Can We Make Christmas Sustainable in 2020? | Opinion

2019 will be remembered as the year that sustainability went mainstream. There's been a change in culture across the board in recent months, the economic effects of which remain to be seen—including in terms of consumer spending.

From business and innovation circles being energised by brands like Tesla and figureheads like Elon Musk, to activist groups being inspired by high profile events like Extinction Rebellion protests in London, to Great Thunberg being feted by world leaders, green issues are now leading not only the news but some of our purchasing decisions.

The new spirit of being green has even cracked that hardest of nuts - Christmas. Despite its religious roots, the festive period has become the time of year when we consume most unapologetically and perhaps even unthinkingly.

Unsurprisingly, Christmas is the worst time of the year for the environment, with a third more waste than usual being produced, much of which is non-recyclable and sometimes even harmful.

Although it is a time of giving to, and caring for each other, it is also the time when we take the most from the environment. As Christmas gets bigger with each passing year and becomes more popular across the world because of globalisation, it is essential that consumers and manufacturers choose recyclable packaging and wrapping, as well as recycling things like Christmas trees and old tech devices.

There are different ways that we can start to consume sustainably. Some of us will be giving specifically "green" gifts. This doesn't just mean using things like recyclable wrapping paper, but can also include technology gifts and gadgets that have been designed sustainably.

Too much tech has been designed with planned obsolescence. Manufacturers are incentivised to create products that need to be completely replaced regularly, rather than just repaired or updated. Many Apple products, for example, have batteries with remarkably limited lives, and their casing and systems have been made to ensure that replacing batteries on items like Airpods is all but impossible.

So when gifting, some of us are going off the beaten track and rather than giving our loved ones the typical products, we are opting for an easily repairable modular phone like the Fairphone, or an Airpod equivalent product that allows for easy maintenance.

This all makes perfect sense: As well as being more environmentally friendly, most of us would rather receive a gift that lasts for years rather than months.

Although consumerism has traditionally had little or no space for sustainability, this is beginning to change as various industries realise that many consumers actually want design that lasts.

As well as choosing products with a longer lifespan (which should really be a bare minimum), we are also starting to think about how they are sourced, produced and shipped to us. This has been pushed to the forefront of our attention recently, with the scandal surrounding Christmas charity cards that appear to have been manufactured in China using forced prison labour. Things like fair trade, labour policies and a lower carbon footprint have become an essential part of many consumers' purchasing decisions, and not just marketing gimmicks.

Another trend that has fused consumer desirability and environmental sustainability is vintage shopping. Many of us want fashion that is more distinctive or unique than what is available on the high street. If we can feel good about a vintage item because it is also environmentally responsible to reuse fashion items, then that's a bonus.

Although vintage stores are usually concerned with clothing, vintage tech (also known by its less glamorous name, refurbished tech) is an emerging trend. Rather than constantly play catch up with the latest expensive models that provide only the tiniest incremental improvements over their predecessors of just a few months ago, many of us are choosing vintage technology. Maintaining and augmenting our phones and tablets with up to date components and accessories can be cheaper, more individual and more useful than the alternative.

At the same time as we increasingly make ethical consumer decisions, more and more brands are making this a key part of their marketing efforts. This sometimes leads to accusations of "greenwashing": The selling of a product through its claim of being green, even if it isn't.

The solution is for consumers to continue to educate themselves so they can buy the products they feel good about while actually creating a real change that is worthy of the feel-good factor. Only an evidence-based approach, and specialist providers that put these values at the core of their offerings, can stop sustainability being just the latest marketing fad and enable us all to be more responsible in our consumption in 2020.

Asad Hamir is a sustainable tech entrepreneur and co-founder of Klyk.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.