Top 2019 updates to the AP Stylebook

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Top 2019 updates to the AP Stylebook

In March, the AP Stylebook updated its guide to all things stylistic. The publication’s annual updates are eagerly gobbled up by America’s journalists, writers, editors, PR professionals and marketers, who all want to keep up with the latest decisions in usage.

The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law exists in both print and online form, and is the main arbiter for consistency in English usage, grammar and style across many platforms. (Some publications, though, prefer to use Chicago style or AMA style.)

Every year, there are a few changes or new entries that create excitement, a sense of, “It’s about time they did that!” Equally common is a bit of grumbling among those of us who were used to a different style. If you missed the spring release, here’s a breakdown of the top 2019 changes.

Race and ethnicity

In a time when race-related issues and inclusivity are especially important topics in contemporary discourse, the AP has responded by creating an extensive new section of guidance for writing about these matters. Read the changes and new entries.

Highlights include updates to preferred terminology, taking into account the feedback of several journalist organizations, and instructions to be mindful of whether racial identification is even relevant to describing a person in a story. The updates also clarify the meaning of “racism” and discuss terms that are becoming outdated and should be avoided.

As a writer and editor, I feel it’s especially important to keep up with preferred terms and usage when it comes to how we talk about people. Words have power, and preferences shift. Writers have a responsibility to express things in a current and sensitive way.


The most shocking AP style update this year was also the most trivial: the directive to use of the percent symbol instead of the word in most instances. In running text, where you used to write “a 20 percent increase from last year,” you’ll now write “a 20% increase from last year.” Twitter is still chewing this one over.

USGBC uses a lot of data in our articles, so this means one less edit needs to be made when I receive an article about a LEED project that saved 40% on its energy costs through making efficiency upgrades.


The category of hyphenation received an update when AP decided that we no longer need a hyphen for compound modifiers if the modifiers are “commonly recognized as one phrase, and if the meaning is clear and unambiguous without the hyphen.”

So, using one of their own examples, “real estate transaction,” as long as the average reader would know the phrase means a transaction in real estate, not an estate transaction that is genuine, there’s no need for a hyphen.

For USGBC, this decision gives weight to the way we’ve already been styling terms like “net zero energy,” which used to be hyphenated as an adjective as recently as a couple of years ago by many outlets. However, it’s been more common usage for a while to use the term without hyphen (“a net zero energy school”).

Stay current

In another minor update, the stylebook tells us that quotation marks are no longer required for “such software titles as WordPerfect or Windows.” If you are still writing about WordPerfect, though, you probably need to update to 2019 anyway.

See more about what’s new in the 2019 update.

Learn more about using AP style

How to enforce brand guidelines

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How to enforce brand guidelines

A logo is the fabric of any company’s identity. It not only tells the public where a product comes from, but also represents a brand’s message, values and leadership in the market. Now, have you ever wondered how an organization protects its logos?

At USGBC, we have several brand assets, but the most frequently requested is our LEED certification logo—a globally recognized symbol of leadership and excellence in green, high-performance buildings. Attaining LEED certification demonstrates leadership in implementing environmentally responsible building practices.

In addition, the certification logo is widely used to acknowledge a project’s achievement and symbolize a building’s commitment to cost savings, lower carbon emissions and healthier environments for the places in which we live, work and play. It’s important that we protect the logo, so that only eligible projects are using it to represent their projects.

The importance of brand consistency

Inconsistent branding can have many negative side effects. Maintaining brand consistency directly translates to how dependable people consider your organization, product or service to be. A product or service marketed with the wrong logo might cause a customer to lose trust in it. A website with the wrong logo may make visitors question the authenticity of the product or service being offered on the site.

The correct usage of brand assets is critical for upholding the credibility of a brand. But how do you do this?

At USGBC, we recognize that our LEED project teams are a part of a select group of leaders, and it’s important that they’re recognized as such for their hard work applying integrative design processes to better the future of our built environment. To help uphold our branding in the market, our marketing team created USGBC’s Trademark and Branding Guidelines, which includes the dos and don’ts on how to use our brand assets in your marketing materials.

While we follow these rules internally, we also rely on our members and the larger community to follow these guidelines to maintain the consistent look and feel of USGBC brand assets in their own materials. If branding guidelines are not enforced, they lose their meaning.

Here a few tips on how to diplomatically answer customer questions about your brand usage:

1. Be understanding.

I’ve become very familiar with USGBC’s Trademark and Branding Guidelines. In fact, I look at them every day. It’s important for me to remember that not everyone is looking at these guidelines as frequently as I am, though, so I often spell out the rules in an email, instead of pointing our customers to the long document.

2. Provide helpful resources.

That said, I always provide our customers with the full USGBC Trademark and Branding Guidelines document. It is a helpful resource whenever I have to enforce our policies. In a customer service-centric role, you’re typically trained to tell your customer “yes,” but that can’t always be the case when enforcing branding rules. Fall back on your guidelines, and always point out the page where the rule you’re enforcing can be found, so customers can view it easily.

Whenever it makes sense to do so, you can also point to helpful resources on your website. For example, when a user asks for a logo for their presentation, I always make sure to point them in the direction of our Why LEED for Your Clients? deck and encourage them to use any slides from the presentation. This not only helps ensure our brand is used consistently, but also helps make our customers’ job easier—that’s a win in my book.

3. Answer the question or find a resolution.

All questions have an answer or resolution, even if it’s not the one the customer was hoping for. I make sure I am either communicating the rules in a simple way or helping to provide the requested resource (or an alternate one).

Enforcing your brand guidelines can only help build your brand’s visibility and reputation in the industry. While it can sometimes feel like you’re having to play “good cop, bad cop,” it’s always important to remember that you’re protecting the value of the brand for all of its users.

Learn more about LEED branding with our design team

USGBC’s new LEED v4.1 advertising campaign

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USGBC’s new LEED v4.1 advertising campaign

The next generation of LEED is here, and the USGBC Studio team is celebrating with a new advertising campaign. This required us to head to the drawing board and come up with a design that would showcase the new features that LEED 4.1 has to offer.

The series is meant to showcase LEED projects, and the message focuses on how LEED helps these projects deliver on their goals. Those goals include materials, performance, energy, health and human experience, interiors, carbon and simplicity.

We focused on combining color, typography and photography to create a dynamic ad layout that walks the viewer through the story. We want viewers to feel connected and inspired by these projects and how they have used LEED to create better spaces for occupants, the community and the environment.

LEED v4.1 ad campaign

The headlines are quick, the photos are energizing, and the call to action encourages you to seek out more information about LEED v4.1 on your own time. Overall, we wanted the ad campaign to inspire and motivate.

The photography comes from various project teams and offers a realistic look at current LEED projects. These project teams are the true leaders in green building.

Continue to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to learn more about our new campaign. Let us know what you think of our new advertisements—and feel free to share your feedback in the comments below!

See other LEED ad campaigns

Social media strategy for live events: Post-show reporting

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Social media strategy for live events: Post-show reporting

Reporting in social media can be a little tricky. For me, personally, it’s the biggest lift in the three stages of social media strategy for live events—planning, executing and reporting—but this is the only moment you have to showcase your work and the successes that resulted from your event strategy.

Choose your performance toolkit.

Unlike a media report or a marketing report, where you can often plug in a date range and see exactly what statistics you’ve accomplished, a social media report requires you to get a bit more creative. It’s important to determine ahead of time what software tools will report the information that you most need.

Every social media platform has the ability to give you basic performance statistics. Additionally, there are free options galore across the internet, not to mention all of the 30-day free trials you could get lost in.

While these are not deep-dive analyses, they can be useful if your organization cannot necessarily invest in a social tracking and analytics service. Keep in mind, however, that some of the free options have a time stamp on them; so, you may want to record the data in the weeks prior to your event, as well as immediately after your event. This will give you an opportunity to note average performance numbers for comparison purposes, as you’re trying to showcase the success of your event’s performance.

Once you determine what your tools will be, you can monitor them accordingly throughout your event campaign journey.

Hunt for successes.

The hunt for success stories on social sometimes requires you to think outside the box. It’s a good idea to set some end goals for metrics when you create your event plan. However, because you’re on a 24-hour global news cycle, many factors can negatively or positively affect your ultimate performance data.

Impactful trends to look for are called key performance indicators (KPIs). USGBC’s vendor, Sprout Social, suggests these data points:

  • New followers. Your follower count isn’t the be-all and end-all of your social presence, but it is a number you should strive to tick upward. You can drill down from network to network, or look at these numbers across all accounts.
  • Reach. Note the difference between reach and impressions. Expanding your reach should translate into expanding your audience.
  • Engagement. Shares, comments and likes are valuable currencies for social marketers. Increasing engagement proves that you’re posting content that people want to see.
  • Clicks. Like engagement, click-throughs highlight compelling content. These can be divided into link clicks or promotion-specific clicks.
  • Posts. How much content is your business pushing out? If you see a correlation between more posts and higher engagement, you’re more inclined to ramp up production.
  • Traffic. The more traffic coming to your site via social, the better. You can measure this easily in Google Analytics. This tactic is less applicable for event reporting, but still interesting to note.

Once you collect all the information, it’s your duty to find a narrative that tells the story of these KPIs, from the beginning of the journey to the end. This includes lessons learned. Though the lessons may not be classified as “successes,” they provide clutch tips for when the event rolls around the following year.

Greenbuild Europe social performance

Include graphs.

Graphs are great—as long as they’re illustrating greatness. If your graph takes a dive in engagement on the day of your event, it’s not necessarily something you would want to draw attention to.

Additionally, make sure you clearly explain what your audience is looking at. Always assume you’re presenting your work to someone who has never seen a social media glossary.

Greenbuild social reporting graphic

Show, don’t tell.

It’s always a good idea to show your work and share your top-performing content.

This is a nice opportunity to highlight influencer or partner engagement. It’s not just your performance metrics that matter; showcasing how others engaged with your event hashtag is equally important, though harder to report on without access to that entity’s KPIs. Embedding these examples in your report is a great way to share these wins.

Greenbuild social media reporting

If there were any contractual commitments made to sponsors or guests, those posts are also wise to share at this point.

For more on social media event strategy, take a look at part I of this series, “The planning stage,” and part II, “Working on-site.” We hope you find success in these tools for the journey!

Learn more about social media event strategy

Social media strategy for live events: Working on-site

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Social media strategy for live events: Working on-site

Earlier in June, we talked about the planning stage of social media strategy for events coverage. Now that we are fully prepped for our main event, it’s time to map out a strategy of execution.

We all know the theory of Murphy’s Law—”Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”—and it certainly rings true for live events. All the time and effort put into the preparation stage will show their worth once you are truly working on the fly.

Consider yourself “live” in these recommendations for social promotion on the day of your event:

Get acquainted with the space.

We’ve arrived! First things first.

Get to know the space where the event is taking place. Almost every event I have produced has been in a space I’ve only just arrived in. For larger events, such as those in convention centers, it may make sense to arrive a day earlier. The ability to navigate the area is important, because timing is essential. Events require us to be in two places at once sometimes, so the ability to get from point A to point B with ease will prove very important!

Early arrival also gives me an opportunity to collect any “calm before the storm” photos, which are always nice to have for later promotion.

Greenbuild 2018 auditorium space

Capture the space before the hordes arrive.

Communicate with the team.

As basic as this sound, it is vital. We all need a little help every now and again, and if your team knows where you may have scheduling conflicts or the aforementioned double-booking snafu, they can assist.

This time allows you to communicate those needs. I always have a “shot list” and/or a “quote list” that I give to my entire team in advance. That way, they know where I have holes, and can assume responsibility for capturing and sending that content to me in real time.

Check multimedia needs.

Another great aspect of arriving early is the opportunity to test out wifi connections and possible auxiliary connections, if necessary.

We always have a live-feed plan in place, should everything be accommodating once we arrive. If we simply cannot receive the connection we want, we will scrap certain live-feed plans we may have originally wanted. A live video that freezes and only captures every fourth word isn’t fair to audiences.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have any video included in your promotion. In such cases, we still capture short recordings or behind-the-scenes moments, and use those primarily for Instagram and Twitter.

Use stories.

Speaking of Instagram, stories are an excellent opportunity to showcase live happenings. I connect my Instagram stories to my Facebook stories—and just like that, I could have 500–1,000 views on an image that I couldn’t necessarily have used as a whole new post, but that was still worthy of a share. It’s a live album, essentially.

Get the good shot.

It’s always worth getting the shot. When I first started in this gig, I was not confident about putting myself front and center to get the best possible photograph. However, part of the job of a social media manager is to be a good smart phone photographer, and so, it’s my job to do whatever I need to capture an image that is polished and credible, and—most importantly—that wants desperately to be shared!

Amal Clooney and Mahesh Ramanujam at Greenbuild 2018

Get right up front so you can capture the speakers: here, Amal Clooney and USGBC CEO Mahesh Ramanujam.

Thank the participants.

There are many hands that go into making an event a success. Social media is the perfect opportunity to lend some extra love to partners, sponsors, members, volunteers and any of the other individuals or companies that have helped make an impact. The same policy goes for any formal awards someone may be giving or receiving.

Example of a thank-you social post from Greenbuild Mexico

Post a shout-out to your event sponsors—in this case, for Greenbuild Mexico 2019.

Create content for both attendees and remote fans.

After my second Greenbuild final report, I began to notice that there was a high trend of people engaging with my content from a desktop device rather than a mobile device. This told me that there were tens of thousands of people not at the event who were nonetheless interested in what was happening at Greenbuild.

Since then, for all of my events, I consider the audience both on-site and off-site. Their interests are different, and it is important to acknowledge that as you create dynamic and interactive content.

These are tips that I could never have provided when I first started at USGBC. Five years and at least 100 events later, these are unique tools of the trade that I couldn’t live without!

Stay tuned for our final blog in this series: the post-production and reporting process.

Read about planning for live events coverage

Social media strategy for live events: The planning stage

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Social media strategy for live events: The planning stage

Obviously, managing social media is a fairly live operation, all the time.

Most of what I do on a day-to-day basis occurs in real time, although scheduling content—as any digital marketing professional knows—is just necessary sometimes. Even online, it’s impossible to have a hand on all your channels at once.

This certainly rings true when it comes to covering a live event on social media. Without proper planning, a large-capacity event can feel like a stressful undertaking, but preparation will alleviate some of the burden when it comes to show time.

In this two-part series, I’m sharing a few tips I’ve picked up along the way for successful social media promotion of live events. This week, we’ll focus on planning.

Choose a hashtag.

Commit to an appropriate official hashtag in advance of your event. If another organization is hosting, make sure you research the specified hashtag. This is often included in any press kit materials you may have received. Official web pages or Twitter accounts are also good sources.

Decide on the hashtag before any content is even created. Be logical and consistent when using it.

Our #Greenbuild19 hashtag for this year’s event.

Research handles and webpages.

I have a spreadsheet of important social handles for every event USGBC hosts or co-hosts. This can be time-consuming, depending upon the size of the event, but it is very important. I suggest tackling it early, and in moderate chunks of time, to avoid going a little stir-crazy.

In these spreadsheet tabs, you’ll want to log the handles of:

  • Special guests, panelists or speakers, and the organizations or companies that they are representing
  • Event sponsors or contributing individuals who deserve thanks and praise
  • All co-hosts or partners, including the physical venue space
  • Staff who will be on-site
  • Award recipients
  • Exhibitors

This will be so handy when it comes to creating content, both in advance of and during the event. However, be sure that the handles you have collected are accurate. This means you will have to do some digging. It’s sometimes easiest to begin the search on the official webpage of a given organization or individual.

Prepare your messaging.

Any content that you can create in advance, do! Put this content in a calendar format, so that you can really begin to shape out how your days will look. Some examples of messaging you can begin to assemble and schedule, once the itinerary is made, include:

  • Notes in gratitude (sponsors, partners, media, etc.)
  • Attendee welcome
  • Individual guests welcome
  • Keynote announcements
  • Workshop and session reminders
  • Raffle or giveaway promotion
  • Quotes (only if you acquire speeches in advance; otherwise, wait)
  • Known stakeholder or membership promotions

Many of these messages can be scheduled into your calendar, but reserve the associated photo for a live shot. These moments will be included in your “shot list,” which we will talk more about in the follow-up blog on responsibilities once on-site and live.

Don’t forget, all of your content is subject to change. If times are adjusted or speakers are moved around at the last moment, it is your responsibility to make sure that content gets changed or deleted before it is deployed.

I create a spreadsheet calendar of all our day’s messaging.

Prepare external resources.

A pre-distributed toolkit that includes language and visual assets to help promote your event is clutch! You can make these for staff, speakers, attendees, sponsors and partners. The neater the package you hand over, the greater the likelihood they will share the pieces on their channels.

You’re giving them solid content to share, while helping spread the word to new audiences. Everyone wins!

We share media tips with all our Greenbuild partners.

Prepare internal resources.

Get every possible creative template ready to go for show time. There will be many marketing and PR assets coming together at the last minute, and you want to be as ready as possible for those final hand-offs. This includes speeches, slides, presentations, talking points, and so on.

Personally, our team has found Canva to be an incredible resource for live moments.

A sound bite from a speech by our CEO is ready to go upon delivery.

We can brand our work to fit the theme of whatever we are promoting (Greenbuild, IMPACT, Green Schools Conference and Expo, etc.), and I am able to plug in content and publish while I am on the go. Often, I am trying to capture photo or video images simultaneously, so the ability to create a quote graphic on the fly is very valuable.

Your internal resources will also include all the advance content that you created, in an organized, calendar format that works for you visually.

Stay tuned for the second article in this series, on live social coverage of events.

Read tips on creating a social media campaign

Case study: Articles that point users to existing resources

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Case study: Articles that point users to existing resources

At USGBC, the articles on our website serve many different purposes: sharing information; encouraging advocacy; and promoting our products, events and education. It goes without saying that a registration launch or an update to LEED deserves an article—but what about those webpages or aspects of certification that our customers may not be aware of, or may not quite understand?

Pointing people to existing resources and helping answer more of their questions became a big priority for me in my second year at USGBC. I wanted to dig deeper into how content marketing could support our organization and our customers alike. One way I did this was by creating the “LEED Link” article campaign.

LEED Link campaign case study

This campaign has been a win-win: We are able to publish LEED-centered content even during times when USGBC doesn’t have major announcements or case studies, and we are able to give people searching for specific topics a quick summary with links to deeper engagement.

Consider these questions when planning a campaign to drive traffic to your existing site resources.

What are people looking for?

Start by taking a look at Google—both on the analytics side and by playing around with searches. On the Google Analytics Home section for your own website, review the stats under “What pages do your users visit?” and “What are your top-selling products?” Under Behavior/Site Search, find out what terms people are looking up on your site.

I like to periodically search Google for keywords and questions related to products of ours. This shows me what is coming up first in public search results. Sometimes, it’s our relevant webpages. Other times, it’s coverage of our resources by another organization. Obviously, we’d like our USGBC pages to be the first links that come up, so that we can ensure people are getting accurate information. Learn about ways to enhance your search engine rankings.

A top-searched term on our website recently has been “regional priority credits.” I published a LEED Link explaining what these LEED credits were and linking to additional information on our website. Now, this article is the first Google result for those keywords.

What’s useful, but not in your main navigation?

Like many organizations, we try to keep our main nav clean and high-level, with just a few landing pages, which in turn link to further information. This is a UX best practice, but it also means that some very useful info can be “hidden” on the site. If this is true of your website as well, create articles that bring those resource pages to the surface. For example:

  • LEED Online is our portal for LEED project management, but it’s not in our main nav. Our LEED Link on that topic is now the third Google result after the two actual portal URLs, with pageview stats in approximately the top 5% of our total articles.
  • After LEED v4 was launched in 2017, I drilled down into the new landing page content and discovered “impact categories,” which in the new version of the rating system had been updated to better reflect the goals of LEED.
  • Similarly, the LEED credit library is used and searched for constantly, but is not directly linked from our top nav.

What do you want people to know more about?

This falls into two categories:

  • New content. If USGBC has recently launched an update to LEED or a new study pathway for aspiring credential holders, I will put out a LEED Link about it a few weeks after the initial launch campaign. You may have done a first round of promotion for your latest and greatest resource, but don’t stop there. You’ll get even more eyes on it—or remind people who were interested the first time, but didn’t click—if you do a follow-up piece.
  • Underused content. We have a stellar, searchable project directory where buildings and sites that have achieved LEED certification can have a profile page to share photos and descriptions. However, project teams don’t always take advantage of this resource, so I promoted it in a LEED Link. If there are pages on your website that you think people would find useful if they used them more, promote them!

This is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job. I love exploring the nooks and crannies of our website and our analytics to create content that leads people to what they need to know, what they want to know—and what they didn’t know they didn’t know. As a content marketer, you have to also be a detective. Get out your magnifying glass and see what you learn.

Read about how to craft strategic titles for your content

The dos and don’ts of email subject lines

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The dos and don’ts of email subject lines

The fight for the email inbox is getting more and more competitive. Subscribers are smarter than ever, and grabbing their attention is only getting harder. That’s why an effective subject line is key to a successful email.

The subject line is your email’s first impression. Your email could be filled with the most engaging content ever, but if no one is compelled to open it, all the content (not to mention all the work that went into it!) goes to waste.

Here are some “dos and don’ts” to keep in mind next time you’re crafting a subject line:

Do get personal. Using personalization (beyond the first name) is a great way to show the subscriber that you’re paying attention to what they’ve shared with you. The Open Table subject line below is a great example of personalization done right. It includes my name, reservation timing and restaurant name, so that I’m inspired to confirm the reservation.

Example: “Ursula, let Chez Billy Sud know you’re coming tomorrow”

Don’t use spam words like “free,” “buy now,” “act now,” or “this isn’t spam” (take a look into your own spam folder for some examples of what not to include).

Do pay attention to character count relative to where your emails are being read. While a longer subject line may be ideal for desktop, it’s not going to work if most of your subscribers are reading emails on their phones. Also, please don’t include the word “newsletter” in your email. It’s redundant, and you’re wasting valuable real estate.

Don’t lie about the content in the email. In accordance with the CAN-SPAM Act, your subject line should reflect the content of the email. Our USGBC candidate handbook emails are a great example of being straightforward. There’s no confusion with a subject line that says, “Here’s your LEED Green Associate Candidate Handbook.” The subscriber knows exactly what to expect in this email—the candidate handbook.

Do be timely. Caviar, a food delivery service, sent me an email the day after Easter, with the call to action of “eat a salad.” It’s relatable and funny because of its timeliness. Bonus points for relevant emoji use! 

Example: “So you need to eat healthy because 🍭🐰🍫”

Do A/B test. Subject line A/B testing is an easy place to start. Each test is a chance to learn about your subscribers. You never know what may work. 

Examples we’ve tested here at USGBC include:

“Last chance to register for the Wintergreen Leadership Awards next week” vs. “Knock it out of the park at the leadership awards next week ⚾”

“Join a live LEED v4.1 session on Materials and Indoor Environmental Quality next week ✅️” vs. “Get your LEED v4.1 questions answered ✅️”

Learn more about email marketing strategies

Sourcing sustainable merchandise and vendors

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Sourcing sustainable merchandise and vendors

When collaborating with vendors to produce merchandise for USGBC’s online store and for giveaways at various in-person events throughout the year, like our annual Greenbuild show, we always prioritize quality products over volume quantity discounts, and try to partner with vendors with a like-minded ethos.

  • Our popular USGBC-branded custom insulated bottles are produced by Kleen Kanteen, a certified B Corporation working to reduce single-use containers.
  • TS Designs produces many of our favorite T-shirt designs, including our LEED ampersand shirts, our award-winning screen-printed tees, and the tiniest tees of all—”My Crib is LEED Certified” baby onesies. Most of these shirts are printed on Cotton of the Carolinas, a T-shirt brand that keeps all of its operations to a 600-mile radius. Each t-shirt can be tracked “from dirt to shirt” by locating the unique color threads found on the inside of each shirt or by visiting the TS Designs website.
  • Our Pela iPhone cases, laser-engraved with the USGBC logo, have become a fan favorite. Pela claims that its phone case, fabricated out of a material called Flaxstic, is durable and shock-absorbing, while also being biodegradable.

Any vendors missing from our list? Let us know in the comments.

Learn more about how we choose sustainable vendors