Night Gala, I thought of your request for suggestions…

I believe sponsors/companies can specify cardboard packaging and have their logo on the package…

14 years ago

A lot of people have suggested reusable bags, and I definitely second that. It sounds like you are looking for actual promotional products that sponsors can put their names/logos on – I suggest chicobags. Their reusable bags fold up into themselves for convenience (I always carry a couple in my purse) and they will definitely print them up with logos/company names for promotional purposes (also for fundraisers for non-profit organizations).

Otherwise, this subject is always tough and I find that most of the stuff I end up with at conferences ends up being clutter later. I like the idea of no swag bags and instead, just items on tables that people can take if they want.

Another thing that always goes over well is FOOD! If a company wants to get some good organic, fair trade, etc. chocolate bars or whatever and print up their name on the wrapper, that’s a great way to give out something people will like/use and still get your name out there.

There are also tons of companies that specialize in recycled products, etc. so those are good to consider.

shot in the arm
14 years ago

I love the ideas on here! I love all the reusable food storage/food items like the bamboo forks, knives, etc. What about those glass straws that you talked about before. I still haven’t gotten around to buying any. But I always take food to work with me and having containers and bags to carry it in with the bamboo forks, etc would be great. The gift cards are also a great idea! I would totally use those and those are easy to transport.

Brekke, if you see this I’m also going to Blogher 09.
14 years ago

The swag thing can be a big opportunity for a company such as mine but we are a dedicated green small company so it is an expensive and, as Beth and others share, a wasteful opportunity. We get asked frequently for gift bag items for no-kill shelter benefits so we put together a gift “bag” consisting of a book mark made from reclaimed pet centric calendars and silk ties slipped into a biodegradable sleeve with a small paper coupon and a little glassine paper packet of catnip– the completed product looks great. Takes a bit of time but almost no money and little waste.

14 years ago

I’m so glad to see you on this committee Beth! I volunteered on the Green Team for the Democratic National Convention last August and we were, unfortunately, not asked in advance about swag.

The swag bags were canvas bags – awesome! – but they were filled with chapstick in a plastic tube, antibacterial hand gel in a plastic container, mints in plastic, etc.

You’ve gotten some great ideas. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

14 years ago

Generally, I agree with the idea that coupons or codes to reduce the cost of using a particular product/company would be best.

As for small, readily used goodies, might I suggest monitor wipes –
the old style kind that stick to the side of your monitor, or
the new style that is like your eyeglass or fancy electronics wipe.

…with the sponsoring company’s logo, of course.

Green Resolutions
14 years ago

What about a small coloring book (from recycled paper) or crayons – As long as it isn’t inappropriate for the particular sponsor to market to kids.

It might not be inherently “green,” but I think lots of the parents in attendance would take them back home as souvenirs for their kids. And they are “green” in that the parents are likely to purchase art supplies anyway.

And what a score for your sponsors if their logo ends up on the potential consumer’s fridge?!

A woman that I worked with scouted out every trade show she attended for goodies she could take home to her kids. She had to get two of everything so they wouldn’t fight.

kale for sale
14 years ago

I love that you asked this question. What if a vendor chose five charitable organizations and the visitors to their booth could vote for the organization the company would make a set donation to. Or the company could donate so much per person that visits their booth with each person choosing the organization they would like their portion given too. Maybe it could even be a product. If the company did stainless steel water bottles they could be donated to people at a specific food bank, or body products to a women’s recovery house. Recycled paper notebooks to an inner city school. I suspect the possibilities are endless.

Sunny Yukon
14 years ago

To-Go Ware! They could have their company logo engraved or imprinted on anything from the big tins to the little ones. The bamboo cutlery would be awesome too. (I finally got my own To-Go ware and I L-O-V-E it!)

Don't forget the glass straws!

Reusable shopping bags that fold up teeny-tiny – and how about the reusable smaller bags for produce or bulk bin stuff?

How about bar soap – better yet for the travellers would be bar shampoo – they can use it now or later, and it's not a liquid in their luggage.

Postcard with a plastic-free recipe on it – something child friendly, or packed lunch friendly

Is there a home decor type booth? I'd love to learn how to paint a room plastic-free. It's hard to find a good quality paint brush without a plastic handle. Oooo Paintbrushes for swag! Lots of people do their own home renos!

Pet snack jar or dishes – metal (lighter then glass & unbreakable)

Magellans has awesome hats that can be 'crushed' in your suitcase and still pop up into shape to wear.

Snack size storage containers that aren't plastic – good for kids, good for lunch bags for all

I bet I can think of more stuff I want… I mean more ideas for you ;)

14 years ago

-small glass jam jars with something inside of them

-eco-friendly flash drive

-naked binder products! they’re so great!

-coupons for a free sustainability audit

-worm composting supplies! hehe…that could get a bit gross. but I love my worms!

-the soap with the seeds in the packaging

-skoy cloths or real sponges

-canvas bags

-samples of organic/natural etc. beauty products in cute glass jars

-bath salts

-wooden kids toys (blocks and so forth)

-stationary samples (maybe with just one letter to stand for your first name so it’s easily usable)

Also, continue with a schwag reuse room – some people just can’t use some of the stuff if they’re traveling by air, or if they have small children.

Also – the thing I wish advertisers understood is if they give me a product I love, I will remember them. I don’t need the name to be printed on a water bottle–I will remember on the basis of quality.

14 years ago

I loved the idea of the Zwaggle recycling room last year, but I’m with you, how many Michelin Man tire guage key chains can one person really use? The swag I appreciated most last year was the canvas tote bags which I now use for groceries or library books, the coupons/gift cards, and the notebook lock I got from Norton. Other possible swag to consider: books or free upgrades (ex: flickr pro account).

14 years ago

And I could use all the michelin man key tags to spare- I have a great need for key rings- I never have enough!

14 years ago

I love when the swag bag is canvas, so I can use it again, and my fav things inside are small stainless steel water bottles and FOOD samples. Justin’s PB or AB, nutrition bars, cereal samples, vitamins, drink mixes, you name it. the food is always fun. gluten free cookies? dairy free brownies? petroleum free gels? good stuff.

14 years ago

Terry, you are my hero. I just came upon your blog yesterday. I am now motivated to try harder. Living in a rural area we cannot buy some of the products you do without packaging. Maybe if we drove 45 miles to the ‘city’. I do some things – bake our bread, make our granola and ‘grapenuts’,when cheerios are bought I reuse the bag to store other things …along those lines. Now I’ll try a bit harder. Thanks for the inspiration. -Reva

Condo Blues
14 years ago

I’m on the green committee with Beth. I have a question for the coupon folks. If some of the sponsors give attendees a code to print out a coupon at home (best of all worlds because if you don’t need/use the item, don’t print the coupon = zero waste!)I heard that some stores like grocery stores won’t take the coupons that you print off of your computer/computer generated because some people have tried to fake them. Is this true? I haven’t run into this because I shop at Trader Joes and the farmer’s market in summer and both don’t take coupons. Is this true?

14 years ago

Ok, more ideas:

-Small Sidekick-like (from To-go ware) stainless steel containers
-Tiny boxes of matches (is there a such thing as eco-friendly matches made from sustainable/reclaimed wood and recycled paper boxes?), possibly waterproof
-Reusable bamboo chopsticks
-Wood/bamboo hair combs
-This isn’t necessarily as “green”, but the idea of giving away items that are specifically good for emergency hurricane kits/earthquake kits is rather tempting for me. (You can tell I’ve been trying to put together earthquake kits for my bf and myself!) This could include some of the random items people have mentioned like crank flashlights, as well as first aid kits, whistles, etc.

14 years ago

I went to a conference that didn’t give out swag bags- they had tables where those giving out the swag could set up and give out to people that wanted it.

Christy B.
14 years ago

Okay, sorry, but I just can’t thinking about this – I LOVE this stuff!

Same idea as the postcards but instead each attendee has a name tag with their barcode. When they go to each booth, the tag is scanned. Then the information is captured so then the organizers can use the information gathered first for the raffle and then passing back the info to the exhibitors.

More swag ideas, Green Toys has jump ropes and frisbees – I imagine that they are reasonably priced and can be customized.

LOVE free downloads – even better for the company to partner with iTunes from their own website.

Instead of each exhibitor spending money on “stuff” they put money into a (hypothetical) pot for “donation dollars”. Each attendee would be given a certain number of “donation dollars”. Each exhibitor would be supporting their favorite charity. Then the attendees would give their “dollars” to their favorite ideas. This could be lots of different charities or something like “Donors Chose” and each company chooses a project within that structure. If done in the latter, the charity would probably sponsor the project, at least in part, since it gets the word out about their cause.

I’ll TRY to be quiet now!

14 years ago

I, for one, could use another Michelin Man key chain. In lieu of that, of course the shopping bags are great. The steel water bottles are good – though I am already the proud owner of 4.5 of them (1 is small ;)) Skoy prints their logo on the cloths, so there’s no reason another company couldn’t do the same. (I love my skoy, btw – thanks). GC’s for free music download, free photo prints, free hemp underwear with recycle logo on back… I guess some of these are repeats. I love the idea of ipod cover or something like that because most people have one or know someone who does.

14 years ago

Travel Cutlery
Travel Mugs
keychain crank led flashlights
canvas bags that don’t have a huge terrible logo on it
clothes made from eco fibers ie bamboo, hemp
tire pressure gauges
shower head efficiency bags
car mileage meters

14 years ago

For one of my many part-time jobs I end up attending many of these types of events as a exhibitor.

Our program is tailored for the handouts we have, but the popular favorites are:

~ 5 minute shower timers with our website

~ Seedcards

~ Recycled plastic magnets

~ Grocery bags made with recycled bottles (we got a deal going with Whole Foods that is awesome)

Also, I am really interested in the whole concept of Blogher, anyone else out there besides Beth going? I live in Chicago so it would be easy to go for me, but I’m a little scared of so many strangers! :-)

Christy B.
14 years ago

I want to be clear, there is only one postcard, with all of the company names, booth numbers and boxes and the attendees are only taking that one postcard around and only turn in one!

14 years ago

Send me an e-mail about sponsorship, what’s required, how much, etc… I might have something for you. Not a huge amount but perhaps something.

recyclebill (AT)

Christy B.
14 years ago

OceanHealth is right, the companies are participating because they want you to buy. They also want booth traffic to have the opportunity to speak to customers one-on-one.

I think the Expo organizers need to gather all of the attendees e-mail addresses (of course this would have to be an opt-in) and then when the attendees who have opted-in arrive at the show they get a postcard (hopefully made out of recycled paper, etc…), with the company name, booth number and a box.

Then each attendee has to visit each booth to get them to sign, stamp, etc… their box. When attendees get all of the boxes filled out they take their postcards back to the Expo organizers and then there is a raffle for larger value but fewer prizes.

Then the Expo organizers send each company a list of the attendees names and e-mail addresses and the companies can e-mail specialized offers. This could also come from Expo organizers with the offers and links to the companies websites (using a program like Constant Contact).

For the companies that are dying to give something away, encourage them to turn to Etsy. There are a lot of talented people and wonderful ideas that are reasonable prices as well as eco-friendly.

Some ideas (which some will be repeats):

Seeded Notecards

Seeded Hangtags (say for a clothing company, cut out in the shape of the shirt with the company info stamped on it)

Bamboo Make-Up Removers

Hemp Washcloths

Homemade Cookies

T-Shirts made into Bags (any shirts companies had that were 2nds, returns or from a old campaign would be ideal)

Hair Clips

Pens (someone is making wood pens by hand on etsy!)

Wood Rings

Homemade Soap

Outside of Etsy:

Skoy Clothes (something tells me that if they had a large enough order, they could probably do a custom design)

Recycled Ipod Cover (

Books (I haven’t read this one yet, but I bought because of the title, “Achieving Prosperity: An Ethical Guide to Building Wealth”.)

I am going to stop – this is way to long already!

14 years ago

I agree with Allie on seeds! I went to SxSW last year and one of my favorite pieces of swag was a tin with dirt and wheat grass seeds. I just wish the dirt and seeds weren’t in plastic bags.

I also loved getting bags. Zappos and Limewire gave out those little backpack-like bags and I think I got a canvas bag from Yahoo. Those bags that fold up really small would be the best, though.

Shirts are great, too. I still wear my Socialthing t-shirts (since they actually had feminine shaped shirts!) and I brought home half a dozen shirts for my husband (and thus put off clothes shopping for him for a year).

14 years ago

Moleskine-type notebooks? Something small with a pocket and elastic band to keep everything in place, anyway.

What about something like a tree planted on behalf of each attendee by a corporate sponsor? I would love to receive that. Of course, it uses paper to tell you that you’ve got a tree planted, but it’s so different that I think I would take notice.

14 years ago

A gift obtainable on the sponsors web site might be nice. I don’t know who the sponsors are, but last year at SXSWi, I picked up a certificate good for a number of free downloads from iStockphoto. I loved this freebie. The good thing about this type of gift is it’s no bigger than a postcard and easy to carry home in your luggage.

14 years ago

Instead of paper gift certificates, they could even take email addresses at the tables and then email the gift certificate code to you later on. That way, especially if you can use it online, there are no little pieces of paper floating around.

Give away cleaning cloths/those sponges that are super flat before you wet them w/logos on them? Maybe that is too gross though. I remember getting a stack of those with a water company message on them when I was younger at some expo and I know I used though because I thought they were great (but I think I was also 8). You could use the same idea for cloth napkins or handkerchiefs.

14 years ago

I helped with a natural resource conference last year and a local company donated leftover promotional T-shirts. We were a little dubious but they were quickly snatched up. We did not put them in our swags (large shopping bags) but the people who chose to take them were happy and so were we since we didn’t have to haul them to Goodwill.

Glass Lovin' Mommy
14 years ago

My company gives out reusable glass water bottles at trade shows, complete with a reusable shopping bag that can be used to keep the bottle safe in your luggage.

14 years ago

I carry my titanium spork with me everywhere. If someone slapped a brand name on one of those, I’d see it any time I ate out.

Also – seed packets, or tree planting kits would be great swag.

14 years ago

I love’s ideas. I only have some very random other ideas of things that could have company names on them and still be useful:

energy efficient lightbulbs

little led flashlight

pencils (I use them a lot, so I have a pro pencil bias)

bamboo cutlery sets ;P

non plastic sponges/veggie cleaning brushes.

staple-free stapler

cloth produce bags/gift wrapping bags (not just totes)

I really like the coupon/gift certificate idea. Mug/Bottle/Bag is also a combo that I would get a lot of use out of at a conference.

Do people need recycled paper notebooks/folders at the conference or do they just take their computers with them.

That’s all I can think of. Sorry it’s so random.


14 years ago

i like the idea of a reusable coffee mug with a stainless steel liner, reusable water bottle, canvas bag and discount coupons. the mug/bottle/bag could be used immediately at the conference and the coupons easily packed in a suitcase for later. maybe a few sponsors could go together on the cost and credit for supplying these more expensive give aways, but at least they’d be items worth keeping and using. that would win points for those companies from my perspective. also, i like the paper insert on the need for plastic reducing OceanHealth.Org suggested.

14 years ago

Well, of course, I’m going to suggest reusable shopping bags in all their various forms with maybe a (recycled) piece of paper talking about plastic reduction.

I like the idea of gift certificates instead of plastic or other petroleum-based crap that might not even make it into the suitcase later.

The point is that companies want you to BUY something so why not give away discounts for consumption of their own products instead of wasting the money on giving away other people’s promotional products that they have to buy (and which are soon trash)? Let’s cut out the middle man… or middle woman, as it might be. Just talk dollars and sense to the sponsors and what really gets them the biggest bang for their buck.

Oh, but be sure to put that (recycled paper) coupon (with nontoxic printing) in a reusable shopping bag… with a logo… and with a reusable water bottle.

14 years ago

Great idea about greener, more useful swag!

The swag I’ve most used (as in, the swag I still actually have around!) is canvas bags for carrying groceries or other things around. I think it would be cool if sponsors could imprint their logo on an envirosax-type bag, which would also be small and easy to carry home.

I’ve also gotten a lot of use out of some flash drives I got as swag at a conference…although these are plastic so I don’t know how green they are, they are certainly useful, and since the swag-type ones are free and smaller-capacity, I can lend them to people with documents on them without fear of never getting back a $30 flash drive.