Feature Article - May/June 2010

Earth-Friendly Motivation

Going Green Still Important Among Incentive Providers

By Dawn Klingensmith

Two years ago, the "greening" of the incentives industry was a hot topic. Paper catalogs were becoming passť as major players as well as upstarts took their programs online. And, given that many companies were embracing sustainability initiatives and consumer demand for eco-friendly products was rising, the industry by and large had started to offer—or at least looked into—green reward options, ranging from Energy Star-rated electronics to eco-tour packages.

But then the recession hit, and a brouhaha erupted over incentive trips, blackening the industry's eye. Going green was less of a priority.

Adopting and touting eco-friendliness "was being pushed as an exciting new thing," said Bruce Bolger, executive director of the Enterprise Engagement Alliance (EEA), based in Falls Church, Va. "I think it's an enduring and important theme, but it's not being pushed right now, given the challenges we're facing. It's certainly not a focus. We've got bigger fish to fry."

Yet, some incentive providers, while tending to the fish, are fielding and responding to demands for green goods. "Adding environmentally friendly items to our catalog became common practice before the recession, and green items are still in demand today," said Amy Trueblood, account manager of Awards Network, based in LaPorte, Ind. "I have experienced more demand for green award programs, and many new clients only want incentive or recognition programs that are completely online and paperless."

Although this industry is sometimes slow to respond to what's going on in the world at large (the lack of immediate damage control following the unfortunately timed AIG trip is one example), it eventually comes around. For example, after the economy took a nosedive, companies adjusted programs to fit the times. Anecdotally, the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) learned that companies had added more pragmatic award choices into the mix, such as gas cards. So, perhaps when the industry has sufficiently recovered from its publicity nightmare, incentive product catalogs will better reflect society's growing interest in green goods.