6 Ideas for Sustainable Trade Show Swag

December 12, 2019

Al Torres

Al Torres is the co-founder and president of SummitSync, a meeting automation platform used by companies to increase the success of their event marketing investments. Al is a multi-time entrepreneur and seasoned executive with over 15 years of experience in sales, business development and growth strategy.

What’s worse than your swag being abandoned on a booth counter is your swag being thrown in the garbage on its way off the trade show floor. Not only is this a waste of your planning efforts and marketing dollars, but it’s also really bad for the environment. Think about all of those wasted foam squishy balls, plastic pens, paper pamphlets and post-it note pads waiting to be shipped off to a landfill. If we’re going to work on reducing, reusing and recycling in every other facet of life and business operations, we should also work on reducing waste at trade shows, too.

There are hundreds of thousands of trade shows every year and even more businesses that attend and purchase giveaway swag and paper pamphlets. In order to reduce your company’s carbon footprint at conferences and trade shows, you can start by purchasing swag items that people will actually use and/or are eco-friendly. When you see that none of your swag has ended up in the trash cans, you can exit the trade show with a clear conscience.

Below are seven suggestions for sustainable, eco-friendly swag so you can win over clients and help save the planet, one less squishy ball at a time.

1. Photo Booth with Your Logo

If you’ve been to a wedding, birthday party or any sort of celebration within the past few years, you know that photo booths are trending. Everyone is grabbing their friends in the middle of a party, or in this case a trade show, to get in line for the camera, slap on a fake mustache and say “Cheese!” Skip the printed version of the photo and reduce paper waste by allowing photo-takers to send photos to themselves digitally. That way, you can capture their lead info and attach the photos to an email with information about your company, and any contact info. And don’t forget to print your logo on the photo—if shared on any form of social media, you’ll be getting extra exposure.

2. Reusable Lunch Containers—Reduce Food Waste and Help the Earth

For example, a Bently Bento Lunch Container is an eco-friendly giveaway and will definitely attract an audience off of the trade show floor. The metal lunch box, which can be used to heat food when adding hot water, decreases single-use plastic on lunch breaks. Rather than ordering in every day, potential clients can use the lunch containers to save money, bring food from home and reduce their waste. Plus, you can customize the box with your logo. 

3. Metal Straws—Because Plastic Straws are so 2017

So, you care about sea turtles and you have a great product? If you want to show conference and trade show attendees you’re a true #environmentalist, metal straws with your logo are a great giveaway idea. This will encourage attendees during and post-show to practice sustainability in the workplace, ditch the plastic straws and go to work prepared to save the planet.

4. Create a Signature Drink at the Hotel Bar that Attendees Can Get for Free

After a long day of walking around a trade show floor, give your potential clients something to really take the edge off—a pen. Jokes aside, skip the trade show swag all together and opt for a freebie attendees are sure to take you up on—a free drink. Organize this with the hotel bar and see if you can create a signature drink named after your company. Because this is a more pricey freebie, keep drink tickets to yourself and give them to prospects after you converse with them. It will show potential customers right off the bat that you have great client perks.

5. Massage the Worries Away

It’s been a long day of standing, talking and getting the right contacts. But your company isn’t like regular companies—your company cares about the well-being of your potential clients. If your booth has enough space, consider offering free, 10-minute massages on the trade show floor! Companies like National Chair Massagespecialize in corporate events and trade shows, with a network of massage therapists prepared with chairs and supplies to set up at your exhibit. This is sure to bring a long line to your booth, and while attendees are waiting, you can give them your sales pitch and gather any lead information for easier follow-up. And don’t worry about breaking the bank—a massage chair can be booked for a price comparable to the price of a bulk order of pens or drinkware: $50–$80/hour, or $800–$1280 for 16 hours. 

6. Gift an Experience

A trade show is a unique experience in which many potential business partners are all in-person, in one place. Holding free events for potential clients, such as a yoga session or a networking breakfast, not only offers them the opportunity to take a break from a stressful few days, but it also presents you with the opportunity to connect with clients outside of the trade show setting. In this way, you can increase genuine interactions and work on winning over clients with your display of genuine customer care. 

A thought-out, environmentally-conscious freebie will undoubtedly help you stand out at your next conference or trade show. No, freebies certainly don’t make or break a deal, but in separating from the typical pens or drink koozies given away by most other booths, the creativity and care you put into the quality of your giveaways will attract the right clients. Before attendees even enter your booth, they will recognize your company’s values and they will appreciate your company for it.


Don’t miss any event-related news: Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter HERE and engage with us on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn and Instagram!

Add new comment

Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.