Pens made from recycled pop bottles and lanyards formed from factory scraps don’t sound particularly appealing.
But Jane Mitchell, owner of Oyster Promo Inc., is building a business around companies’ desire to promote their environmental consciousness.
Oyster Promo Inc. provides sustainable promotional products. Mitchell established the Halifax-based company just over a year ago. She said business has grown five-fold as companies realize that consumers want to shop sustainably.
“Our products include reusable water bottles, USB drives made from FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)-certified maple, polo shirts and other apparel made from recycled polyester or bamboo and organic cotton,” said Mitchell.
“We’ve also got tote bags made by a women’s co-operative in India. We help clients build their brand in line with their values, and to purchase branded merchandise that shows their customers that they care about the environment and social good.”
Mitchell said that promotional products are a small piece of a company’s marketing budget but they’re effectively tangible.
“These days, we’re increasingly online and dealing with intangibles. Products can help a company build a brand,” said the Halifax-raised entrepreneur who has an MBA from Ivey Business School in Ontario.
While Mitchell is based in Halifax, she also operates out of Vancouver. At present, 60 per cent of her business is done in Atlantic Canada but she sells across the country and is focusing on expanding in Toronto.
She first thought about establishing Oyster when a B.C.-based friend started a sustainable products business. The desire to do the same was intensified when Mitchell, who worked for an ethical funds company at the time, attended a function organized by a company that wished to promote its efforts on sustainability.
“Their sticky notes were not made from recycled paper,” she said. “It seemed they’d missed an opportunity to get their message across and show they were walking the talk.”
She said the price difference between sustainable and non-sustainable products is lessening.
“For a paper notebook the cost is identical. Most of the paper we buy now is at least 30 per cent recycled.”
Customization is a popular trend.
“You can buy water bottles with your logo and a different individual’s name on each bottle,” she said.
“Tech products are always popular, as are some utilitarian items— customized socks, for instance. You can have your logo woven into the sock. Socks are useful and often have the advantage of being made in Canada.”
Mitchell said clients seeking sustainable products may find there is not one available at the same price as non-sustainable, but the option of sustainability is always there.
“The product might be made from recycled material or sourced from a fair trade organization,” she said. “Sometimes it just needs to be made in Canada.”
Mitchell said her company has competitors in the promotional products business, but few that focus on sustainability.
“I think I formed my company at the right time. Al Gore said business will be central to the delivery of the change we need around climate change.
“A study by Unilever stated there is a market opportunity of $1 trillion for brands that can effectively market the sustainability of their wares.”
Mitchell said all consumers are becoming more aware of environmental and social justice issues, but millennials are particularly concerned.
“People care,” she said. “Millennials like to shop and buy brands, but they want their brands to be in line with their values.”