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Sustainable branding

Think branded merchandise is all about tacky pens and plastic bottles? Think again
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
The Pinksheep team

Main image: Pinksheep’s Phil Law, Douglas Grays and Billy Gubby

This article first appeared in our Women: time for action issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 02 July 2021. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

An industry-leading sustainability scheme has been launched to help brands source at least 50% of their marketing products sustainably by 2025, and support reforestation efforts as they go.

By cleaning up their branded merchandise – from clothes to tech devices – businesses can present a brand image that resonates more deeply with an increasingly eco-savvy customer base. Opting for sustainable products also helps businesses reduce their overall environmental footprint.

Sustainable merchandise

Until now, it has been challenging for businesses to source authentically sustainable merchandise without getting sucked in by greenwash.

‘It’s easy for companies to find branded merchandise that appears to be sustainable’, explains Pinksheep’s Phil Law. ‘Plastic pens wrapped in cork are considered sustainable in our industry, but we don’t agree.’

Colour-coded sustainability
In March Pinksheep launched Ora, a sustainability scheme that grades tens of thousands of products – from pens and notebooks to drinkware, bags and tools – according to a traffic-light system.

To earn a green light a product must be more than just recyclable or made in the UK.

Ora’s sustainability metrics consider country of origin, whether the manufacturer gives back to the environment, whether the factory runs on
renewables, whether the product is upcycled, recycled, biodegradable or made from more than 75% plant-based materials and many other factors.

Ora’s algorithm processes all the information and produces a clear grade that’s easy for the user to understand: red products are not sustainable, amber signifies partly sustainable and green merchandise is fully sustainable.

‘Originally it was just going to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’, Phil tells us, ‘but we soon realised we needed something that sat between the two. Colour coding by traffic lights was logical: it allows informed buying decisions at a glance.’

One of Pinksheep’s most popular items is the Ocean Bottle (main image), which funds the collection of 1,000 ocean-bound plastic bottles for every bottle sold. Pinksheep can brand Ocean Bottles with corporate logos for companies that are serious about sustainability and want their ethics to be reflected in their branding.

The Ora sustainability dashboard
The Ora sustainability dashboard

Rewilding incentives

Pinksheep’s partnership with Ecologi sees trees planted and carbon offset with every transaction. Clients are supported irrespective of whether they choose a green or red product, but Eco Tokens help to incentivise more sustainable buying options.

‘Very simply, we reward you more heavily for buying the most sustainable products’, Phil explains.‘We issue three times the number of Eco Tokens for fully sustainable – or ‘green’ – items, which means we will plant three times the number of trees on your behalf.’

If ‘red’, or unsustainable, products weren’t available through Ora, Phil believes clients would simply order them through another supplier that isn’t planting trees with every purchase. ‘To us it’s about building a lasting relationship’, Phil explains. ‘A client’s first order might be for a red item, but as we educate them and gently push them to see greener alternatives, their buying habits will change and we will plant even more trees.’

Live reporting

A key tool for Pinksheep’s educational approach is Ora’s live dashboard, which provides clients with detailed sustainability reporting. Each client’s merchandise purchases are logged, tracked and available for them to view online.

The dashboard makes it really easy for a client to watch its company’s environmental impact improve over time through their increasingly sustainable merchandise choices.

‘Clients are signing up daily, so each month we’re planting thousands of trees and offsetting tonnes of carbon’, Phil reveals. ‘We’re also in talks with a leading plastic collection company; the goal is to give Ora members a choice so they can support the cause they care most about – whether it’s planting trees, offsetting carbon, removing ocean plastics or a mixture of all three.’

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