Is Christmas ruining the environment?

With December 25th fast approaching, the public and businesses alike are getting into the Christmas spirit. However, the impact of the holiday season is far-reaching, and off the back of the recent COP26 conference, the global environment is the hot topic once again. Business Leader has delved into the impact of the build-up to Christmas on the environment.

To learn more about the dark environmental impact of the Christmas period, click here.

Are businesses under any real pressure to change?

With COP26 inspiring a more environmentally-conscious consumer, businesses are under pressure to be much more sustainable this Christmas. Jat Sahi, Retail Consulting Industry Lead for Fujitsu UK, spoke to Business Leader about our ‘throw away’ culture associated with Black Friday and the Christmas season, and how that might soon fall out of favour. Jat also explains how small price tags may soon be less of a priority for consumers if the associated brand isn’t operating sustainably.

Black Friday has established world renown for its discounted shopping and high street queues. But with inflation on the rise and consumers’ disposable incomes dwindling, small price tags aren’t the attraction they once were. In fact, in the wake of COP26, there are question marks over whether the annual price slashing actually encourages the “throwaway” culture that Governments and businesses are currently working hard to offset and whether it should be boycotted altogether.

After all, sustainability isn’t a new problem – it’s simply one that’s grown in prominence following the United Nations’ conference in November. What’s more, the responsibility for reducing the causes of global warming increasingly lies with businesses and industry leaders, as well as consumers themselves, and not just charities. It’s a shared problem and consumers want to know that retailers are doing their bit to help. It’s no surprise, then, to see high street stalwarts like John Lewis invest millions of pounds this year to cut waste and pollution ahead of this year’s Black Friday. Nor was it surprising to see the vast majority of independent retailers shut down their websites and donate their profits to charity to mitigate the effects of the rabid consumerism brought about by large online sellers offering deals on days like today. What is surprising is that, irrespective of this, we’ve still seen record-breaking sales.

Ultimately, this year’s post-pandemic event was always going to be somewhat of an anomaly, but it’ll be interesting to see whether retailers next year are true to their environmentally-conscious word or if their talks of “cutting down” were all bluff and bluster. What’s clear is that those retailers who do prioritise sustainable practices will not only win over consumers, but they’ll win over investors and legislators too. If they do it in the right way in time for next year’s Black Friday, they may well have uncovered the only weakness in Amazon’s armoury – an accountability for global warming – in time for the Christmas season and all the customer experience innovation and pioneering supply chains in the world might not be enough to offset it. Watch this space.

‘Home deliveries are the greenest Christmas shopping option’

Following the debates at COP26, ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks says all the evidence is that ordering presents online this year will be far greener than shopping by car.

The Government is reportedly dusting off last year’s shelved plans to impose a so-called ‘green’ delivery charge to reduce the supposed impact of e-commerce by, in its own words, imposing a ‘mandatory charge’ on home deliveries to ‘encourage more sustainable behaviour’. Jinks says this plan is based on false assumptions and will actually increase both pollution and congestion.

He comments: “Our report ‘Which is Greenest, Home Deliveries or Traditional Shopping?’ brought together academic research from many different sources and showed conclusively that ordering online is far more environmentally friendly than jumping into your car. As long ago as 2009, a study by Heriot-Watt University revealed definitively that successful first-time home deliveries of non-food products generate significantly less grammes of CO2 per kilometre than a dedicated car shopping trip. The paper found that a typical urban shop by car for multiple items generates 1,069 grammes of CO2 per km per item, and a dedicated car trip for a specific item 4,274 grammes of CO2 per km. In contrast, a successful first-time home delivery creates just 181 grammes of CO2 per km per parcel.

“In fact, the research found that a customer shopping by car would have to buy 24 non-food items to reduce their equivalent emissions to those of a home delivery.

“Since then, cars have become cleaner, but delivery vehicles have become still greener, with the latest Euro 6 diesel van engine regulations reducing not only CO2 emissions but also Nitrogen Oxidex (NOx) and particulates. In fact, new diesel engines have reduced NOx emissions by 55% from 180mg/km to just 80mg/km. In contrast, the NOx limit for petrol engines has not been altered from 2011’s Euro 5 standards.

“And, of course, many more deliveries are now fulfilled with electric vehicles, reducing the environmental impact still further. Worldwide, Amazon has just ordered 100,000 electric delivery vans from start-up electric vehicle maker Rivian, together with previous orders of 1,800 electric vans for European use from Mercedes-Benz. These are already running in UK cities such as Exeter.

“Mercedes has aligned itself to Amazon’s “climate pledge”, which commits signatories to meeting the targets of the previous COP21 agreement ahead of schedule, and to become CO2-neutral by 2040.

“It’s a similar story for many other parcel and delivery operators. Royal Mail already operates a fleet of over 300 electric vehicles, including new micro lightweight delivery vehicles for city use, as well as 29 lorries operated by compressed natural gas. UPS has placed an order for 10,000 electric delivery vehicles worldwide, FedEx has pledged to replace 100% of its pickup and delivery fleet with battery-powered vehicles by 2040 and DHL says zero-emission vehicles already make up a fifth of its fleet, with more to come. In the UK alone, DPD has doubled its electric fleet to almost 1,500 with an order for 750 Maxus eDeliver vans.

“Retailers are also keeping pace. Sainsbury’s started introducing electric delivery vehicles in 2019 and Tesco is aiming to fully electrify its delivery fleet by 2028 as part of a commitment to reach “net zero” by 2035.

“Waitrose/John Lewis has also announced plans to end the use of fossil fuels in its fleets by 2030, saving over 20,000 tonnes of CO2 every year. The plan is to achieve this through the adoption of electric delivery vans and the development of a biomethane gas filling station for its HGVs. This will reduce CO2 emissions by 80%.

“Shoppers can certainly do their bit for the environment by buying online this Christmas, rather than climbing into their fossil-fuelled car.”

Workplace first most likely to end up in the bin 

Up to 2.5 million Secret Santa gifts exchanged in UK workplaces this Christmas look set to end up in the bin rather than being donated, recycled or regifted, according to new research.

Based on average spend, this equates to a shocking £32,400,000 worth of gifts exchanged in the popular festive pastime being thrown away, as almost one in twelve people (8%) revealed they would simply bin a present they disliked.

The study, compiled by online printing specialists instantprint, also compared research taken from a previous study of the same topic to discover how UK employees feel about the festive tradition of Secret Santa, and how attitudes have changed since prior to the pandemic.

According to the data, the number of UK workers who claim to dislike the Secret Santa tradition was found to have risen sharply from 19% to 31% since 2019. One in eight (13%) even revealed they don’t enjoy exchanging gifts with colleagues as it makes them anxious.

The poll highlighted that despite over a third (35%) of UK employees finding joy in the workplace tradition, the number of office Grinches is on the up, with one in ten people admitting they want to see the pastime cancelled (10%).

Employees in Sheffield (54%) claimed the crown for the UK’s biggest office Grinches due to their reluctance to take part in the anonymous gift exchange, with Manchester (49%) and Belfast (46%) close behind. In comparison, those in Norwich (54%) were found to be the most eager to take part in the festivities.

Despite the high numbers of gifts finding their way to landfills, encouragingly, almost a third of workers (28%) said they would donate an unwanted Secret Santa gift to charity where possible, and an additional 28% would consider regifting the item if they could not use it themselves.

One in eight (12%) would even hold on to their unwanted gifts, claiming they would feel too rude to throw them away.

Laura Mucklow, Head of instantprint, commented on the findings: “Amidst all the fun and games, we would encourage those taking part to think carefully about how they dispose of their gift once the exchange has taken part. Sustainability is a key issue the world over, so recycling, donating or regifting any unwanted items should be prioritised ahead of simply throwing them away.”

So, do we have to cancel Christmas to save the world?

With the mixture of research findings, opinions, and statistics provided, it is clear that the Christmas season has a far-reaching impact on the environment. With COP26 recently concluded and with thousands of tonnes of waste from the holidays set to be thrown away – is now the time to look at cancelling the annual tradition?

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