Going Green for the Holidays

Green Holiday

Key Findings

  • Almost 4 in 10 people would search for an environmentally friendly gift, even if it meant going out of their way.
  • Fifty-nine percent of people have become more environmentally conscious over their lifetime, more so in Europe than on any other continent.
  • Forty-four percent of French citizens primarily shop at local businesses, which makes France the best country for shopping locally. The U.S. came in 11th place with only 11%.

Shop small, shop local! Reduce, reuse, recycle! We frequently hear these messages encouraging us to live more sustainably. As the global climate crisis worsens, more people are answering these calls to action as they look for ways to lessen their impact on the environment. The pandemic has also had a profound effect on the way people shop.

Multiple recent studies confirm that consumers are becoming more ethical and exercising their buying power more thoughtfully. One global study reported that 60% of those surveyed have made more environmentally conscious, sustainable, or ethical purchases since the start of the pandemic. And 90% of these consumers plan to continue their greener lifestyle for good. 

With the holidays around the corner, we wondered whether this increased eco-consciousness has had any effect on people’s gifting habits. Are they concerned about making the holidays greener? Do people want to give or receive eco-friendly gifts? What factors make a company seem environmentally friendly to consumers? We asked over 1,000 people from around the world these questions and more. Take a look at our findings below.

Eco-Friendliness Around the World

It’s difficult not to be concerned about the environment given the headlines that often dominate the news, from severe natural disasters to plastic in our oceans to shrinking rainforests – to name but a few issues. There’s also the sheer amount of stress we put on the world’s resources around the holidays due to factors like travel and gifting. Here’s a worldwide view of people’s concerns about the environment, plus some insight into their gift-giving habits.

Eco Gifting

What about the environmental impact of gift cards? They’re small and don’t require much wrapping, so they could be a more eco-friendly choice, right?

Our survey showed that almost 40% of respondents agreed that gift cards are environmentally friendly. Central and South Americans were the most convinced of this idea, with 54% believing gift cards are a green option. The problem is that most gift cards are not. Europe understood the issue best, as only 29% of Europeans believed gift cards were environmentally friendly.

The environmental waste caused by plastic gift cards in the U.S. alone is quite significant. According to a recent report, 1.6 billion plastic gift cards are printed in the U.S. each year. That’s equivalent to 9,000 tons of plastic and 33,260 tons of carbon dioxide released during production. A better choice? Online digital gift cards or paper gift certificates from local businesses.

So then, is digital gifting a more eco-friendly choice? Well, actually no, not always. Gifting cryptocurrency (digital money) is an option nowadays, and 36% of people worldwide believed this was an environmentally friendly option. Again, Central and South Americans were most convinced (53%), while Europeans had a better understanding with 56% recognizing digital currency for its negative environmental impact.

A closer look at how cryptocurrency works reveals the immense burden it places on the world’s resources and its negative effect on the environment. To create and account for cryptocurrency, people called miners oversee digital mining operations and monitor trading transactions 24/7. These mining groups are located all over the world, and the problem is that mining operations use huge amounts of power all the time.

Several recent reports on Bitcoin explained why crypto is bad for the environment. Bitcoin mining operations use energy at the rate of almost 120 terawatt-hours per year, which is roughly equivalent to the amount of domestic electricity Sweden uses annually. But what about a single Bitcoin transaction to simply give a one-time holiday gift of crypto? That would use the equivalent to a month’s worth of energy for a single American household, or a million times more carbon emissions than a single credit card swipe. Mind blown.

Green Gifting Habits and Wrapping Hacks

As concern for the environment grows, people are beginning to reassess their gifting habits. Many people are already good at recycling or reusing gift wrapping. There’s also evidence that 50% of people would be very excited to receive an eco-friendly gift. Small and simple changes can have a great impact over time, as more people commit to adopting a greener approach to the holidays.

Current Gifting Practices

When shopping for the holidays, more people cared about how much gifts cost rather than where they were buying them. Shopping locally not only supports your community by boosting the local economy, it is better for the environment, too. Shorter traveling distances and less shipping leads to less use of resources and air pollution.

Also, local businesses often seek to support other businesses in the area by buying from them and typically keep their operations close to town or city centers. These actions lead to less sprawl, habitat loss, congestion, and pollution. Shopping for local products in local stores is therefore an excellent way to have a green holiday.

Shoppers Are Becoming More Eco-Friendly

When people look for an environmentally friendly company to buy gifts from, they are mainly looking for three things: eco-friendly packaging, recyclable products, and eco-friendly production methods. Many people also want sustainable or reusable products to give as gifts. People are also slightly more keen on buying from an eco-friendly shop than a local one. See how these opinions vary depending on consumer ages and regions below.

Marketing Sustainable Gifts

The majority of respondents (59%) believed that they have become more environmentally conscious over the course of their lifetime. It makes sense that the more you learn, the better your decisions and your ability to act on them will be. Europe reported the highest number of evolved consumers, followed by North America. Asia had the most people say they’ve become less concerned about the environment, followed by South America.

We also asked people to consider the importance of shipping when it comes to making gift purchasing decisions. Interestingly, less than half of our global respondents thought it was very important to consider the impact of shipping on sustainability. As the popularity of online shopping rises and becomes the new norm, more people need to understand how shipping affects our world and health.

Scientific American recently reported on the carbon cost of online shopping. They noted that 80% of transport trucks in the U.S. use diesel fuel, expelling large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every day. These gases are thought to contribute to the warming of the Earth, and they’ve been linked to public health problems such as higher rates of cancer. Communities closest to major shipping hubs and warehouses are suffering most from exposure.

The good news is there are steps shoppers can take to reduce the effects of online shopping. For example, you can consider a gift-free holiday and give experiences or memberships as gifts instead. You could also consolidate your online orders into as few shipments as possible, buy less than usual, or choose slower shipping options. Consumers can also advocate for companies to make eco-friendly improvements in their practices or donate to organizations that work to clean up the environment.

The French Are Great at Shopping Local. Americans? Not So Much …

Forty-four percent of French consumers surveyed shop locally in order to reduce their environmental impact. Germany and Italy were the next best countries at shopping locally; but the U.S. didn’t even make the top 10. Instead, the States came in 11th place with only 11% of Americans keeping it local. Here’s a look at the rankings, plus info about what brands can do to attract more eco-friendly consumers.

A Global Look At Consumer Desires

People want brands to offer more affordable eco-friendly products so that it’s easier to buy what’s better for the environment. Consumers are also hoping that brands will create products with less packaging and that the packaging they do use will be recyclable. Using more natural ingredients and less chemicals could also draw more consumers to a brand.

Save on Eco-Gifts This Holiday Season

For more sustainable giving this year, take a look at curated eco-friendly gift guides for some creative ideas. Look for eco-conscious stores that offset their carbon footprint or offer environmentally friendly products and packaging. Think of ways to minimize your own waste and use of resources, such as wrapping gifts with fabric or recyclable brown paper, and don’t forget about shipping. Choose to purchase items in as few shipments as possible and opt for the slowest shipping method. It’s possible to make your holidays both more affordable and sustainable if you shop sales early and use coupons, too.

Methodology and Limitations

We surveyed 1,153 respondents from four different continents using Amazon Mechanical Turk.  61% of respondents identified as men and 39% identified as women. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 76 with a mean of 37 and a standard deviation of 11.5. The representation of continents among survey respondents was 165 people from Asia, 234 people from Europe, 226 people from Central and South America, and 527 people from North America.

The data we are presenting rely on self-report. There are many issues with self-reported data including: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration. No statistical testing was performed, and the claims above are based on means alone. As such, this content is purely exploratory, and future research should approach this topic in a more rigorous way.

Fair Use Statement

If you want to help your readers learn more about environmentally friendly gift-giving, you can share the results of this study for any noncommercial use. We just ask that you please link back to this page as credit to our team of creative analysts.