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Go Green Earn Green

The green movement that was so en vogue in the 1990s and early 2000s took a backseat to the Great Recession. Companies struggling to keep their doors open had bigger problems than their environmental impact. Today, we’re working hard to get back to business as usual. It’s in this environment that buyers are motivated to seek eco-friendly products and spend with green businesses. Promoting the earth promotes profits, but you need to be armed with green products and knowledge.

Go Green Earn Green

Investigate Eco-Friendly Products to Fuel Corporations' Green Initiatives

By Julie Rogers (jrogers@ara.org)

(Originally published in the July 2014 issue of Recognition Review.)

The green movement that was so en vogue in the 1990s and early 2000s took a backseat to the Great Recession. Companies struggling to keep their doors open had bigger problems than their environmental impact. Today, we’re working hard to get back to business as usual. It’s in this environment that buyers are motivated to seek eco-friendly products and spend with green businesses. Promoting the earth promotes profits, but you need to be armed with green products and knowledge.

“There is a need,” confirmed Gene Rainone of GSR Enterprises, an ARA supplier of recognition products made from recycled glass and reclaimed wood. “Everyone was looking for recycled products before the recession. It was the in thing. Then the recession came, and everyone had to tighten their belts and people went for cheaper, cheaper, cheaper—or discontinued their award program entirely. Since the recession, there’s been an increase in the buzz about recycled products again.”

Defining Green

Foods can be certified organic; buildings can be Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certified. But products aren’t certified as eco-friendly because no one agrees on the definition.

“If you’re going to make a green claim, you have to be able to substantiate it,” said Peter Clarke of Clarkes Recognition Products in Vancouver, BC. “What’s green? Is it sustainable? Is it recyclable? Is it reusable? I don’t know the answer to the question. My personal code of ethics won’t allow me to blatantly claim something like that without having all of the information to back it up.”

Clarke would like the industry to “take a leadership stance” by creating a system to grade green products. That would allow retailers and their customers to quantify a product’s eco-friendliness and would level the playing field for retailers competing for business from corporations with eco-friendly requirements. “Should we not all be basing these claims on the same benchmark?” Clarke asked.

To give an accurate assessment of the product’s eco status, the certifying party would have to track a product’s entire lifecycle, including the energy efficiency of the equipment used to create and transport it. “Just like in the food industry, we need to see what it’s touched by,” Clarke said.

If such a certification were possible, GSR Enterprises “would be the first one in line to do it,” Rainone said. “I have no way of certifying that it’s green, except to maybe take pictures of glass arriving—mayonnaise jars, ketchup bottles—to be melted down.”

Your Customers

“We are green because we’re in California,” jokes Tammie Helmuth, president of Conejo Awards in Thousand Oaks, CA. Her state is one of the more environmentally aware—and most environmentally regulated—in the United States, allowing her to really capitalize on green products. In Vancouver, BC, where Clarke’s shop is located, “the mayor has set a goal of being the greenest city in the world by 2020.” Businesses and organizations there want to be able to claim they are green and use it in marketing, and “that’s fine as long as we can all agree on what ‘green’ is,” he said. The demand, he believes, will be led by corporations with green initiatives.

Some of the companies with the biggest interest are those who might otherwise be accused of doing harm to the environment—such as waste haulers and energy companies. This is sometimes called greenwashing— spending time and money to convince the public that a company and its products or services are eco-friendly when they may not be, for the sole purpose of making money. Rainone saw an example of this when viewing a knockoff of one of his recycled products. It was shipped in a box that prominently featured the three-arrow recycling symbol. The text underneath said the product was recyclable, not that it was made from recycled materials. How many people believe the product itself was recycled because they hadn’t stopped to read the fine print?

Most of GSR Enterprises’s products are created from recycled glass or reclaimed wood, all of which is sourced and recycled in the United States. Popular recycled glass awards include the raindrop preservation awards (left) and the Mountain Expedition Award (right), both of which are available in a variety of colors.

You don’t want to engage in greenwashing, so how green is green enough for you to ethically sell to eco-minded buyers? The answer to this question might be as simple as this: The customer is always right. Get educated about the green products suppliers have to offer and be ready to explain them to consumers. Give the customer the facts to decide what is green enough for their needs. For a customer who wants a plaque, offer Forest Stewardship Council certified wood, bamboo, reclaimed wood, beetle kill pine, and medium-density fiberboard (MDF)—and be able to explain what makes each of these options at least a little green. (Surprisingly, some MDF is made from scrap wood, recycled paper, bamboo, carbon fibers and polymers, forest thinnings, sawmill off-cuts, straw, and nontoxic binders.) The customer may choose based on eco-friendliness or price, but you’ve given them the facts to be able to make an informed decision.

“A lot of high level clients come in and look at a plaque. Let’s say it’s going to students. I’ll say, ‘There is nothing environmentally sustainable about that plaque. Let me show you this bamboo plaque to showcase to the younger generation that you are environmentally aware,’” Helmuth said “Your clientele will pick the sustainable one every time.”

If you have access to detailed information about a product your customer chooses, e-mail it to him or her so it can be passed on to the buyer’s employer or the award’s recipient.

GSR Enterprises

Green awards are available from several ARA suppliers. Most of the products available from GSR Enterprises, for instance, are recycled. “The preservation of our planet is important to me and to Alice, the president of GSR Enterprises,” Gene Rainone said. The Rainones founded the company in the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina. “We don’t expect to save our planet singlehandedly, but if we can make a contribution, in addition to the success of our business, we feel a certain amount of satisfaction.”

We don’t expect to save our planet singlehandedly, but if we can make a contribution, in addition to the success of our business, we feel a certain amount of satisfaction—Gene Rainone, GSR Enterprises

To that end, GSR Enterprises offers a line of awards (platters, hearts, and mountain shapes), vases, bowls, and wine caddies/candleholders, all made from recycled American glass, and wood plaques created from reclaimed American barnwood.

“I believe we have the largest offering of blanks that are made of recycled, postconsumer American glass,” Rainone said. The company sells blanks, but can arrange for their products to be engraved and paintfilled by a local partner if a retailer needs a finished piece.

GSR Enterprises designs their products and creates molds, which are sent to a partner company that melts the recycled glass, all in the United States. The glass products are made bright and vibrant with natural pigments that won’t be destroyed by the extreme heat required to melt the glass. Interestingly, one of the rare earth elements used to color GSR’s awards also is used in the manufacturing of hybrid car batteries. Environmentally friendly cars reduced GSR’s access to the color for their recycled products.

Most of the company’s recycled glass products are made from “91% postconsumer, recycled, USA glass,” Rainone said. Because of differences in how items can be made, the citrus-colored glass is just 2%–6% recycled glass. “All of the glass involved is technically 100% postconsumer recycled glass—the 2%–6% comes in here when you start fooling around with the pigmentation and stuff. We err on the side of conservatism in stating recycled content.”

Monarch Custom Glass creates fine art glass, such as the Mystic Tidepool (left), suitable for recognition in its Oregon glass foundry. Recycled pieces include the Arctic Sea (right), with violet, teal, white, and black glass re-creating the swirling waters of body of water—using 30% recycled glass. The Arctic Sea turns into a frozen slush where the Siberian and North American rivers flow into it. The cargo ship Baychimo had to be abandoned there in 1931 and was last spotted in 1969. “Art has to be inspired to be relevant,” said Art Director Brian Parris. “Nearly all our designs are modeled on nature and the cosmos. There’s an unattributed saying that goes, ‘History reminds us of what happened. Art reminds us how we felt about it.’ While our designs are purchased for recognition, what the person actually receives is a gift of heirloom quality fine art with far greater value than trophy products which dominate the awards markets. The cost is the same, but the effect is priceless.”

Unlike the other colors, the copper colored glass is made from 91% postindustrial recycled content, not postconsumer content. “Let’s say there’s a beer company with those brown or amber bottles. In the bottling process, there’s a percentage of bottles that break. They scoop the glass up, and put it in a big bin. We can buy that glass from them, melt it down, and create our award items. We can’t say that’s postconsumer recycled glass. That is postindustrial. This was scrap left over from the manufacturing process,” Rainone said for illustrative purposes. “You buy a case of beer for a party, and you throw the beer bottles in the trash. It goes to the recycling center, and they separate it. We buy the beer bottles, and melt them down. That’s not postindustrial, that’s postconsumer because you and your friends had the party and drank the beer.”

The company’s wood plaques are made from 100% reclaimed, American wood, mostly from old barns being torn down. The refinished wood shows the distress of 150–200 years of its previous life, including buckshot holes and wormholes. “It’s not a defect; it’s part of the character,” Rainone said. “This recycled wood is put through a kiln-dried process so microbes are killed and is then elegantly refinished but still distressed.” GSR also sells bases and a pen set made from this wood. See them at www.gsrenterprises.net.

Monarch Custom Glass

Brian Parris believes we’re all environmentalists. “Only a tiny percentage of humanity intentionally messes up their own back yard. We’ve gotten so much better as a society. We don’t have rivers catching fire anymore,” he said, referring to Ohio’s Cuyahoga River, which used to burn due to pollution.

Parris is art director at Parris-Roche Design Studios’s Monarch Custom Glass in Oregon. The glass foundry offers some recycled options for stunning glass award with green credentials.

Recycling is a pretty big industry now. Eighty percent of most of the glass you see in convenience stores is recycled these days. Thirteen million glass pieces are recycled every day in the U.S. Glass is 100% recyclable without loss of purity. It doesn’t leach in landfills—it just goes back to where it came from.” --Brian Parris, Monarch Custom Glass

Some of the stunning glass awards created by Monarch in the company’s on-site foundry are made from recycled glass. “Recycling is a pretty big industry now. Eighty percent of most of the glass you see in convenience stores is recycled these days. Thirteen million glass pieces are recycled every day in the U.S.,” Parris said. “Glass is 100% recyclable without loss of purity. It doesn’t leach in land- fills—it just goes back to where it came from.”

The glass Monarch recycles is purchased or comes from the foundry’s own waste in the making of other products. Working with postconsumer glass requires a special clarification process to return it to its purity. Postconsumer glass is the dirtiest kind, Parris said, containing labels and metals. Different manufacturers use different chemistry in creating their glass, so the mixed recycled glass is unpredictable. With postindustrial glass, you know the composition, making it a bit easier to work with, Parris said.

Recycled content varies, depending on the product. Monarch’s medallions, towers, and other shaped pieces are made from nearly 100% recycled glass, and glass paperweights use about 30% recycled content. “The most compelling are our 30% recycled shatter paperweight products because of the unique color and structural variations within the design,” Parris said.

Creating goblets requires popping off their tops. Monarch collects this beautifully colored glass and shatters it by touching it with 2,200-degree glass. The colored fragments are gathered into a clear molten glass. Another layer is added, the paperweight is blocked into a smooth sphere using specially designed, sodden cherry-wood scoops. The colored glass is recycled from waste within Monarch’s own foundry, as is some of the clear glass.

For the 100% recycled glass products, chemistry is used to clear the glass and bring it back to its natural color, a process that is done off-site and requires a huge magnet to extract the metals. Monarch melts it, colors it, puts it into molds, and brings it back to room temperature over 24–48 hours.

“All recycled glass has lots of bubbles due to impurities. There’s no way around it. It’s always going to have bubbles,” Parris said. “We incorporate bubbles when we want them, as decorative elements where we want them. It has artistic value. Some put bubbles in virgin glass deliberately,” mimicking the look of recycled glass.

The glass creations are inspired by nature and history, with Parris and his team researching everything from ancient goddesses to diving among reefs in intertidal surges. Artistic interpretations evoke emotions while echoing the “visual and physical sensations” of the experiences and events. On the company’s website, Parris shares the inspiration and story behind each piece, often with the modeling images used during its creation. Those descriptions, along with the “Making Glass” details on the site, are wonderful for sharing with customers who want to know more about what inspired their award, where it came from, and how it was made.

Monarch uses natural gas, one of the cleaner fossil fuels, to heat its furnaces, and the electricity that powers its kilns is in large part hydropower. “Furnaces are on all the time with all glass—whether recycled or not. It’s an economic issue,” Parris explained. “But it’s not all bad. You have to look at all the energy it takes to produce virgin glass.” Recycled glass represents “tremendous” energy savings, including the work to mine and purify the elements that go into virgin glass.

Monarch believes the United States has come a long way in the green movement. “All of us, in whatever we’re doing, need to be good stewards. We do recycle. We do a lot of this stuff, but the challenge people have is that we have to recognize that the U.S. is one of the cleanest industrial economies on the planet. We’ve cleaned up 90% of our messes, and now we’re cleaning up the margins.” He points to the days he surfed California’s beaches and would emerge from the water covered in tar and oil—not from Big Energy, but from natural seeps in the ocean. “Now that the oil rigs pumped it all out, there’s no seeping. The oil companies cleaned the beaches,” he said.

Recycling, of course, is neither a new concept, nor an American one. “Recycling has been going on since 500 B.C. for essentially the same reasons we do it today. It’s not so much an environmental concern, but because of the energy and effort that went into the base material. If it took a year to make a batch of glass in Mesopotamia, if a piece breaks, you’re going to recycled it. Everything was recycled,” Parris said. Mesopotamians did it for efficiency; today, we do it to eliminate industrial pollution and waste. Recycling means that creating the same product takes less material, less energy, and less effort.

Recycled doesn’t exclude custom products. Parris can match Pantone hues with his glass— allowing you to match a school’s colors, for instance—and has his 35 years’ worth of designs at his fingertips. “We’ve been doing custom glass for so long it’s impractical to publish all of the available designs on our website. Call with your theme, and they can send you images of available designs,” he said. Contact Monarch Custom Glass at 541.474.1166, e-mail info@ monarchcustomglass.com, or visit www.monarchcustomglass.com.

Keeping Promises

For Clarke, details like these allow him to authenticate a product’s eco-friendliness so he doesn’t have to miss out on green business for fear of making unsubstantiated claims. He recently sold an award that he knows is sustainable because he “went through the work, sourced it, paid more, and manufactured a unique and interesting product. I feel comfortable, because I’ve done the work.”

When he doesn’t know the backstory on a product, Clarke can’t in good conscience sell it as green. “I choose (to protect the environment) personally, but I’m not sitting on a corner with a picket sign. I would love to make green claims. At the end of the day, I just want to be able to make a promise and keep it.”

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