Lou Elliott-Cysewski, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Seattle, is co-founder and CEO of Coolperx, the world's first climate neutral brand merchandising company. She's on a mission to transform the merchandising industry from a toxic environmental polluter to a conscientious connector of people and values. We asked Lou about the importance of keepability in gift-giving and product offerings. Here's what she shared.

Many of us recall a time when manufacturers built products to last and when home appliances, for example, had a lifespan spanning decades. This was particularly true as we had, then, a thriving repair industry, paired with a strong community mentality.      

However, we now live in a world where short-term profits more often than not overshadow quality and customer satisfaction, together with a desire for immediate personal gratification.

This mindset not only hurts our customers but also the environment around us. Product turnover takes a terrible toll on the planet: Once discarded, these products end up as trash in landfills across the country. In my industry--corporate gifts and promotional products--79 percent of all branded merchandise is thrown out after a few short months of use.

But, increasingly, customers and employees alike are demanding companies be sustainable in a meaningful way to help solve the climate crisis we all face. It's no longer about "doing no harm." Everyone's asking that companies begin creating a positive impact on the world.

That's where keepability comes in: long lasting, meaningful goods and services are powerful factors for a company to boost its sustainability goals.

At Coolperx, we wanted to learn more about the 21 percent of recipients who actually kept our products. As a result, we designed end-user buyer surveys that gather statistically significant data points on questions such as:

  • How long did you keep our product?
  • How likely are you to use our product in 5 years? 
  • Why?

Understanding the products that were kept and cherished helped us improve our offering and avoid unnecessary waste and carbon usage.

As a result of this data, we decided to move away from trendy, short-lived, indulgent items and sought pieces with heirloom qualities, including Day Owl backpacks and SECRID wallets.

In addition to supporting our sustainability goals, it also helped us increase customer satisfaction, and be more creative and innovative. This in turn led to an overwhelming 112 percent increase in client referrals. A true win-win.

We're certainly not alone in focusing on our products' lifespan and overall keepability strategy. Take Patagonia: They've built their entire brand and business model around environmental causes and the concept of keepability.

They design clothing that their customers can keep for years, instead of mere months like their competitors do. If a Patagonia piece of clothing is broken, the customer has access to DIY repair and care guides. They also have the option to send it back for repairs--the large majority of which are free of charge. Finally, they have a "worn and wear" initiative which provides customers credits for sending worn, unwanted Patagonia garments.

Every step of the way, Patagonia offers solutions to extend the life of a garment and to minimize its impact on the environment. You might think that this is reckless behavior and a missed opportunity to generate more profits, right? Wrong: Patagonia has built a $1 billion clothing brand by focusing on long-term sustainability. Its success, and that of others, proves that companies can profit by doing good and being good.

Like Patagonia, at my company, we encourage companies big and small to better understand their products' lifespan and that of the products they buy and gift to others.

Here's how to get started. Reflect on where you stand today:

  • What is your product's use lifespan?
  • On average, how long do your customers keep your product?
  • Do you know why?

Can this information help you make better choices in terms of product development, marketing, packaging, shipping, etc.?

If you're a service company, the same questions apply to your procurement practices.

Being sustainable has many benefits. One you may not have suspected is that it can reveal opportunities for both product and process innovations. After all, it is not uncommon for companies to complain that different units do not collaborate well. Sustainability, which has a cross function within the organization, can help address this weakness.

The car industry is a great example of these two competing trends at play. Brands like Chevrolet and many others launch a new model every other year or so with the goal of increasing demand, while customers desperately try to 'keep up with the Joneses."

Others, such as Tesla and Porsche have not significantly changed their design for years, focusing instead on continuously increasing the value their vehicles bring through comfort and technology.

It is up to you to decide which category you wish to be compared to.