7 ways to a more ethical and sustainable Christmas

7 ways to a more ethical and sustainable Christmas

by Jane O'Connell December 15, 2017

At this time of year, it’s easy to get caught up in the flurry of spending and excess but if you’re looking to do things a bit differently this year, these ideas might help.


As a time of giving as much as receiving, Christmas is the ideal opportunity to think about how to contribute to making the world around us a better place, and helping to improve the lives of families less fortunate than our own. All over the world, charities offer ways to make this possible.

World Vision has a range of gifts to choose from including clean water projects, handwashing stations, as well as goats, cows & chickens to feed entire communities. Or you may choose to give the gift of your time and volunteer on a project that has positive impact on people and the planet.

If you’re buying clothes as a gift, choose classics that will last. Read the care label to understand where the garment was made, and by whom. There are many clothing brands with a genuine social purpose - it’s important to do your research and avoid those that ‘claim’ to be ethical or sustainable but have little proof of the positive impact of their garments. Organisations such as Done Good offer a long list of brands that ‘make the world better,’ and clothing from BCorp certified companies including Patagonia and Kusaga Athletic, are excellent choices, naturally!

Right across Australia, thrift stores such as Vinnies can be a treasure trove of vintage classics if you know what you’re looking for. Well-preserved cut glass or crystal glassware, rare vinyl LPs and singles, designer sunglasses and costume jewellery all make thoughtful gifts for those who value old over new.


In every family there’s the relative (or maybe it’s you) who dives for the discarded wrapping paper the moment it’s torn from the gift. ‘The Paper Recycler’ will carefully remove any sticky-tape, re-fold the paper along its original folds and form a neat stack ready for next year. Ribbons will be untied and re-rolled and whatever’s deemed unsalvageable collected and deposited in the paper recycling bin. This person is an environmental dream who should be put on the family pedestal.

Many children enjoy the tradition of making their own cards and gift tags expressing their creative interpretation of Christmas. If your craft session requires glue and glitter (and what craft session doesn’t?) make sure you source environment-friendly versions. Old-school glitter is a significant contributor to the problem of microplastics in water systems, but brands such as Eco Glitter offer a sparkling range of products made from certified compostable film that meets world compostability standards - and it’s safe for the body as well, so if a little of that glitter ends up on your face, there’s no need to worry.

If you prefer to purchase Christmas cards, look for ethical providers such as Oxfam with a huge variety of cards that use recycled materials or support communities and causes all over the world.


What’s the most sustainable type of Christmas tree - real or fake? There are pros and cons on both sides. Fake Christmas trees can be packed up and reused year after year, but when they are eventually discarded, the plastics they’re typically made from don’t break down and they become environmentally unfriendly landfill. If you prefer the smell and ambience of a real tree, check to ensure the tree is grown in a sustainable forest. Another option is to purchase a potted tree that can be decorated for the festive season and left au naturale for the rest of the year.

If you’re a bit of a DIY enthusiast or your children love hands-on projects, a fun, sustainable alternative is to collect fallen branches (eucalypt branches are fantastic and smell great), arrange them in a tall pot or bucket and decorate with lights and other festive knick knacks. How Australian is that?

Now you may already be locked and loaded with your Christmas lights this year, and in the interests of keeping consumerism in check, don’t feel guilty about switching on the fairy lights just remember to switch them off overnight or when you’re not at home. You might also consider calculating your usage and finding a way to offset used energy back to the grid. However, if you’re shopping for new lights, consider buying solar- or battery-powered lights this year. Solar of course uses nothing but the sun, and battery powered can be cost-effectively managed with rechargeable batteries for a more eco-friendly output.


For many of us, travel during the holiday season is hard to avoid if you wish to see family and loved ones who live interstate or even overseas. If you need to fly, look for ways to offset your carbon footprint when you research flights, many airlines offer this service - when booking online simply check the ‘offset’ box and the airline does the rest for you.

Make the most of public transport to and from end-of-year work events - leave the car at home, enjoy a glass or two of champagne (if that’s your style) as even one less car on the road will help the environment. If you are driving, perhaps think about setting up a carpool for colleagues who live nearby and take advantage of transit lanes during peak hour to speed up the commute.

Shopping online may save you a trip to the store, but consider the impact of shipping your goods. Look for early December bargains with enough advance delivery time to allow the merchant to access slower but lower impact shipping options when fulfilling.


Wherever possible, source your festive feast locally - that way you avoid adding to the carbon footprint through road, rail and air travel, and your food will arrive at your door faster and fresher if it’s only travelled a short distance. Even better, your buying power supports local producers. Check the labels on supermarket hams for details of where they're farmed, ask your butcher or seafood provedore where they source their produce and if you need to do a run to collect food, do a quick call around of friends and family and see if you can pick up their order while you’re at it.

Here’s an idea that sure to have Grandma spitting out her egg nog - a Vegan Christmas. If it’s too big a step to forgo the traditional ham, turkey and pork with all the trimmings, why not start with plant-based festive dessert this year? If you like spending time in the kitchen, pop on an apron and start baking ... or order up from a vegan baker like Treat Dreams who sell mince pies with dairy- and egg-free pastry, all-fruit mince filling and a light dusting of icing sugar. Team it with one of the many delicious coconut, almond or soy milk ice-creams available at supermarkets and good food providers. One of our family favourites (especially if you’re a fan of the iconic Golden Gaytime), is Over the Moo’s I Fell for Caramel with salted caramel swirls and crunchy toffee bits. Add a colourful platter of fruit to the table with sliced mangoes, watermelon, peaches, nectarines, apricots and cherries and wait for the compliments to roll in. There is no way your guests (or Grandma) will realise this incredible dessert combination is 100% vegan.


What would Christmas be without an esky filled with ice and refreshing drinks? The rise and rise of quality craft beer in Australia means the selection is vast, but if you’re looking for artisan brewery doing its bit for the environment, both 4 Pines, and Stone and Wood are B Corporation businesses which means they meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance. Other craft breweries with social purpose include Eden Brewery, who donate a percentage of their profits to water projects run by Oxfam, and the Good Beer Co., a social enterprise beer company that donates 50% of its profits to charity partners.

Over Christmas in Australia you’ll need plenty of drinking water to keep hydrated in the heat. Fortunately, tap water across the country is safe to drink so there is little justification for buying bottled water. If you’re attending a summer music festival or any big entertainment event, look for refillable water stations like We Refill (Splendour in the Grass, Jack Johnson Tour, Big Sound, TedX), that do an incredible job of reducing single-use plastic waste by offering filtered tap water that you fill yourself in your own reusable bottle.


What could exercise possibly have to do with sustainability? Mother Nature is the ultimate playground and training ground. All the great work you do all year to ensure a sustainable lifestyle feeds into maintaining the environment around you, so enjoy the benefits of your efforts … save money and natural resources by choosing a planet-friendly way to stay healthy.

Get outside and sweat off the extra calories with a run, walk, swim or cycle in the great outdoors. No need to suck up electricity running like a lab rat on an indoor treadmill, head for the hills! Ditch the spin class and cycle up and over a mountain - the view is so much better from the top. Or dive into in a freshwater lake (once you’ve checked the depth), immerse yourself in the ocean, or paddle in a local river instead of a chlorine-treated and suspiciously warm-in-patches public pool.

If you want to get into the spirit of the season, why not join a Christmas-themed run in your local community. The fantastic volunteers at Park Run, with organised weekly runs all over the world, often have a festive theme on the last run before Christmas (Saturday 23rd December this year). Or you might like to pay it forward and combine a fun run with some much needed fundraising at the Variety Club’s annual Santa Fun Run.

Whatever you get up to this holiday season, enjoy the world around you and think about your impact as you soak up much-needed time away from work with family and friends.


If you are thinking about donating at this time of year, please take a look at the charities we support.

Jane O'Connell
Jane O'Connell


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