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Tech Industry

Swag is fun, but what about the trees?

CNET News.com reporter Daniel Terdiman has a message to the flacks sending him tons of junk each week: Just say no!

About a week ago, I returned to work after several days away from the office. On my desk sat a huge cardboard box from a public relations firm. It contained only a poster and a small notebook.

So much for saving the environment.

As a technology reporter, I'm no stranger to getting unsolicited packages sent my way. They arrive all the time: A video game here. A box of candy there. And being part of a bigger newsroom, I'm not the only one bombarded by swag.

Sometimes the sender targets the whole staff. Next thing you know, every reporter is opening, en masse, the same confetti-laden tchotchke. This week, a bunch of us received packages containing 5.25-ounce boxes of Oreos wrapped inside a sheet of bubble wrap. The boxes couldn't have cost more than $1.99 each, yet the company spent more than $4.50 apiece on postage. OK, the cookies hit the spot, but come on. Did they really need to embalm the boxes so extravagantly?

This stuff just keeps on arriving, usually in oversize packaging and almost always unsolicited.

Sad to say, but when it comes to ridiculous waste, this turns out to be the rule, not the exception.

One editor here recalled that for its Windows 95 launch, Microsoft sent out a full-size window--with a window frame, sash and molding--that took two delivery guys to drop off.

And across from my desk on one of the nearby bookshelves, there are five never-opened copies of Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff's book, The Business of Changing the World, each of which was sent to a different uninterested reporter.

It's not just trees that are unnecessarily destroyed, either. One of my fellow reporters said he once got sent a package with some high-quality beef hamburgers. The only problem was that he was on vacation and the burgers sat on his desk for a couple of weeks. Sorry, cows.

Similarly, another colleague recalled getting sent a styrofoam box filled with ice cream. "I had to eat half the box myself," he said. "It's not like I had a freezer."

You get the picture. This stuff just keeps on arriving, usually in oversize packaging and almost always unsolicited.

I'll be the first to admit the hypocrisy in complaining about swag. After all, I like some of what I am given, especially at trade shows and other professional gatherings. And I have been seen on more than one occasion wearing a shirt or hoodie that came from such an event. So, I'll admit that I'm being a little two-faced here.

(I should take a moment to say that what we're talking about here are items that have a very low dollar value--a box of candy, a T-shirt, a poster of the Dalai Lama. We're definitely not talking about the exorbitant loot that shows up in Hollywood goodie bags. CNET Networks, the parent company of News.com, has a strict policy forbidding employees from accepting gifts over a certain very modest value from vendors, suppliers or, really, anyone.)

Some reporter friends of mine think there's nothing really wrong with the swag train.

One friend, Business 2.0 magazine senior editor Chris Taylor (who used to be a reporter for Time magazine) said that now that he's no longer a writer, he's rarely on the receiving end of the micro-economy anymore.

"I thought I wouldn't miss it, but I kind of do," Taylor told me. "I think it connects to something very primal: gifts and trinkets. It's like they've siphoned off of a little bit of Christmas."

Plus, he added, much of the swag doesn't go truly to waste. We reporters often hand it off to friends, and here at CNET News.com, we keep a "feed me your swag" box from which anyone who wanders by is free to pick what they want. I know we could probably do much more to make sure the items don't go to waste.

I also know this is a private annoyance that has nothing to do with many readers, so why should you care?

Well, when I saw that giant box on my desk last week, filled to the brim with air, I saw a serious disconnect that needs addressing, particularly as the world is finally coming around to being more environmentally conscious.

I understand that the technology companies and PR firms that send all the swag want to get something for their effort, and, sure, it's nice of them to think of us.

But would it be so hard to send an e-mail and ask, "Hi, can we send you this package as a gift?" If the answer is no, a tree doesn't have to die to send me a poster I never asked for--not to mention one that will sit unused on a shelf here for as long as I work at CNET.