Peter Deitz, co-founder of Unwrapit, is a successful serial entrepreneur focused on launching social purpose companies to accomplish social and environmental goals. Unwrapit is his current effort. The company purpose is to nudge the multibillion dollar global corporate gifting industry to an environmentally benign default. Unwrapit offers businesses digital, experiential, and charitable alternatives to physical gifts.
Unwrapit is a social purpose business in the process of being certified as a B Corp. Before Unwrapit, in 2012, Dietz co-founded Grantbook, an advisory firm that helps foundations leverage technology. He continues with Grantbook as the board chair.
We asked Deitz if devoting a portion of the corporate gift giving budget to nonphysical gifts is just sustainability tokenism, and why Unwrapit is becoming a B Corp.
Most corporations are at least giving lip service to sustainability, so how does sending gifts, which are usually tchotchkes destined to sit on a shelf (if not the landfill), fit with that?
Peter Deitz: Whether companies like it or not, the next decade is going to require a wholesale transformation of how they do business in order to avoid runaway global warming. With the climate crisis becoming more of a priority for consumers and employees, companies can’t afford to give lip service to sustainability.
At Unwrapit, we feel that shifting away from physical gift giving to giving experiential, digital, and charitable gifts is low hanging fruit when it comes to the total decarbonization of business activity required by 2030. This shift may at first appear to be a mere gesture when compared to decarbonizing a company’s main business. But in the aggregate, it adds up to a substantial decrease in emissions and is a shift that a company can make regardless of their industry and type of product or service.
Corporate gift giving at the low end is a coffee mug with a company logo, and at the high end it is engraved crystal, but either way it is trying to keep the company in front of the recipient. Can giving experiential gifts, such a yoga lesson, compete with that?
Peter Deitz: We are on a mission to help companies break free from the conventional thinking that surrounds corporate gift gifting. Like you said, the conventional belief is that repeated use of a physical gift, like a high-end pen, will keep a company and its brand top-of-mind. On the other hand, physical gifts like these may actually do more harm than good. Single use or multi-use, sustainably produced or otherwise, a physical gift still has to be manufactured, packaged, shipped, and ultimately discarded. What if it’s not wanted and surfaces more guilt and frustration than joy and gratitude? In this case, recipients now have to find a spot in their office or home for a thing they may not want, or sheepishly throw it in the trash (along with a company’s logo – yikes!).
Experiential, digital, and charitable gifts have the potential to truly keep a company and brand top-of-mind. As humans, we are naturally grateful to the people, communities, and institutions that help us learn and grow or help express our values. When we apply newly acquired skills to a real world challenge, participate in an unforgettable experience, or express our values through a charitable donation gift, we have an opportunity to reflect on who made it possible. The Unwrapit team would argue that recalling a brand for these reasons can be more powerful than recalling a logo printed on a thing.
Digital gifts are a little different and often have repeat use built-in. For example, we are proud to have Covatar as one of our gift suppliers. Their team of artists will create a hand-illustrated digital portrait for recipients to use in their online profiles. With all of us hooked on our devices, viewing an image of ourselves that a company helped create is going to keep the gift-giver top-of-mind. Using an app like GoSkills, ArtistWorks, Masterclass, or Spotify repeatedly creates the equivalent appreciation moment that we know some companies are looking for. It’s similar to why some companies give magazine or newspaper subscriptions as gifts, also something we can offer, digitally!
According to Forbes, corporate gift giving (I can’t bring myself to say “gifting”) is a $125 billion industry currently, and is expected to more than double in just a couple of years. Is that sustainable?
Peter Deitz: We’ve read the same article in Forbes. Apparently, the pandemic has already transformed corporate gift giving into a $242 billion industry. The same Forbes author recently updated the figures. In the way conventional corporate gift giving is practiced, we would have to agree that it isn’t sustainable. This is true for a lot of industries. The conventional practices of most industries reflect a 20th century mass production mentality that doesn’t account for the cost to people and planet. It’s not surprising that wrapping paper as we know it was invented in the early 20th century. In fact, the founders became household names. Last name: Hall. Their business: Hallmark.
Creating an alternative to the rapidly growing status quo is Unwrapit’s reason for being. We understand that behavior change doesn’t happen because companies appreciate the planetary effects of the status quo. Instead, change happens when a more compelling alternative appears. We are designing Unwrapit to have a more personalized and memorable experience, both for the gift giving company and their recipients. When it’s clear to a procurement team that choosing a platform like Unwrapit simply makes for happier gift recipients, we feel they’ll choose it. At that point, the fact that our solution is rooted in sustainability doesn’t even matter. And the best part is that we still achieve the environmental impact of changing the status quo.
For the past 25 years or longer, there has been this dream of creating a “circular” economy based on reusing materials rather than the current, linear economy in which raw materials are made into products, which are then considered waste. How does corporate gift giving fit into that transition from linear to circular?
Peter Deitz: Dreams become realities when there’s no more time on the clock. The urgency created by a rapidly warming planet is forcing business decisions that favor circular solutions and sustainable processes over linear ones. Overtime, they are becoming the less expensive, higher value option. Energy production is a great example of this. In many places, energy produced from mined coal is more expensive to produce and maintain than energy produced from renewable sources.
When it comes to corporate gifting, it is already the case that sending a branded promotional product is more expensive than the alternative. Just about all physical gifts have two “shipping taxes” built in. First, there’s the tax of shipping physical gifts to a warehouse somewhere. And then there’s the “shipping tax” of getting the manufactured gift to recipients. Both of these “taxes” are paid by corporate customers monetarily and by the planet in terms of emissions. Gifts that don’t require manufacturing don’t have these costs. The waste and pollution have been designed out, sometimes entirely. In the case of Unwrapit, a company can integrate this type of giving seamlessly, without friction and with no need to significantly change their operations. They simply use Unwrapit instead of procuring a physical gift. The circularity is built in. In this way we often say that we help insert our customers into the circular economy.
It’s also worth commenting on circular, physical corporate gifts. Physical gifts could be considered part of the circular economy if they are made from recycled materials, and in turn, are recycled or passed along. I think of the children’s book called, Something from Nothing, in which a coat becomes a vest and then tie and then a button. While this kind of circular economy gift is not what Unwrapit specializes in, it’s an area with enormous potential for positive environmental impact.
Unwrapit is in the process of becoming a B Corp. Why?
Peter Deitz: Building a business is incredibly hard work. It comes at enormous cost, emotionally and financially. As socially and environmentally minded entrepreneurs, the founding team of Unwrapit could only imagine investing all of that effort if the end result demonstrated that business could be a force for good. The B Corp certification ensures that a company is creating positive social and environmental impact, not just in the product and services it offers but also in how it governs itself, how it treats its workers, and how it takes into account the environment and communities in which it operates. Those practices in turn help attract and retain values-aligned customers and incredible talent. In short, becoming a B Corp makes business sense and more importantly gives voice and concrete structure to the reason we’re in business in the first place.