How to Combat Over-consumption at Christmas

How to Combat Over-consumption at Christmas

Charlie Bradley Ross Monday, 19 November 2018

Christmas can be one of the happiest times of the year - family time, beautiful decorations, and the general spirit of giving. However, there is a downside to the excessive shopping and consumption from this season.

As the debate around sustainability is growing every day, we've been discussing the impact that Christmas consumption can have on the environment. We look at some ways to encourage people to work around this, including those in your own family, while still embracing the spirit of giving during the festive season.

For this event, filmed on 5th December 2018 in London, we brought in three guest speakers who are experts in their respective areas, to discuss the topic of over-consumption at Christmas and take audience questions.

The talk focussed on three areas:

  1. Consumer behaviour - how can we normalise slower shopping habits? What should brands be doing to encourage responsible shopping?
  2. The social aspects of the Christmas Spirit - the cultural acceptability of not giving presents? How much of Christmas is about sharing your time?
  3. Solutions and creative ways to target over-consumption during this period - some alternative ideas!

Los Angeles
Sunday Nov 18th, 2018 - 16:00pm
Monday Nov 19th, 2018 - 00:00am
Monday Nov 19th, 2018 - 05:30am
Monday Nov 19th, 2018 - 11:00am

Whether you're a conscious shopper looking for ways to combat the negative social and environmental impacts of "too much stuff", or a brand looking for ways to support the season responsibly, listen or watch and be inspired to make your Christmas more sustainable, while still embracing the spirit of giving, and treating your loved ones!


The panel was moderated by Aniela Fidler, MA Fashion Futures student and The Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion finalist.


Jen Gale

From Wiltshire with two boys. Jen and her family spent a year buying nothing new. This opened her eyes to consumerism and how unsustainable consumption is. Jen wants to help people combat climate change, and help them realise that it’s not about being perfect. Founded Sustainable-ish.

“I have an aspiration to be plastic free and zero waste, but those things seem so unattainable to me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t make steps towards it.”

Sirena Bergman

Freelance journalist. Passionate about questioning anything that people take for granted. After three years of pitching the story, last year, Sirena wrote an article for the Independent about the cult of Christmas; why it’s problematic and why it needs to end.

“The intersection between environmental sustainability and questioning consumerism as a basis for a lot of our cultural norms is really important”.

Ali Clifford

Founded Incredibusy. She works with ethical brands and independent brands to build social media and connect them with contacts. Her road to “ethical” started in House of Fraser, when she realised the quantity of the things they threw away and how unsustainable it was.

Three themes: Importance, Individual power & Togetherness

What is important for you during Christmas?

Question to Jen: How your Christmas changed with the commitment to do not buy anything new for a year? What gained new importance for you? How did you survive buying pressure? Do you think you have acquired any new skills through this experience?

Jen’s year of buying nothing new began in September, so Christmas came early in the process.

For Jen, Christmas preparation starts from December 1st, in order to maintain the excitement. Having been inspired by Pinterest, Jen went about making decorations and presents, which she admits were not perfect. At the time, her children were aged 2 and 4, so there was no pressure from them to do anything different, and they didn’t notice.

Jen spoke to the family and explained that they would be giving gifts for children.

Now they are back to “buying”, but their Christmas buying is much more thoughtful and Jen doesn’t buy anything from the high street. Jen believes that her money is a vote for that brand and advocates for their practices, sustainable or not, so she always chooses sustainable.


Question to Ali: Social media channels are often used to sell and promote products (especially over the Christmas period), but they can also serve as a brilliant tool to share and spread ideas. How important is a brand role in promoting sustainable consumer behaviour?

Brands need sales at Christmas. Often, social enterprises are supporting communities of makers and people doing good, so additional sales would support this.

Question to Ali: What is 'responsible' Christmas marketing content?

  • Support other brands. Writing a Christmas gift guide blog post or a social media post – featuring like-minded brands – is great content creation, and fab for SEO as well as highlighting brands that your own customers may not know about.
  • Instead of a Black Friday, her client Po-Zu Shoes promoted a ‘Green Friday’ – championing an alternative to Black Friday – encouraging behaviour change, talking about the materials used to make sustainable and ethical fashion, and supporting change by spreading the word. This is a “worthwhile” marketing cost, as they felt that we were reaching a new audience via FB advertising, who would, in turn, be spreading the word about ethical fashion.
  • Write blog posts about the materials used to make your products - for example, Po-Zu shoes have coconut inner soles - this informs the customer who might then tell their friends - creating a great word of mouth marketing campaign. Ethical marketing is about educating, or informing.
  • Earth Conscious are taking part in a Twitter campaign to #ShopEthicalInstead – encouraging thoughtful consumption, and with more people now aware that plastic can take 450 years to biodegrade, and, with millions of people using roll-ons every day, a cardboard tube alternative, full of lovely natural ingredients, is a pleasant stocking filler right?


Question to Sirena: In the article for Independent: 'This December, it’s time we put an end to the cult of Christmas' you are raising questions around the common perception of our December celebrations. What issues are important to notice when it comes to Christmas?

  • Non-denominational Winter Holiday
  • The waste
  • The discrimination - homeless shelters are booked up with volunteers until July

There is a cultural stigma around doing something other than what is the cultural norm. An ideal Christmas is only available to people with significant privilege; you must have: a family, family who live nearby, have enough money for presents and sustenance, access to transport, time off work and so on.

“It’s more about buying stuff than anything else.”

“I don’t like being treated like a funnel for money laundering”. Sirena admits this may sound radical to some people, but in her opinion, when you’re getting paid for your labour by huge corporations - most of whom are not ethical - and that money is funnelling through you and to other people.

Sirena loves to give gifts, and puts a lot of effort into making her own presents, which can cause a lot of stress and pressure when you’re under time constraints. She removes a lot of this pressure by spreading out her gift-giving throughout the year. Sirena and her partner don’t exchange gifts on Christmas. America has recreated Christmas as “Thanksgiving” which highlights the same principles as Christmas, for example, family time, coming together and love, but there is no “gift giving” involved. But when Sirena handmakes something, she tends to spend more money on it.

"When you make things, there’s something so special about it."

What is our power as consumers and individuals?

Question to Jen: Sustainable(ish) is a very down-to-earth platform for ‘ordinary’ people. It’s about empowering everyone to make small tweaks and changes that make a difference. What are the top things we could do as individuals to improve our Christmas this year without significant sacrifices?

The biggest takeaway for Jen was the sense of her power as an individual, and the power our choices have. Every time you open your wallet you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.

Jen realises “there’s no such thing as perfect”. With a family in particular, there is an element of compromise. If it’s a big decision, it’s something to consider as a family -

Coffee cups, water bottles, plastic straws and shopping bags. You can make different choices with them.

“The core of sustainable living is just thinking, as much as you can, what better choices can I make today?”

If everybody made small changes, which don’t affect your quality of life, cumulatively they would make a huge impact.


Question to Ali: Companies treat their social media presence very seriously, but these days almost everyone has a personal feed. How could we curate our content as individuals to influence our friends and family without being preachy?

Ali works it in subtly. She doesn’t do ads on her social media profiles. If she does, then it’s got to be something she believes in and with her own style. You can also mention a sustainable Christmas or things like Furoshiki - gift wrapping in presents. Recently, Ali went to a women's retreat, and that experience was a sustainable Christmas present, so that’s a lovely thing to feature but still supports a more mindful gift.

You can also comment on social media profiles who aren’t behaving ethically. It can take just one person to mention before they realise they’ve made an “eco error!” We live in a culture where convenience is number one, and we should all pay for that. So you have to rewire your brain - which takes education and time.


Question to Sirena: I can imagine that as a journalist, you are in a powerful position to influence people. How do you apply your values to your work? Is there anything in the Christmas press that you find particularly interesting?

Sirena receives death threats for some of the articles she writes. People don’t like to be challenged. We are hardwired to “not argue” and “not answer back”. As long as readers “feel” something, that’s better than convincing them of the journalist's opinion. Last year, Sirena wrote an article about not sending Christmas Cards. It sounds like a killjoy, but a billion Christmas Cards are thrown away every year. If just one person could question something that they may not have before, then that’s a “job done”.

Sirena wishes she didn’t read the comments, but it’s important to her that she does. She has a thick skin and generally, inappropriate comments are more of a reflection on that person, not her. When she is debating a point, Sirena needs to understand what the opposing views are - it’s really important to her that she understands both sides.

Togetherness / Christmas

Question to Jen: How your kids reacted to your sustainable Christmas approach and how did you explain to them your attitude? How reducing shopping influenced the amount of time that you spend with your family and friends and the quality of this time?

It’s hard to shake the Christmas that Jen was given when she was a child - the house would be filled with presents. Part of her wants to be able to provide that to her children, but her head knows that they don’t expect anything more. It was important that Jen got to the core of “how she wanted her Christmas to be” and what was important to them, and trying to manage their expectations.

You can apply the four gift rule guideline for gift-giving/receiving of want, need, wear, read.

  1. Things that they ‘NEED’ as Christmas gifts
  2. WEAR – Supporting brands who design and make brilliant ethically sourced merchandise, with a large percentage of sales going to thought-provoking charities.
  3. READ – something to read


Question to Ali: Sharing moments on social media is one of the ways how we connect with each other but when it comes to Christmas... is it the moment to turn all devices off?

If you’re running a business schedule some photos to go live. It’s tempting to want to tweet out pics of your great day, but try to be “present” with those around you.


Question to Sirena: Do you think Christmas celebrations motivate people to find time for each other or they just create unnecessary pressure? How would you reimagine Christmas; without Oxford Street gift rush or Coca-Cola Santa?

Yes, it makes people come together; do they want to be together though!? Is that genuinely the best use of their time? Sirena doesn’t believe that Christmas should revolve around this consumption and “cultural norms” or doing things just because you have to.


Question to Jen: Is it that we’re “greedy” as a society?

Jen believes the desire is driven by the media in the industry. Her children don’t watch adverts, so when they come back from the cinema, they’re suddenly bursting with things they want. There is a flood of adverts which makes us believe that excess is good and normal. So when you challenge that, it’s difficult to push back. We don’t question our consumption and desire.


Question to Jen: Sustainable Christmas isn’t a good pitch… but why? Sustainability could unlock so much money. Why don’t we speak about the creativity we get when being sustainable, or the lack of stress around finding presents to lower the stress - why not push that as a narrative?

Jen worked out she saved about £2000 on Christmas that year.

Martin Lewis unwanted present pact

We’ve been indoctrinated to believe that spending money on someone is a way to show you care about them. We can’t flick that switch that easily. With your immediate family, you probably can.