8 Planet-Friendly Gifting Tips

By Dawn McGregor, Hubert Thieriot 15 December, 2015

Make this Christmas your best one yet with CWR's McGregor & Thieriot 8 'good' gift & lifestyle ideas

Consumption during Christmas is straining our already resource constrained world; high energy, food & plastic use
Be your own Grinch & be mindful of waste; give circular gifts (re-use, exchange etc..); gifts don't have to be material
Reduce plastic & paper; go local and for any international products/travel, offset your impact; reduce meat intake

It’s that time of year again, Christmas is just around the corner.  Usually that means many of us are running around trying to sort out Christmas plans (maybe travelling somewhere), buying all sorts of presents and enjoying & stocking up on festive goodies like mince pies and mulled wine. Whilst this is ‘all good and fun’, it’s actually not – well at least not the ‘all good’ part.

Up to 10 million parcels are delivered daily in the UK during the Christmas period = additional packaging & transport ‘costs’

The additional consumption during the Christmas season is adding further strains to our already resource constrained world.  A lighting display of 100 five-watt bulbs switched on for six hours a day over the festive period will consume 207 Kwh, the equivalent of 22.8 days of the average British household electricity consumption. Up to 10 million parcels are delivered daily in the UK during the Christmas period; that means that on top of the resource requirements of the gift, there is additional packaging and transport – all of which requires energy, water, chemicals & much more. See why we can’t continue like this if we want a winter.

Our gifting is contributing to the melting of ice & retreating of glaciers

Given this, how about this Christmas we do something to reduce our impact and be a responsible consumer. Remember that you have purchasing power, so use it for good and support the brands that are doing more to green their supply chains in China (see here). This also applies to Hotel choice for those travelling. Hear from Interntional Tourism Partnership on a new water consumption tool to be implemented across 30,000 hotels.
Below are eight planet-friendly gift and lifestyle tips.

1. Be your own Grinch on waste

Food waste, drink waste, plastic waste, paper waste, general rubbish – Christmas can be a wasteful time; GBP2.4 billion is wasted on uneaten, discarded food and unwanted gifts in the UK. Given this, think carefully about your festive-related consumption and gifting. How many parties are you going to? What food are you eating/throwing away? How many gifts does a person really need? 37 per cent of adults said they received gifts worth an average of GBP54 that they did not want or use. Avoid unnecessary waste, be your own Grinch and streamline your festive footprint.

2. Give circular gifts by recycling or upcycling

Not only are consumption rates exorbitantly high but recycling rates are shockingly low. This is not a trend we can afford to continue. So think differently about gifts this year. Got any almost new clothes, toys, books etc., then why not give those as gifts. Also, how many things are lying around your apartment that you don’t use or were given and have never used… those can be gifts too. At no point did a gift ever have to be new and shiny.

3. Time to be less material with gifts

Gifts don’t actually have to be material, they can be an experience or the imparting of knowledge. How about a voucher for you and a friend to go on a hike? Or a photo slideshow of your favourite pictures over the year? What about an online subscription to a magazine? The options are endless and the best thing about gifts like these, they tend to be more personal. But remember though that experiences have a footprint too and to choose the lower ones –  for example skydiving will have a higher footprint than rock climbing.

“Gifts don’t actually have to be material, they can be an experience or the imparting of knowledge.”

However, for those new and shiny material gifts think about the lifetime and use of the gift before you buy it. For example, a re-fillable water bottle could be a great gift. Nowadays there are bottles that allow you to put fresh fruit in them to flavour and add nutrition to the water. This could cut down massively on bottled water, which is water, energy & plastic intensive. In China, the plastic used by the industry is equivalent to one Jinmao Tower of plastic every year, of which very little is recycled. But if you get one in every colour you are missing the point.

4. Plastic is not fantastic

Plastic has pretty much invaded every aspect of our lives, proving very convenient indeed. But the harmful impacts from its excessive use are now all too obvious. Did you know that 8 million tonnes of plastic makes its way to the ocean every year? Have you heard of the seventh continent (an island of plastic floating around the ocean)? Soil, so our food, is being impacted too. Recycling helps but not all plastics can be efficiently recycled, assuming that it is even collected. Hence think twice before purchasing anything plastic.

5. Adios that wrapping paper

Yes it’s fun to rip and tear through wrapping paper, wondering what surprise it is concealing but is it worth it… The amount of wrapping paper estimated to be thrown away in the UK at Christmas could stretch around the equator nine times or to the moon if each sheet was laid end to end. In China, the wastewater discharged from the paper & pulp industry is twice that of the country’s entire coal industry. We could simply say adios to wrapping paper or use old newspapers/paper instead – get your arts and crafts groove on – and make sure that any paper used gets recycled.

6. Try and go as local as possible

Many items these days are made elsewhere than the place we are buying them (made in China/Vietnam/Turkey etc..). E-commerce has made such purchasing very easy. Have you ever thought about what this means though? International trade can sometimes help reduce pressure on stressed resources, for instance through the virtual water trade associated with water intensive crops. However, more online exchanges and monitoring could mean increasing power demands as we explore here.

International trade related CO2 emissions will grow by a factor of 3.9 over the period 2010-2050

According to the International Transport Forum, international trade related CO2 emissions will grow by a factor of 3.9 over the period 2010-2050. Through buying local you reduce these carbon emissions, support local businesses and find unique gifts.

7. Offset your travel footprint

The holidays usually entail a plane/train/car ride home to visit our family and friends. This travel comes with considerable carbon emissions. A Hong Kong-London round trip emits more carbon emissions per capita than a whole year of food or heating of a house for an average UK citizen. While not emitting greenhouse gases in the first place remains the best option, if you are going to be emitting then offset it. Some airlines offer you the choice to purchase carbon credits to offset your flight or you can buy UN-certified climate credits through various approved climate projects, like planting trees, renewable energy development, waste handling and more.

8. Tofurky instead of turkey?

We saved this for last as it is probably one of the harder tips on our list to stomach – sorry, but it had to be done. Turkey, ham, köttbullar, piftie & foie gras are some of the festive season’s most coveted foods. All are meat heavy, which means resource intensive – a 6-7kg turkey has a water footprint of 72-84 bathtubs.
Turkey Water Footprint
A new report from the think tank Chatham House, argues that without concerted action to address over-consumption of meat, it will be near impossible to prevent global warming from passing the danger level of 2°C. It’s time to look elsewhere for our Christmas fix, so how about trying some tofu alternatives? Or, for those not willing to give meat up then how about taming you carnivorous taste after the festive season?
And if you were thinking that swapping to fish & seafood is the answer, then think again as Sophie le Clue shares. It’s about balance and informed consumption behaviour.
We hope this has given you some food for thought. Try at least one of these eight tips this festive period. But remember they aren’t limited to Christmas, so keep them in mind for any holiday or festive period. For example, in Hong Kong over the Mid-Autumn Festival it is estimated that over 1 million mooncake boxes are discarded every year; their disposal costs around HKD30,000. Yet if all these boxes were recycled and reused – as, for example, construction materials – they could generate HKD200,000-250,000.
Happy Holidays to one and all!

Further Reading

  • Brands To Buy Over Christmas? – CWR’s McGregor reviews the top and laggard brands for green supply chains in China according to round two of the Corporate Information Transparency Index report. See which brands made which list
  • Something Fishy This Christmas? – Some may opt for fish as a healthier option but not all is well in the oceans. With depleting stocks of some species close to 60%, Sophie le Clue explains why seafood needs to be sustainable. See which to pick & avoid
  • Hotels: Giant Leaps For Water Scarcity – The hotel industry ranked water as the No. 2 most important issue. International Tourism Partnership’s Hughes on work ahead with a new tool to standardise measurement of water across 30,000 hotels
  • Winter is Not Coming – Game of Thrones’ Ygritte might be right; Jon Snow, you know nothing. Tan mulls over the impact of findings from China’s Third National Assessment Report on Climate Change on the future of white Christmases, the Winter Olympics, skiing holidays and why find our inner-Yoda we must
  • Wishing For More Data In The 13FYP – More data is needed to reflect the real state of China’s environment. See why CWR’s Feng Hu on why this wish could come true in the 13th Five Year Plan (13FYP). But be warned, this could come with increasing power demand

More on Consumers & Consumption

  • Are You A Responsible Consumer? – With waste levels already sky high and set to grow China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor mulls over the challenges of being a responsible consumer from fashion to food to plastic. Be it as an individual or corporate, see what action you can take
  • Corporate Strategy & The New Chinese Consumer – Authors of new report say that China’s war on pollution has created a fundamentally new Chinese consumer. Hart, Ma, Ying & Zhu from Renmin University on why firms need to evolve their strategies
  • Unwrapping Packaging Water Risks – China’s paper packaging industry discharges wastewater similar to its entire coal industry. Explore the dirty secrets behind paper & plastic packaging with China Water Risk’s Feng Hu. Also, see how shifting consumer attitudes can bring about new innovations
  • Bottled Water: Drink Responsibly – Know your bottled water – is it “fake water”? What’s the bottle’s environmental footprint? Those “in the know” may be more inclined to go back to the tap. Hongqiao Liu on how to drink responsibly
Dawn McGregor
Author: Dawn McGregor
Dawn leads CWR’s work to help corporates navigate increasingly disruptive & material risks from water & climate threats, as well as transitional risks in the supply chain arising from new regulations in China. Here, Dawn engages extensively with the global fashion industry delivering on-ground workshops in China to keynotes and strategic input at European HQs. She has written at length on the end of dirty and thirsty fast fashion and her report to overcome gaps between brands and manufacturers for a clean and circular future inspired the industry to create a new wastewater tool. Dawn also works closely with the property and tourism sectors where she not only conducts strategic assessments of their exposure but builds collective action toward resilience via closed door working groups and invite-only events. Having helped build CWR, Dawn is a frequent keynote, panellist & moderator at events, including being twice selected as the lead-rapporteur at World Water Week. Her articles are cited in various industry publications including the UN’s ‘World Without Water’. Dawn previously worked in a global investment bank assessing geo-political risk, crisis management and business resiliency. She was born and bred in Hong Kong and has lived in France, England, Singapore and Beijing.
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Hubert Thieriot
Author: Hubert Thieriot
Hubert is currently the Data Lead at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. Hubert used to work for CWR, leading our work in the water & energy nexus. Engagement with multiple stakeholders at CWR has led him to explore for-profit solutions in addressing challenges in Environmental Risk Analysis. He spearheaded Environmental Risk Profiler (ERP), an independent online solution to identify, monitor & anticipate environmental risks. Previously, Hubert spent several years in Beijing, where he conducted research for the International Institute for Sustainable Development as well as the Chinese Institute of Engineering Development Strategies (CIEDS) on international energy efficiency policies, low-carbon policies and China’s future trends including the circular economy. In a previous life, Hubert researched and lectured on energy in European and Chinese institutions, including Mines ParisTech, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology of Lausanne (EPFL), and Huazhong University of Science and Technology. He holds various degrees in mechanical engineering, philosophy and public policy.
Read more from Hubert Thieriot →