Corporate gifting comes in many forms, from banks that want to buy their employees a holiday gift to TV talk shows that want to send celebrity guests a token of their appreciation. It’s a big business. But as we become hyper-aware of the scarcity of the world’s resources and mounting waste, conventional corporate gifts have lost their appeal quicker than you lost the branded keychains dished out at a conference.
On average, people keep promotional products for seven months before they’re thrown away, so for an industry that is worth $24 billion in the US alone, this adds to the already huge amount of waste going into landfills every year. As the demand for sustainable gifts rises each year, big businesses have decided to support small independent businesses — along with the artisans they employ and the causes they support.
“The desire to buy throwaway items has diminished,” says Tara Button, founder and CEO of BuyMeOnce, which fights back against the made-to-break product lifecycle by offering a range of lifetime-guaranteed kitchen, apparel, homeware and gifts. “People, and therefore companies, want to be seen to be doing their bit in the war against waste.” Its corporate gifting partners are generally businesses that already work in the sustainability space, such as ethical investment firms and accelerators. “Businesses that choose to buy from BuyMeOnce are the ones that want to bring attention to their purpose, or to a particular aspect of their ethos,” says Button.
Lifetime-guaranteed socks, ceramic cups, and coin purses are among the most popular gifting pieces. However, Button also promotes the Buy For Life gift cards. “We believe in buying mindfully and not bringing things into your life for the sake of it — that’s how homes get filled with clutter that isn’t used,” says Button. “[The gift card] is good because the person receiving the card has the choice of ethical, meaningful products but isn’t saddled with something they don’t need.”
Jason Keehn, founder and CEO of Accompany — a certified B-Corp which works with over 400 artisans in 45 countries — has offered corporate gifting for the last five years. In 2015, Barclays bank approached him to buy 400 cosmetic cases made by women who had escaped sex trafficking in northern India for a women’s leadership conference. Accompany has since worked with corporations like Nespresso, Unilever, and the AMC Network and at one point, corporate gifting made up 30% of their business. It’s also opened Accompany to more impactful collaborations. “Now we are doing capsule collections with Target, custom programs and in some cases, we’re white labeling and helping to create ethical products for other brands,” says Keehn.
Storytelling is an important part of ethical corporate gifting. Communicating with the receiver about the cause behind the gift has a lasting impact, believes Keehn. “When you get a gift, you pause for a minute to recognize why you have been given something and what the story was behind it,” he says. “We make sure that the audience knows the mission behind each product so we can educate people on one of the most important things which is: You can have beautiful products that you’re going to covet, and they can have a fantastic mission. They’re not mutually exclusive.”
Perhaps the biggest benefit of corporate gifting is the ability to reach a huge untapped customer base who may never have found these retailers organically. “It opens us up to a wider audience and can obviously help to boost income,” says Button. “Most importantly to me, is the opportunity to share our ethos with leaders who may then influence others to buy more mindfully.”
The trickle-down effect of corporate gifting orders for the artisans that Accompany works with is significant, says Keehn. “Corporate gifting orders are a nice volume, usually between 200-400 units, so the impact it has on the community is great,” he says. “The artisans benefit when they get consistent or decent-sized orders because corporations will generally pay retail value — maybe a little lower because it’s a bulk order — but you’re still getting the margin.”
Whether you’re looking for books, homeware, candles, or accessories, there’s an ethical retailer offering corporate gifting to suit every occasion. Below, we’ve rounded up some of our favorites.
The team at Nordgreen takes all of the steps possible to do things the Danish way. They work directly with Jakob Wagner, one of Scandinavia’s most heavily awarded designers, to ensure thoughtful, modern products. They work tirelessly to hold their materials, customer service, and the entire Nordgreen experience to the absolute finest standards. With each watch purchased, you can choose which cause you would like to support. Access to clean water, a clean environment, and a full education should be a right for all, and it is important to the team at Nordgreen that their watches inspire a connection, not just between watch and owner, but amongst everyone. We recommend choosing from their stainless steel mesh or vegetable-tanned leather straps! To push its sustainability initiatives further, Nordgreen now has a refurbished collection here!
Accompany, founded in 2013, is an ethical marketplace that works with over 400 artisans around the world who create apparel, accessories, jewelry and homewares. Accompany’s emphasis is on social impact, community and culture, ensuring all their products are artisan-made, fair trade and have a philanthropic element to their business, plus are aesthetically pleasing.
Founded in 2015, Vellabox brings natural candlemakers from across the US together in one platform, where you can curate a selection of candles based on your preferred fragrance notes, seasonal scents, wax types, and even estimated burn times. They’re all made from soy, coconut, or vegetable-based waxes and are free from unhealthy ingredients like lead and paraffin, and animal derivatives like beeswax. On top of corporate gifting, Vellabox offers a range of personal and gift subscription options shipped monthly! For their corporate gifts, they’re able to do custom candle labels, scents, bonus gifts, and interior box design elements (like the canvas bags and the decorative/informational card inserts). Once an inquiry for corporate gifting is received, you will be contacted by a representative from their team to figure out what degree of personalization makes the most sense for you and your company.
QWSTION’s beautiful, sleek, and gender-neutral bags make for a great gift for employees because they’re universally useful and come in a variety of colors and sizes based on what your team members might love best. They are made using organically grown fibers like high-density organic cotton canvas and Bananatex (made from banana fibers), then finished with PFC-free water-repellent coatings. Check out Alden’s experience visiting QWSTION in Switzerland.
Luxury lifestyle subscription boxes by Bombay & Cedar are centered around quarterly themes and feature a selection of aromatherapy, beauty, and wellness products. The company’s emphasis is on cruelty-free and vegan items, and their boxes include everything from essential oils, candles, books, homeware, snacks, and skincare. Their corporate gifting model is unique in that they offer customized packaging, as well as a subscription gifting option.
A marketplace launched in November 2019, ourCommonplace offers the ability to shop according to your values. Whether you’re looking for gifts from brands that are women-owned and operated, sustainable, toxic-free, ethical, cruelty-free or BIPOC-owned, ourCommonplace categorizes their fashion, beauty, wellness and homeware products according to these core standards. Not only does each brand stocked adhere to at least two out of the six criteria, ourCommonplace is a member of 1% For the Planet, committing one percent of annual profits to environmental causes.
Founded in 2015, London-based Inkpact began life as a marketing agency creating handwritten letters for companies to send to their clients, and has since expanded into a sustainably-minded corporate gifting service. A certified member of Social Enterprise UK, Inkpact’s eco-friendly gift boxes are designed to fit through letterboxes and never include throwaway plastic items. Instead, gift-givers can choose from things like recycled leather accessories like cardholders and keyrings, personalised stationery, and cocktail kits, all sourced from brands who share Inkpact’s sustainability values.
BuyMeOnce was launched after founder Tara Button received a Le Creuset cast iron pot as a birthday present and realized she’d never need to buy one again. With the simple intention of selling long-lasting products, BuyMeOnce stocks kitchenware, homeware, apparel, kidswear and gifts, all designed and tested to last, breaking the cycle of planned obsolescence. BuyMeOnce now stocks over 2000 products that are independently researched and tested to ensure they’re the last one you’ll ever need to buy.
Social Stories Club is a gifting company that curates gift boxes filled with chocolate, tea, snacks, soaps and more from businesses that align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. All products are sourced from social enterprises that support artists with disabilities, reforestation projects, the empowerment of farmers and educational infrastructure in tea growing regions, among others. Each biodegradable gift box is packed with wood wool from sustainable timber forests and contains a story booklet filled with information about each product. With 100% of the profits reinvested into social enterprises, Social Stories Club has so far contributed almost $40,000 into the social enterprise economy.
Elvis & Kresse is a British sustainable B-Corp that makes luxury bags and accessories from reclaimed materials such as decommissioned fire hoses, upcycled military-grade parachute silk, auction banners and deadstock leather from Burberry, saving them from landfill and applying handcrafting skills to make them high-end, unique pieces. Elvis & Kresse’s corporate gifts include notebooks, keyrings, cardholders, luggage tags, laptop cases and more, with 50 percent of profits going back to charities that relate to the original recycled materials.
Founded in 2018, the Kommon Goods is based in Hong Kong and offers ethical corporate gifting options to businesses around Asia. The Kommon Goods isn’t just a retailer, they manage the whole production pipeline, from design to manufacturing, customization and shipping, which means they’re able to monitor supply chains and minimize environmental impact in every step, keeping in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Kommon Goods makes eco-friendly must-haves: from metal straws and utensils, water bottles, and crockery, to bamboo stationery and homewares.