It’s that time of year again – you can’t set foot in a shopping centre without hearing cheery Christmas music. Whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing is a personal matter, but as an ex-retail employee, I find it acts as extra motivation not to go shopping in the first place.
If you’re the sort of person to be following the PERC blog, you’ve probably read your share of “Green Christmas” articles over the years, so you know most of the basics: real Christmas trees are better than artificial, LED lights are the way to go, use reusable (or at least recyclable) gift wrap, local free-range turkey (if you’re of the omnivorous persuasion), and charitable gift catalogues such as the one from World Vision.
Those are all great ideas and you should definitely do them. Some people feel weird planting fruit trees in Cambodia instead of handing you a nicely wrapped package, but as a socially conscious person I can tell you that there are SO MANY causes I would love to support if I had the resources, and I truly appreciate this sort of gift. Odds are good the socially conscious person in your life feels the same way. (Shameless self-promotion: you can also give a gift subscription to the PEN simply by making a donation to PERC and letting us know who you’d like it go to – and their address obviously!).
What this post is actually about, though, is shipping. Maybe not super-exciting, but often a necessary part of the shopping and gift giving process (of course if you give a gift subscription to the PEN we’ll handle that for you).
It’s a fact of life that things are not always in the places we need or want them to be. Shopping locally can really help, especially from places like MakerHouse Co that feature local artisans, or Ten Thousand Villages that encourage just and sustainable trade in developing areas. Not everything is available locally, though, and although there can be a lot wrong with them, there are certain economies of scale to mega-retailers such as Amazon.
This piece by Treehugger goes into more detail, but what it boils down to is that it depends on a lot of variables, and you’re better off picking one method or the other, rather than doing both.
This holds true for all kinds of shopping, actually. If you can walk, bus or otherwise minimize the energy footprint of your local “real life” shopping trip (maybe by careful planning or carpooling), that is great. If you can order the majority of things online and have them shipped, though, that is almost always more fuel efficient than driving around yourself. Where possible, ship through the postal service – they’re probably coming to your house most days anyway.
What makes sense to you will depend on your situation and the sort of things you’re trying to buy. I won’t lie – it can get complicated, and sometimes we might not even really know which option is more sustainable. Buying less stuff is almost always more sustainable, but life requires some amount of stuff.
So what’s our green holiday advice for you, dear PEN reader? Buy less, buy used, buy local if you can, and ship through mail rather than driving around if you can’t. Try to stick to one or the other most of the time, and use these strategies all year round for a smaller energy footprint.