As I write this I am surrounded by cupboards laden with every type of merchandise sharing only one attribute— triumphant emblems of various brands. We all have them: mugs, key rings, hats, and fidget toys we will never use but have gladly accepted at different functions. Once one eventually tires of the needless clutter, the corporate swag takes its final journey to the landfill, where it will sit forevermore. It’s such needless waste; the items are barely enjoyed, produced in bulk, and are often thrown away without a first use or second thought.
This “merch” is the status quo and is expected at big conferences. Trinkets with your company’s branding may help foster a feeling of community, and could be fun freebies to give loyal clients, employees, or customers — we all love free stuff, don’t we? However, the unnecessary production of these products is undeniably harming the environment. It’s unsustainable and has no future in a climate-progressive world.
Fairware, a sustainable merchandise company, works to combat this issue with its impressive list of clients and an even better approach to its production. Fairware is certified as a B Corp, and isn’t your average company because of its holistic approach to sustainability. In its production process it considers ethical sourcing, community impact, diversity and inclusion, the environment, and product sustainability. The company strives to produce fully recyclable or compostable products, purchases 100 percent Green Energy from Bullfrog Power, and is a certified living wage employer, among many other notable governance choices. What really sets Fairware apart from many other brands is that it considers the life of the product; they design their merchandise to be used, loved, and re-used, so its products do not find their way to the landfill as swiftly as they found their way into the consumers’ hands.
Check out the Fairware website here.
The company breaks down its sustainability focus into six sub-sections:
Fairware’s merchandise is made to order, so it aligns directly with the client’s mission. If the client is a zero-waste company, Fairware will work to produce zero-waste products. The company does extensive research into its resource sourcing, utilizes manufacturing sites close to the location of its clients (to minimize shipping emissions), and obtains third-party product testing when necessary. In short, an exhaustive amount of thought goes into each product designed so that the end goal is tailored to the client’s and the earth’s ideals.
Fairware maintains a strict supplier code of conduct based on the Fair Labour Association Standards and the Promotional Product Association Standards. All suppliers must sign off on the code of conduct to guarantee that, to the best of the suppliers’ knowledge, the entire supply chain adheres to Fairware’s values. The company also pursues suppliers that have third party certification indicating that their manufacturing processes protect product quality, the environment, and employees.
B Corp certification:
The company has been a founding member of the Canadian B Corp since 2010, with a rating of 85.7. B Corp is an organization that scores companies based on their environmental and social impact. In order to maintain its certification, Fairware must answer B Corp’s Impact Assessment, adopt the B Corp legal framework, and sign its Declaration of Interdependence. To ensure Fairware is fulfilling its duties as a B Corp, they are required to recertify every three years, motivating the company to improve constantly.
Fairware is dedicated to minimizing its environmental impact by continuously evolving its operations. For example, they actively participate in Climate Smart to measure and reduce carbon emissions, have retrofit lighting to reduce energy usage, and engage in recycling and composting programs. The majority of their emissions come from shipping orders (81 percent) and air travel for business trips (10 percent). Because of this, Fairware focuses on tracking and reducing air shipments, exploring emission offset programs, and educating clients about the environmental effects of rush shipping.
Fairware has been a Certified Living Wage Employer since 2017 and participates annually in the Clif Bar Foundation’s In Good Company program, which unites businesses to engage in local initiatives for communities in need. Fairware also dedicates volunteer hours, financial contributions, and product donations to support the Vancouver Street Soccer League (VSSL). The non-profit extends its outreach to those who have experienced or are currently facing homelessness, as well as marginalized individuals and recovering addicts. Fairware has established a similar social hiring policy, and often employs players from VSSL in order to support its community and cultivate inclusive employment practices.
Diversity and inclusion:
Fairware is dedicated to fostering equal opportunities and promoting diversity within the workforce. One example of this is Fairware engaging in the B Corp Inclusion Challenge and other diversity and inclusion training programs. The company’s co-founder, Sarah White, is a member of the Presidents Group, a network of influential business leaders in British Columbia dedicated to championing accessible and inclusive workplaces. The Presidents Group collaborates with employers and business owners across the province to broaden employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, and establish a more accessible consumer marketplace. Additionally, Fairware is a certified Women-Owned and LGBT-Owned business.
The Minds Behind the Merch
The two women behind this company are Denise Taschereau and Sarah White. I had the honor of interviewing Denise, the co-founder, and CEO of Fairware, and was struck by how comprehensive the thought process was behind each product the company creates. Denise is responsible for business development, sustainability programs, and ethical product sourcing. In addition, she is currently a mentor for Spring.is, an advising firm that provides social impact leaders with the tools they need to build better businesses.
Prior to starting Fairware, Denise worked for Mountain Equipment Co-op, Canada’s largest outdoor retailer, as the Director of Sustainability and Community. Over her years in the sustainability industry, Denise has sat on a variety of boards including Vision Vancouver, Green Meeting Industry Council, and Etsy’s Manufacturing Advisory Board. Overall, Denise is a responsible CEO who constantly strives to make her company more sustainable (just last month Fairware partnered with Veritree to plant 10 kelp trees for every Faireware order).
Denise and Sarah work in tandem to produce high quality products while making a positive impact on their community and the environment. If the merchandise industry has a chance of survival in our climate-conscious future, it must follow Fairware’s suit and draw inspiration from Denise’s and Sarah’s lead.