Even the most ardent and enthusiastic supporter of Christmas can not be oblivious to the fact that it has moved a long way from its religious roots that maybe we forget the true message of the birth of Jesus Christ to bring peace to the world.
So too, it can affect the most conscientious environmental and sustainability professional to make a momentary lapse of good sustainability practice and forget our own message by turning to the “dark side” of unsustainability.
The Christmas period is, now, a commercial juggernaut of conspicuous consumption, which seems to extend from September with the first sighting of Christmas cards and wrapping paper in September, through to the many gift adverts for perfume and expensive gifts on TV and in the media &, finally, to the abrupt return to work in early January with an expanded waistline and a temporary aversion to alcohol.
Only Black Friday and Cyber Monday has lessened the consumerism of Christmas in recent years & that has only been achieved by establishing another axis to anchor and elongate the pre-Christmas buying frenzy.
I am not immune from being wrapped up in the need to spread seasonal joy to my family and friends over the Christmas & with that comes the expectation that we lose our normal senses and over-consume.
Take a look around your local supermarket especially the large out-of-town behemoths and you can’t help but notice the larger than usual trollies filled with quantities of food that would easily feed several household or lead to a massive cholesterol overload to its recipients. And the size of the trollies increases as we steadily approach Christmas day itself.
An even more unseen consumption occurs online with the overall internet shopping spend over the Christmas season expected to top last year’s figure of £21 billion (2016) out of a total Christmas spend of over £77 billion with many families turning to Amazon instead of Santa to deliver their presents.
The quantity of Christmas cards, wrapping paper and cardboard boxes that formerly contained our presents generates a significant waste mountain (with cardboard alone responsible for 300,000 tonnes – 2015) as can be evidenced from the overly full wheelie bins being collected after Christmas not to mention the huge glass recycling effort formed from the bottle that contained our wine and spirits imbibed over the holidays.
I do my bit to reduce my family’s environmental impact over Christmas but I have my lapses…
So here is my moment of confession – One of a favourite Christmas memories from a few years ago has been an artificial Christmas tree, which has become a family tradition. My family joined me after a business trip in the USA and they wanted to ensure that we could celebrate with presents around a Christmas tree – only thing is we didn’t have the tree. So we took off to the local Walmart to buy a 6ft Christmas tree and duly had a great Christmas. When it came to the time to return home, we couldn’t face leaving the tree and promptly took it on the flight home. As a father, it was the right decision to respond to the pleas of my young son to save the tree from its (otherwise) ignominious fate in the hands of the hotel manager.
As an environmentalist, I was conflicted. Not only had the tree made a long journey from China to the USA to be at the very Walmart, when we walked in to buy it but I took it on an equally unsustainable journey from the USA back to our home in the United Kingdom. Even, in my darkest hours, I have tried to rationalise these actions as being sustainable through a whole life-cycle analysis (on the back of a envelope) but I know that it would not stand-up to any form of scientific peer review.
To atone for my sins, I am leading a return to a more sustainable Christmas this year with all our food sourced from local farms in West Sussex (where we live), festive drinks have been brought that have organic accreditation & we will limit our travelling so as not to travel 100’s of miles to be with friends and relatives, who the next day will travel similar distances to be with their extended families and for us to return home with a carbon footprint to give Al Gore, a heart attack, & the material for a third “inconvenient truth” film.
But is that enough to confess our sustainability sins & to eat locally sourced and organic “humble pie”…
Or should we give up and join the rest of humanity for the frenzy over the Christmas season?, or take the “bah humbug” approach and withdraw into our sustainable cocoons?
Indeed, can we ever be truly sustainable over the Christmas season?
I have shared some of my thoughts on a sustainable Christmas and the inherent conflicts that are posed by our modern society & how I try to take personal leadership at a complex time of the year, which challenges me to think even harder about my own sustainability values.
If you have any confessions on your Christmas sustainability lapses or thoughts on how you reconcile your sustainability principles with the Christmas season & what actions you have taken to be more, sustainable against the tide of conspicuous consumption that is all around you, I welcome your comments.
2016 – UK Christmas spending to hit record £77.56bn in 2016