Be honest. How many cheap tote bags, leaky water bottles, weak magnets, and scratchy T-shirts — all plastered with company logos — have you received and subsequently thrown away?

After years of receiving such company gifts and knowing many of them are lining landfills, Lu Cysewski wanted to lead a change. So she created coolperx — a carbon-neutral social purpose corporate gifting agency with a mission to help corporations build lasting relationships with clients and communities through environmentally sustainable and business-ethical promotional products.

Cysewski launched the Bellevue-based company in 2018 with her husband, Seth, who has been in the corporate gifting industry for the better part of two decades. While listening to Seth’s frustrations, Cysewski learned about the detrimental aspects of the promotional products industry, such as the commoditization of knockoffs and, as she said, “pandering to the lowest common denominator.”

“This industry really has been long overdue for reckoning about its environmental impact, and we are going completely against the grain,” Cysewski said. “It’s a $30-billion-a-year industry that’s continuously growing, and it produces tens of billions of dollars of waste annually.”

Corporate gift-giving has been a common practice for decades, Cysewski said, but many companies don’t know how to give meaningful gifts. It’s coolperx’s job to educate them.

“I teach my clients that they really need to be more accountable for the reciprocal nature of the relationship that they have with their stakeholders,” she said. “Their stakeholders are already providing them with time, money, and their own ingenuity. So, if they’re just giving them crap, their people are going to start, you know, knowing that the relationship is crap.”

Coolperx sources and curates products that help clients send positive messages with their corporate gifts. It works with vendors who make high-quality products that are manufactured ethically and responsibly. Coolperx analyzes the life cycle of each product from cradle to grave, measuring the carbon footprint of the extraction of the materials used to create each product. Coolperx also offsets the carbon footprint of every product with its own energy initiatives and tree planting.

Lu Cysewski, founder and owner of coolperx. Courtesy of coolperx.

Some of coolperx’s most popular products include a UV sanitizing charging station, a digital detox kit, and deluxe eco face masks. Since its launch, coolperx has accrued clientele including Microsoft, Google, Alaska Airlines, and Amazon, among others.

Giving ethical, sustainable, and quality gifts doesn’t have to break the bank. Although many people might think increased spending results in higher quality products, Cysewski has found that’s not always the case. Coolperx’s catalog includes quality products ranging from a few hundred dollars to some even under $10.

“We all love giving gifts and receiving gifts,” she said. “Corporate gifts done well can convey appreciation for the reciprocal nature of the relationship and more effectively build lasting loyalty, and that’s really what we want.”

While helping educate companies on valuable gift-giving, coolperx also helps teach companies the value of sustainability. Even though the expectation of sustainability has become increasingly common, Cysewski has observed that many larger companies flaunting climate pledges have implemented few standards for their employees.

“They’re risking looking hypocritical because if they’re giving away something like a cheap plastic fidget spinner or a stress ball or a water bottle that ends up leaking in a few weeks, nobody’s gonna ever believe that they cared about the environment,” she said. “That’s really something that’s important to me that we educate our clients on.”

For companies wanting to give their employees gifts during COVID-19, Cysewski recommends they ask their team what they are experiencing to best understand what would be a useful and meaningful gift. Coolperx strategizes with teams to meet their needs and collaboratively find solutions that aren’t one-size-fits-all.

Through her work at coolperx, Cysewski ultimately has found that gifts that might sound innocuous on paper can turn out to be much more meaningful when the intentions behind them are more considerate of employee needs and the environment in which they work.

“Right now, we’re all experiencing working from home, so a timer is something I recommend on a daily basis,” she said. “That has been a really good seller for us. They are these little desktop timers that have a red disk that counts down. I use it because I have a 9-year-old. She can actually come in and see how much time I’m going to be focusing on whatever task I’m doing. That’s been a really good gift. It’s a good idea for people to give their teams.”