2019 was key for Obeo. It was the year we decided to step aside from providing promotional products at our events, and if you have a couple of minutes we’d like to tell you why and how our decision could impact you too.
Let me first give you the quick backstory. Obeo is a software company specializing in B2B Open Source graphical modeling technologies. By this stage I would have normally lost your attention, but, hang on just a second, there is a something here that means a great deal, and that something is Open Source – Capishe…?
Let’s look at a generally accepted definition for Open Source (yes – I know, Wiki!). 'The open-source model is a decentralized software development model that encourages open collaboration. A main principle of open-source software development is peer production, with products such as source code, blueprints, and documentation freely available to the public.' o not the simplest way really to operate a successful business.
‘But, how on earth do you pay the employees??!!’
Fourteen years ago when Obeo was set up we decided Open Source would be one of its foundation stones. As a strategic member of the Eclipse Foundation, most of our projects are accordingly Open Source.
So the question remains; how can a company grow its business if the technology element is freely available? Well the answer lies in; commercializing the service aspects, integrating some pay-to-own extensions, and providing tailored customer project support via software insurance etc. (and spoiler alert! – this business model does work!).
However the first step in the process is getting your name out into the market and keeping your name well-known in the market. The more customer curiosity you generate the more paying customers you access.
As such every year Obeo takes part in (and also organizes) some twenty or so tech events. Therein lies the problem, because at each event attendees invariably receive the ubiquitous Goody Bag (the ‘eco-friendly’ cotton bag filled with promotional tech-related products). Every stand at these events offers bags filled with USB keys, key-rings, stickers, pens, badges, gadget eyewear, foot-hammocks (yup they do exist…). It’s so easy to leave these events with a supply of plastic products destined for waste.
Reassessing the quality of promotional products
As Communication Manager, I’m in charge of organizing these events and so I also manage the promotional products situation. I look closely at the trade off between the commercial business impact and the environmental impact. I notice that the quality of these promotional products is often quite mediocre and at best, users use them now and then, while at worst they just tend to end up discarded.
So to quickly recap: for the most part we are talking about non-recyclable plastic-based products with a heavy carbon footprint that are mostly discarded. We have to think about where is the sense in that?
Persuade your company to put the brakes on Promotional Products
For me the decision was simple – the Goody Bags had to go. I just needed to get the company, Obeo management, and the business development department on-board with the idea.
While everyone at Obeo fully backs the need to reduce plastic waste and its pollution effects, I also wanted to bring along some concrete business arguments for cutting down on plastic waste:
- Brand image Can it be a good thing for Obeo, known as it is for its expertise and technical proficiency, to be associated with poor quality and not very useful gadgets? In a word… No, and indeed the brand could even be tarnished.
- Business leverage – the reality Have we ever had a customer sign a business contract and said to us: “Ah yes I remember now, it was because of your pop-socket that I decided to enter into a business contract with you”? Again, in a word, No.
- Internal company values What balance can be struck between the goody-gadget approach and the values held by our current and future business colleagues and collaborators? Already at the Nantes trade fairs we are witnessing the beginnings of a shift in mindset. For example, there were much fewer promotional products on offer during the Web2Day 2019 event and several booths, for instance at DevFest Nantes, were instead offering ways to support societal associations. A wave of social conscience is rising among company colleagues and it is up to us to act accordingly.
- Customer expectations Business project tenders are increasingly being tied to CSR conditions. Current and prospective customers are seeking more in the way of concrete action that takes both the planet and humanity into consideration.
- Legislative developments Recent regulations now ban the use of certain single use plastics. We want to be at the vanguard of this approach. Let’s lead not follow!
Do better and do differently
So rather than just kicking this (bad) habit of the promotional Goody Bags we have also decided to actively support an association. With a zero net budget impact over the next five years, we have decided to transfer the budget earmarked for this type of marketing to the SeaCleaners association in the form of a five-year sponsorship. The SeaCleaners association is based in La Turballe (West coast of France) and is focused on reducing plastic pollution both on land and in the sea. The SeaCleaners recently teamed up with Elmer Food Beat with a fantastic remake of ‘Le plastique, c’est fantastique’ into the version ‘Le plastique, c’est dramatique’.
The SeaCleaners has spearheaded its action with the construction of the magnificent Manta catamaran. Set to sail in 2022, it will collect plastic waste directly from river estuaries, and then sort and recycle it aboard. The catamaran team will also run teaching and awareness campaign wherever they dock so the local communities gain first hand knowledge of the endeavor. Furthermore the Manta’s programs and plans will be made available (Open Source) thereby maximizing visibility. And as you know, if you have been reading, both Open Source and the environment are key concerns for us at Obeo!
So now at our events, you will be able to see how we are supporting the SeaCleaners initiative and why we are switching from promotional products towards a better planet.
Result of the switch: a very positive reaction!
We at Obeo enthusiastically back the SeaCleaners support initiative and are proud to make a real impact in the combat against wasteful plastic. Even though a single person’s impact can in itself be limited in size and scope, the sum of everyone’s efforts does count for a very great deal indeed.
Stopping the Goody Bags at Obeo is but a small step that we are carrying out with humility and in a spirit of greater mindfulness. The move away from careless plastic is above all a symbol indicating that we at Obeo, the ‘tech company,’ have decided to stop needless and harmful marketing products. But that doesn’t mean that we can ignore the bigger issue related to the tech-event strategy (conference, seminars and so on), i.e. the carbon footprint associated with transporting all the team members.
Here too we are also trying to make progress. We are striving to become more strategic in thinking about how and where we travel. So we are trimming travel team sizes, and we are organizing online events in place of physical face-to-face events, e.g. SiriusCon). For instance, in the space of just three years our Capella webinars have attracted over 1,000 ‘attendees’ worldwide.
There is still much more than we can do at Obeo to keep lowering our ecological footprint and all of us working at the company are currently reflecting on how best to do this. 2020 will definitely be a year of Obeo doing even more!