(Final installment of a 3-part series.) We think every nonprofit should endorse environmental values. But demonstrating your earth-friendly commitment with branding products is tricky. As we said in prior posts, many assurances of environmental sensitivity are the fantasies of product copywriters. Be careful – get the facts before asserting the affinity product carrying your logo is environmentally sensitive.
We already dealt with “Recycled.” Now we’ll explore two other terms: “Organic,” (which is an even fuzzier concept than “Recycled”) – and “Renewable.” The latter is an earth-friendly term that usually has true merit.
ORGANIC PRODUCTS: There’s often a catch to organics. Example: pocket-size organic lip balms and hand lotions are popular giveaway items at trade shows and fair booths, etc. These products are made from natural substances like beeswax. Here’s the catch: if you want a version with SPF sun protection, or a neat fragrance or a germicidal capacity, the organic label is undermined by the presence of added chemicals.
So, as with recycled products, don’t market your branding product as earth-friendly until you know if the claim is warranted by the percentage of organic material. Because of production cost, this is especially important with fabrics made from fibers that are allegedly chemical-free and organically grown from unadulterated earth. Many “organic” fabrics include a percentage of traditional cotton or even some polyester. If you are a purist, here is another aspect of organic apparel to consider: your choice of product colors may be limited because there are so few organic, vegetable-based dyes.
For a large segment of the market we believe organic products are the wave of the future. Until that future arrives, misuse of terminology means you should embrace the organic present with caution.
RENEWABLE PRODUCTS: Fabric made from renewable resources is another part of the “earth-friendly” trend. Shirts, hats and totebags made from hemp and bamboo fibers are current examples of this emerging category. In the next year or two we expect flax to become an important sustainable fabric. These are truly renewable products with special qualities beyond their sustainability. But they are new to the marketplace, with expensive material and production cost and with supply lines that are still developing.
Resistance to disease, drought and insects is a key characteristic to renewable fibers. Growth rate is another. A hemp plant can grow three feet in two weeks. Some bamboo species can grow a foot each day. Products made from these plants are considered renewable because they produce more fiber in less time and with less cultivation than other fiber crops. That means they can be harvested repeatedly with minimal environmental impact.
Bamboo fabric is very soft, almost silky, with a luxurious feel and natural moisture-wicking properties. Hemp also grows easily and rapidly all over the world, but hemp fibers are coarser, and yield a garment that is heavier, warmer and more rugged.
Flax is stronger than cotton and naturally shrink-resistant. We will have more to say about flax in this blog and on our website (www.visability.com) when we are confident that it has become an appropriate branding choice for our nonprofit clients – perhaps as soon as 2012.
Be they organic, renewable or recycled, sustainable products are important in their own right and potentially worthwhile branding-products for market-savvy nonprofits. But this product category, just hitting its adolescence, is subject to misrepresentation by factories. When this is a mature product category the definition of various sustainable characteristics will be uniform and will be be enforced. Until then, approach earth-friendly products with your eyes open – and rely on VisABILITY to monitor the market and keep our clients informed of new products and best choices.
Earth-friendly products will be important to nonprofits. We want to learn from organizations that are already using them in marketing and fundraising campaigns. Question: Any suggestions you would like to share about this new product category? Any experiences with sustainable branding products you can tell us about? Please let me know your thoughts: firstname.lastname@example.org