Will you be good this Christmas?

From the special food that’s prepared, to the festive decorations that go up, to the exchange of gifts and wishes, Christmas is a time full of traditions. And although countries, families and individuals each have their twist or take on them, the point is that, from late November to the beginning of January, around 2 billion people worldwide will be celebrating the season to be jolly in very much the same way as the years before.

But something does feel a little different this time: as a logical segue to a period particularly packed with protests and calls for political, social and environmental change, today it feels like there is a greater pushback against some of the more consumerist and wasteful aspects of Christmas traditions.

So it is that many (new and old) brands have put ethics, sustainability and doing good at the heart of their Christmas campaigns and initiatives. It’s a message that comes through from window displays to digital animations, from billboards to Social Media. Some do it by talking about the eco-friendliness of their product; others share the compelling stories about the hopes and dreams of the artisans behind the product; or there are those that help consumers give back to causes and communities by replacing or complementing gifts with donations to charity.

Indeed, it looks like there is scope for consumers (with the help of brands) to use the Christmas spirit as a platform to marry treasured traditions with sustainable and responsible practices that can last well beyond the holidays.

After all, can there be a better time than the new year, with its promise of a fresh, resolution-powered start, to make the behavioural changes that are needed for a more sustainable, ethical future?

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Christmas trees have already been the subject of environmental scrutiny. Both real and fake, many come with a carbon footprint, especially when it comes to their disposal.

But what if we stopped producing fake trees altogether, and allowed the real ones to go back into the land post Christmas? After all, we don’t wear Christmas jumpers 365 days a year… 

Friends of the Urban Forest, a San Francisco non-profit, has devised a neat, circular system that does exactly this. During the holiday period, the organisation loans out its potted pine seedlings and other non-traditional plants, so residents can take them home and decorate them. In January, the live trees are returned to the non-profit to finish growing taller, and are eventually planted on city streets.

Not only does this create a meaningful connection between city-dwellers and the green spaces around them, it also extends the definition of Christmas trees to go beyond the classic firs and spruces, planting the seed (pun intended!) for a future tradition where we adorn the plants that already decorate our home, rather than buy a one use only tree each year.

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

Christmas shopping is probably not everyone’s favourite tradition this time of year. For many, it is synonymous with stress and strife, and many gifts received are often unwanted and soon end up in landfill.

But things might be different if that present sitting under the tree were actually the gift of good habit and better behaviour. For example, the Stojo collapsible cup is extra convenient to carry around for the on-the-go coffee-drinker, and the Rain Straw is designed to slide apart along its length, so it can be cleaned and reused with ease, without the use of additional tools.

These are both examples of brands innovating in the space of eco-friendly, waste-reducing products in a way that fits seamlessly into one’s current lifestyle, making it easier for change to happen, and harder for a gift to end up unused.

Oh, bring us some figgy pudding…

The Christmas feast. Be it roast turkey or fried chicken, panettone or mince pies, a trip (or several!) to the supermarket is bound to be on the cards at some point. In view of this, Sainsbury’s has created a dedicated, theatrical, family-focused Giving Store in London’s Covent Garden.

Consumers visiting this branch pay £5 to enter, which is donated to local food banks. They can then do grocery shopping for both themselves and for charity, by picking up items that the brand distributes to those in need. And to make the process more interactive and memorable, children visiting the store are ‘edutained’ in the art of giving by Dickensian characters that walk them through the process of creating a Christmas dinner.

Through this special retail experience, Sainsbury’s has found a simple, convenient way of combining its consumers’ basic grocery buying needs with a charitable initiative. But, more importantly, the entertaining educational element creates important memories for children, and could hopefully turn into a ritual that is as synonymous to Christmas as fairy lights, shiny baubles and boughs of holly.

As children, most of us will remember being asked by parents, teachers or Santa, “Have you been good this year?” At the time, homework and a tidy bedroom might have been “good” enough, but it makes sense for the modern definition to encompass what our society and our planet need from us (and brands) today.

Have yourselves a merry, responsible little Christmas and a sustainable New Year! 

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