It’s not the thought that counts: Greening our Christmas choices

Christmas is definitely in the air.

The streets are adorned with colored lights, the malls decorated with extravagant fixtures. Most homes have been stuffed with Christmas decors, too. In fact, for most Filipinos, Christmas starts as soon as the “-ber” months show on the calendar.

The economics of Christmas has commercial importance because the period leading to the holidays is usually the peak selling period for a lot of retailers around the world. I used to work in the Philippine retail industry, and the Christmas holidays are always a peak season for the two retailers I was connected with—a major supermarket company and an international beauty brand. For supermarkets, the spike in the demand for Noche Buena/Media Noche feast items—spaghetti, fruit salad, macaroni salad, round fruits, refrigerated cake—keep the shelves busy and the sales bustling. I used to put together Christmas basket packages for everyone’s budget—from as low as P250, to as high as P3,000 for the extravagant gift-givers. For the beauty brand, different gift packs are the bread and butter, but consumers, especially women, also tend to splurge on personal care products for themselves during this season—a new velvety vanilla lotion, a cream that makes the dark spots fade away, or an evening serum that promises a youthful glow. 

Our consumption-oriented society has fueled our fascination for shiny new things. Our throwaway culture has created products that break quickly so consumers will commit to repeat purchases (planned obsolescence), or those that become unfashionable or “baduy” after a certain period (perceived obsolescence). How many times have you changed your phone in the past years just because a new model came out and you felt that what you have is no longer sufficient for your needs? How many clothes have you ripped, because they are made of poor quality, or those that are now buried deep in the closet because they aren’t “in” anymore after only a few uses? In this Christmas season, how many gifts will you buy that will break easily (like the cheap plastic toys from tiangge), or those that will no longer be “uso” after a few months (remember the loom bands trend?).

Gift giving is a tradition that comes with the holidays. It is associated with nurturing social relations by transforming commodities into gifts, with the presents symbolizing the celebration and significance of our relationships with the people around us (Carrier, 1993; Cheal, 1987. But do we really need to buy presents for everyone, sometimes at the expense of giving thoughtless gifts, because, well, “it’s the thought that counts? “Really, how many mugs does a person need? Do you think your colleague needs another key chain to add to his 20 others that are gathering dust? How do we make our Christmas shopping sustainable and meaningful?

Christmas gift-giving does not have to hurt the environment. You only need to be more mindful of your shopping choices. Below are some suggestions to make your Christmas green this year (and in the years to come). 

Choose local. When you buy local products, you reduce your carbon footprint. Imported products, while they are popular among Filipinos, travel from halfway around the world, contributing significant greenhouse gas emissions. Buying local, especially when you buy from micro and small companies or from social enterprises, boost their financial capabilities and help promote inclusive growth aside from helping reduce environmental damage.

Put thoughts in your gifts. Don’t just give gifts for the sake of giving your friends something. Make sure that what you give them is an item they really like, so you know that they will love it and use it for a long time. 

Bake or make—create personalized presents. If you like baking or cooking, think of something that you can make in the kitchen and give away to your friends. This year, I chose to give homemade polvoron (my mother’s specialty and own recipe), packed not in individual wrappers, but in reused glass bottles from spreads and pasta sauces. It’s more fun to dig in with a spoon into that buttery perfection of polvoron, without waste from cellophane wrappers! Or if you are artsy, you can create artworks that use sustainable materials. Your friends will surely love the handcrafted pieces you’ll send them!

Reduce waste—in wrapping and in gifting. Wrap your gifts in newspaper or magazine pages, tied with a natural fiber bow like a sisal rope. You can also use cloth to wrap your gift—called furoshiki in Japan, it is the traditional way of wrapping and transporting gifts. For presents, you can give reusable bamboo straws, tumbler, or collapsible cups to jumpstart your friends’ green lifestyle choices.

No wrong in re-gifting. This may be controversial to some; but really, if you don’t have a need for the item gifted to you, wouldn’t it be nicer for someone else to use it, rather than shove it in the corner box then forget about it? At least give it a chance to be used by someone else. 

Christmas is no excuse for us not to be mindful of our choices. After all, protecting the environment does not need an occasion. It should be an everyday decision that each one of us make. Let this be our gift to earth this Christmas. It’s our only home after all.

Jonna Baquillas is a Doctor of Business Administration student at the Ramon V. del Rosario College of business of De La Salle University. She teaches marketing, brand, business and retail management classes in Asia Pacific College. She believes that everyone should take action to reduce environmental impact—collective small steps result to a huge impact. She is committed to switch to a sustainable lifestyle, one step at a time. She can be reached at [email protected]  

Topics: Green Light , Christmas
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