Reusable gift wrap, homemade gifts: Sustainability is on the wish list this holiday season

SustainAble Home Goods sells a selection of eco-conscious products online and also offers cloth wrapping that can be reused.Source: SustainAble Home Goods

Some children might be waking up on Christmas morning to find more homemade gifts and a lot less wrapping paper under the tree.

One in three shoppers said they plan to ditch traditional wrapping paper for environmental reasons this holiday season, according to an Accenture survey, which asked 1,515 U.S. consumers in August about their holiday shopping plans.

Almost a quarter of consumers, meantime, are planning to buy materials or ingredients to give their own homemade gifts this year, Accenture found. And 37% of people say they're likely going to be shopping in secondhand channels such as thrift stores this holiday season — for others and for themselves. That metric ticked up to 50% for shoppers under the age of 40.

“It's a sustainable holiday,” said Jill Standish, lead of Accenture's global retail practice. “And people are more aware than ever.”

After spending so much time at home since March 2020, many households are in a “different frame of mind” as they think about decorating and gifting, Standish said.

“It'll be less of a materialistic holiday and more of a human one,” she said. “People are more aware of the complexities of the supply chain and they're more aware of what's going on with the environment.”

She said Accenture's survey also found 70% of consumers plan to make charitable contributions this holiday season, showing a “generosity of spirit,” too. “People are saying, 'I'm going to open up my wallet.' But how they're spending it and what they're spending it on is different,” Standish said.

'The rise of the conscious consumer'

SustainAble Home Goods, a purveyor of eco-conscious gifts and decorations, has an “ethical gifts” section on its website this year — offering items such as vintage glasses, loose leaf tea blends and handmade candles, among other goods. The small business said it has seen an uptick in sales over the pandemic, as more shoppers stumbled upon its website in search of sustainable brands.

“I call it the rise of the conscious consumer,” said LaToya Tucciarone, SustainAble Home Goods founder and CEO. “It's been going on for a while, and we've been talking to people about it — that they need to pay attention to this group that's coming up. Because I think it's really the future of retail.”

“People want more meaning behind the things that they're buying, and people are way more aware of what they're buying. And Covid really fast-tracked that,” she added.

On Etsy, searches for environmentally and eco-friendly items are up 28% so far this year compared with the prior year, according to spokeswoman Lily Cohen. And in the past six months, searches on Etsy for eco-friendly, sustainable and biodegradable gifts are up 48% compared with the same time in 2020, Cohen said.

On Pinterest, searches for sustainable Christmas decorations were up 50% in October compared with last October, according to spokeswoman Azizza Brinson. And the number of people looking for sustainable gift ideas rose 33% last month from a year earlier, Brinson said.

Like Standish, First Insight CEO and founder Greg Petro said the pandemic acted as an accelerant for sustainability trends.

“Everybody was stuck at home and receiving packages daily, and I think that inflection point has changed the mindset and trajectory of almost every consumer group,” Petro said.

Reusing gift wrap

In a separate survey, First Insight found 39% of consumers think sustainable packaging is “very important” when shopping, up from 28% in 2019. The consumer research group, along with the Baker Retailing Center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, surveyed 1,122 consumers July 1-10.

To make it easier for Etsy sellers to use sustainable packaging, the company partnered with EcoEnclose. Sellers can buy its packaging made from recycled materials and responsibly sourced paper.

As for opting out of gift wrap, SustainAble suggests customers cut up old blankets or other fabric instead. It also sells Japanese-style cloth on its website that shoppers can use to bundle gifts and reuse later on.

“When you give it to somebody, you can tell them to wrap their next gift to somebody, and you can pass it on down the line,” Tucciarone said. “We're trying to make that more accessible.”

“More people are definitely seeing sustainable items as gifting choices,” she added. “We have flown through all of our reusable utensils … people are like, 'This is a great stocking stuffer.'”

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