Christmas is coming, but this year there should be less wrapping paper and food going in the bin, as consumers plan to be more environmentally friendly. A survey from Tesco has found more than a third of people want to be more sustainable, and research from American Express suggests we are happy to spend more on gifts that are “green”.
Michelle Ovens, founder of campaigning group Small Business Britain, says some consumers are now deciding to move away from heavy Black Friday-style discounts. “Consumers are looking more for value, and not just goods at any price – because that price might be the environment,” she says.
So how can you change your normal shopping habits into more sustainable ones?
One way is to stick to your local independent shops. As Sian Conway-Wood, author of Buy Better Consume Less, says, this allows money to stay in the local economy and leads to a more considered approach to spending, instead of responding to marketing from the large retailers.
“The culture this is creating is of overconsumption. There is the idea that we want everything now, but to actually stop and break away from that sense of urgency – because that is a marketing tactic they use – you will find if you can’t get it tomorrow, do you still want it?,” she says.
There are lots of websites that sell products from a range of independent sites with ethical priorities, so you don’t need to spend time tracking down different providers.
“There are hundreds of smaller independents out there, who sell through marketplaces like eBay, Etsy and ourselves,” says James Service of Protect the Planet, a retailer of upcycled and eco-friendly giftware. “Choosing to buy through these bigger marketplaces can protect the consumer [against buying unsustainable products] while also supporting independent makers.”
In the health and beauty area, the Detox Market describes itself as a “green beauty marketplace” with cruelty-free standards. Its “best of green beauty box”, which includes mascara, hair mask, serum, cleanser, eyeshadow palette and other products, comes in at £155.
A set of five products from True Botanicals – a “non-toxic” skincare line – is priced at £130. Plastic Freedom specialises in plastic-free products such as a beard maintenance kit (£44) and a set of kitchen utensils and products (£61). Greenbeauty Market sells vegan, natural and organic products, and says it only works with independent brands.
For clothing, Social Supermarket works with 100 different businesses that are assessed on their social and environmental standards. Ethical Superstore aims to find alternatives to everyday fashion items and has a supplier code of conduct.
With mobile phones a frequent gift, Fairphone is a sustainable alternative to the big brands. Its latest model costs £499. The company aims to make phones from materials sourced as ethically as possible and that you can take apart and fix simply.
“Greenwashing”, where companies make misleading claims about their environmental credentials, is an increasing problem, according to Service. “Buy from a reputable retailer who specialises in this area.”
Ethical Consumer magazine rates companies on their sustainable and environmental credentials. It is also worth looking out for B Corp accreditation, which is given to companies that reach a set of environmental standards.
The rise of the circular economy, the idea that products such as clothes and furniture are constantly reused and regenerated to reduce pollution, has led to number of new ways to shop for preworn clothes.
Online charity retailer Thrift+ takes clothes donations and sells them online, with part of the profits going to charities. A two-piece Paul Smith suit is available for just over £30 and a Hugo Boss jacket for £22.
Oxfam’s online shop has an LK Bennett woman’s heavyweight wool coat for £45 and a men’s Burberry blazer for £75.
Homeless charity Shelter has a network of 100 stores. Online it features some high-end designer products, notably a pair of Stella McCartney platform shoes for £150 .
The most sustainable way to approach Christmas is to simply buy less stuff, if anything at all. “The most sustainable option is that we don’t buy,” said Conway-Wood.
One way is through “experiences”, be it tickets for events, days out or classes. Virgin is running “experience days” such as making botanical extracts from a wildflower meadow (£50) to a session of urban beekeeping in London (£84).
As well as presents under the tree, many other traditions can also be done in a more sustainable way.
The Woodland Trust says the most environmentally friendly Christmas tree is one with roots, which can be planted in the garden and brought in for next year. If you are buying a felled tree, it should have accreditation from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which tells you that it has been grown sustainably and ethically.
Another option is to rent a tree, which are replanted by the supplier during the year. One scheme – Rental Claus from the Primrose Vale Farm Shop in Cheltenham – delivers and collects the tree, with prices starting at £15-£45.
Piles of wrapping paper will inevitably end up in the bin, so consumers should keep an eye on what can be recycled. Avoid anything with glitter or foil, or that has plastic on it.
An expensive, but even more environmentally friendly option, is to buy tissue paper with seeds embedded in it which can be planted in the garden – sheets are available on Etsy for £18.84 for three.
While turkey is the mainstay for the Christmas dinner, there are concerns about how soya linked to deforestation is used as livestock feed. The vast majority of soya is grown in Argentina and Brazil – where there are risks of deforestation as a result of its production – as well as the United States.
Tim Martin, from non-profit Farm Wilder, says consumers aiming for a sustainable Christmas would be better off choosing venison shot in the wild in the UK. There is a need to cull deer at the moment, he says. At £20 for 1.5kg, it comes in at a reasonable price.
The RSPCA has issued warnings against buying “reindeer food” for sprinkling in the back garden on Christmas Eve. The commercially bought packages often contain plastics or glitter which is bad for wildlife. Instead, making your own with seeds and oats, will do the trick. Or just leave out a carrot.