In past holiday seasons, Silvie Snow-Thomas, 35, has taken steps to go easy on the environment, baking cookies as gifts, and decorating mason jars with fresh holly and clippings from her Christmas tree.
But this year, she’s all in.
“Christmastime … is my favorite time of the year,” says Snow-Thomas, who lives in Santa Monica, California, and works in communications. “But so often, too, I feel really wasteful. People are just crumpling up tons of old wrapping paper and throwing it away and sending it into our landfills.”
At a time when more Americans are tossing straws and eating organically, some shoppers are determined to make sure their holiday gifts reflect their commitment to preserving the environment.
A Nielsen report issued in November found that 68 percent of Americans said it’s critical that businesses put programs in place to better the environment, and 48 percent said they’d shift their consumption habits to lessen their ecological impact.
Such practices are even more important to millennials, with 83 percent saying it mattered greatly that companies take steps to improve the environment, while 75 percent said they would alter their habits.
Accenture found that 66 percent of those surveyed said they like businesses that are transparent about where they source materials, and 62 percent are attracted to companies that believe in reducing plastics and bettering the environment. Meanwhile, 62 percent say their buying decisions are influenced by a business’s ethical values and authenticity.
While millennials have been particularly focused on doing business with companies that reflect their values, older shoppers are rapidly following suit.
“It’s really very different than what it was 25, 30 years ago when people separated in their minds where their values were and where their spending was on a daily basis,” says Andrei Cherny, CEO of the online financial firm, Aspiration, which donates 10 percent of its earnings to charity . “People are coming to really have an expectation for businesses they’re spending with to have a conscience when it comes to how they treat their employees, how they treat the environment, and the other big issues facing us as a country.’’
Trading plastic for metal
Snow-Thomas, a former Peace Corps volunteer who is also part of the ocean conservation foundation Surfrider, has embraced the movement to stop the use of plastic straws. So this holiday season, she says, “I have my eye on these metal straws … (as) stocking stuffers for my parents and my boyfriend.”
She’s also considering buying her boyfriend a couple shirts from Ably, a company that bills itself as “whatever proof.” Its clothing incorporates technology that Ably says repels spills and doesn’t hold onto bad smells – meaning it can be washed less and conserve water.
“If you think about trying to shop sustainably,” Snow-Thomas says, “that’s kind of the trifecta.’’
Snow-Thomas even has tips for sustainable holiday travel. Twice this year she has gone to carbonfootprint.com to offset flights she took to New York and Madagascar by donating to projects dedicated to reducing carbon emissions.
For Christina Cobb, sustainability is not just about items made from recycled or natural materials. It’s the iTunes gift card she’s giving to her nephew so he can access the classical music he loves without cluttering his room with physical products.
Cobb is giving a friend a $69 introductory membership to Rent the Runway, a service that allows people to borrow luxe outfits, then return them when they’re done. And then there are the organic chocolates and organic wine she may get for her mother.
“If they’re made from organic ingredients, you have the double positive of being low- or no-impact on the environment,” says Cobb, who lives in Manhattan. And “the product will be consumed, so there won’t be any waste.’’
“I’m not an angel,” says Cobb, who helps companies that practice sustainability with their marketing and also writes a blog, UrbisEco, that aims to connect people living in cities with nature. “I do sometimes buy new clothing from an H&M, for example. But in every category, clothing, food, cosmetics . . . I always seek out the least-toxic and most eco-friendly options.”
Little more than a week after Black Friday, Cobb was planning to head to a shop in Brooklyn that sells products without packaging. For her brother, Cobb had her eye on a fleece sold by Patagonia that is made of polyester made from recycled plastic bottles. And Cobb intended to buy a “green” lipstick for a niece who loves makeup.
“You don’t want to come of as being preachy, because that’s a turn-off,” Cobb says about her eco-conscious gifts for those who may not be as environmentally focused. “Part of the fun with the gifting is you can gift something that they want anyway, say a beautiful new lipstick, and it happens to be eco-friendly.”
It’s not easy being green
Still, shopping green is not always simple.
“It still does require an extra effort,” says Cobb, who also tries to shop at businesses owned by women and people of color. But “when you start putting your attention towards these criteria, I find it gets easier to find what you’re looking for, and brands that don’t align start to fall away.”
For the first time, Aspiration, has created a list to guide shoppers to companies that come out on top when it comes to sustainability and respect for their employees.
Among the 10 companies on the list are Athleta, which has a goal that 80 percent of its clothing materials will be made with sustainable fibers in the next two years, and Best Buy which has created centers to teach teenagers tech skills.
“American consumers spend $36 billion a day,” says Cherny. “And if we’re making more conscious spending decisions, we can have an enormous impact on rewarding the businesses that are doing better when it comes to people and the planet, and giving the other businesses an incentive to catch up.’’
Working for the National Audubon Society, Elizabeth Sorrell has made it a point to incorporate sustainability throughout her life. But she really began to focus on sustainable gift giving a couple of years ago, when she bought her grandmother a batch of bath products for Christmas, only to learn she had yet to finish using the set Sorrell had given her the year before.
“That was sort of my ‘aha’ moment,” Sorrell says, adding that she realized “that I want to get something that’s meaningful, that isn’t just adding things to a drawer in a bathroom that will never be used, and also has the sustainability lens.’’
She is treading lightly on the environment this holiday season by primarily giving away experiences. Her parents will get tickets to a Broadway Across America show, along with a gift certificate to a local Cincinnati restaurant that emphasizes farm-to-table ingredients.
There will be organic coffee, certified as “bird friendly,’’ for her java-loving grandmother along with memberships to the Kentucky Science Center and Cincinnati Zoo for her nephews. And Sorrell will continue her holiday tradition of going to see a show with a friend.
That’s “also the nice thing about experiences,’’ she says. “They’re super easy to purchase online and … now I don’t have to ship a lot of stuff, which is also helping reduce the environmental impact.”
Sorrell began thinking about what to get most of those on her list back in October and by late November was pretty much done.
“I think there is this temptation to overthink gifting and the holidays,” she says. “I just start with what is the thing that makes this person the happiest.”
SUSTAINABLERESOURCES AND BRANDS
DoneGood – A website that helps consumers find brands and companies, from jewelry to beauty to activewear, that are socially and environmentally vigilant. (DoneGood.co)
The Environmental Working Group – The non profit (EWG.org) verifies a wide range of products after determining they do not contain certain chemicals, and are safe and healthy to use.
Amour Vert – Sustainable fashion brand whose vendors include some who make items from repurposed leather.
AlterEco – produces sustainably produced chocolate.
Bonterra – An organic winery (https://www.bonterra.com/)
Indigenous– Seller of clothing handmade by Peruvian artisans who are paid a fair wage. (https://indigenous.com/)
Patagonia – Outdoor apparel maker that uses recycled polyester and organic cotton in many of its products.
Rent the Runway – Service that allows shoppers to rent luxurious brands to wear, then return them, fueling the “sharing” economy and reducing waste.
Au Naturale – Organic, non-toxic cosmetics.
Sources: Elizabeth Sorrell, Christina Cobb
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