I’m one of those poor unfortunate souls who’s birthday and Christmas happen in the same week. As a kid, I hated it. But the more conscious I’ve become of my impact on the world, the more positive the benefits of receiving one thing, not two. This year let’s think about what we do reduce what we consume over the holiday period, do the right thing by the planet and avoid January guilt. There’s never been a more important time to try your best to be green than before we’ve eaten too much already and been buried under a load of tat that we no longer need.
It was around this time last year when Iceland scored a Christmas winner with their Greenpeace orangutan film and the promise to eliminate palm oil from their own brand and unbranded product by the end of the year. I did my Christmas shop there for the first time. Of course, it took until April to get rid of everything that had already been manufactured so as not to contribute to food waste. And they had to ditch their garlic bread as they couldn’t find a suitable replacement. But they did it, and they were dragged over the coals at the earliest opportunity for the few products that remained the shelves. Front page news. They should have been applauded for doing more than any other retailer around palm oil, but we’d prefer to see people fail at their environmental endeavours. Ok Boomer.
This year, there are floods here in the UK and fires back home on a scale never before seen. Destroying the only forest with perhaps the oldest and rarest tree species in the world, the Wollemi Pine. The climate is a-changing. But perhaps because of Iceland’s rough ride, and perhaps because ‘Christmas isn’t the time for it’ - there’s very little conversation around the environment this holiday season. Instead, we’re in the joyful familiar territory of epic heart-tugging stories alongside some great practical fun (thanks Argos, Ikea and Boots).
The closest to doing good this year is The Dog’s Trust for pointing out the real perils of Christmas. And at worst the story of Harrod’s and it’s £2000 spending demand so that you can see Santa (for more £££). But it’s doing good after all, not saying good. So I’ve taken a look at what some of our favourite brands are doing this holiday, and how we can do a little better ourselves though our own Christmas choices.
Heading home for the holidays? For many people, it’s the one flight a year more important than any other. I’m an Aussie so no judgment here. Recent announcements by Ryanair may make you feel better about getting a budget flight with a donation to offset your carbon, but fact-checking has shown that your Christmas gift to Ryanair offsets only 0.1% of your personal contribution. BA has been busted by the BBC for ‘fuel tankering’ when they’re publicly committing to reducing their emissions faster than most. Easyjet is offsetting their flights from Tuesday, joining Air New Zealand and a few other carriers. Its best to reduce your flights as anything else really is a greenwash, but if flying is unavoidable at this time of year, offset yourself with brilliant schemes such as offset.earth. I offset myself, my home and Mr President as one way to reducing my impact. Offsetting doesn’t solve the climate crisis and shouldn’t be where you stop your commitment, but it’s a good place to start.
Gift shopping? Well, you can drown yourself under relentless mountains of Amazon’s singing boxes, or do something slightly more eco-friendly and buy stuff that would otherwise go to landfill at TK MAXX. Great ad, by the way. They’ve recycled 6,830 tonnes of clothing in the last 15 years, but more importantly have built an outlet for every piece of last year's fashion that might otherwise be burned. Better yet visit one of the many vintage shops and charity stores around the UK, agree to a lower gift count or invest in an experience to enrich (rather than enrobe) your loved one. We live in an experience economy after all, but we’re still stuck with buying presents. My son last year gave us a set of handmade cards we could cash in during the year for things like cleaning the windows, which is fundamentally more awesome than a grapefruit-scented candle ever will be.
And as for your Christmas dinner? I’ve gone all investigative and taken a look at what some of our favourite brands are doing this holiday. Emailing them, reaching out on social and generally poking around their policies for Christmas and beyond
Kevin the Carrot’s Aldi has donated all their excess Christmas food to charity for the last two years and is doing so again this year, with all 830 stores donating straight to local charities through Neighbourly since September. They also donate flowers to charities running floristry courses around the country. Most of the rest have one scheme or other to generally reduce their footprint. But bit shout-outs to the three supermarkets that seem to be doing the most, from my modest digging and questioning over the last few weeks.
M&S is second on FTSE 100 Sustainability leaderboard for 2019. Tesco is fourth. Both replied to me immediately with a string of things they’re doing for Christmas and beyond. Both have banned glitter on their own cards and wrapping this year. Tesco is consistently working hard to reduce food waste and 75% of M&S Christmas celebration range is widely recyclable. That’s cards, crackers, wrapping etc. they also have a plastic take-back scheme in 12 stores where harder-to-recycle plastics can be brought. So you can eat crisps knowing your packets will be turned into playground equipment if you’re lucky enough to live nearby. Plus M&S owning Christmas jumpers is genius (shoulder roll).
But top marks (it seems) still goes to Iceland. They may not have an environmental ad this Christmas (instead it’s Frozen 2, which is a genius partnership but instills fear in any parent with a child who was caught in the original Frozen mania) but they’re up to a lot. This year they’ve launched reverse vending machines for plastic bottles, delivered stores with no plastic bags, and have committed to no plastic in store by 2023. They’re trialling loose produce, and formulating a sustainable soy policy (led by their MD Richard Walker). They even have a responsible alcohol policy clearly on their site. And they seem to be the only supermarket publicly committed in full to the UN’s global sustainability goals. They’re even trialling bagless deliveries. Iceland is the ones really winning at Christmas again this year.
So embrace Christmas crackers without plastic toys, remember that buying less is always better than recycling (and more fun than eating leftovers until New Year) and invest in businesses who really do invest in the environment. And do your bit and don’t forget to bring your own bags.
P.S. Iceland was brilliantly thorough in responding to all of my questions, but M&S win the Twitter-based customer service wars by a long way. Utterly amazing. Thanks Donna, you deserve a Christmas bonus.