Give Responsibly this Holiday Season

Give Responsibly This Holiday Season

Washington, D.C.—As the 2002 holiday season gets underway, more and more shopping-weary and debt-stricken consumers are ready to embrace a less consumptive holiday.

“Gift giving is one of the greatest pleasures of the holiday season,” says Worldwatch Institute researcher Lisa Mastny. “It’s ironic that a tradition centered on joy is now a growing burden on both households and the Earth. Consumers are spending larger amounts of time and money tracking down the ‘perfect’ gifts for their family and friends, and many are growing tired and frustrated in the process.”

This year, the average American household will budget an estimated $1,656 for holiday spending, of which $1,073 will be used to purchase gifts, according to the American Express Retail Index on holiday shopping.

In the UK, the average person now spends 15 hours looking for Christmas gifts, makes five separate shopping trips, walks a total of 20 miles in the quest for gifts, and spends two hours in line to pay, reports The Guardian. Analysts predict that nearly a quarter of UK holiday purchases this year will be charged on credit cards, saddling consumers with nearly $3 billion in debt by the end of January and costing them $33 million in interest payments for that month alone.

The holidays also present a challenge to the environment. A recent study by Environmental Defense (www.environmentaldefense.org/go/catalogs) calculated that a whopping 3.6 million tons of paper were used to produce the roughly 59 catalogs mailed to every man, woman, and child in the United States last year. Only three of the country’s 42 leading catalog companies surveyed reported using recycled paper in the body of their mailings, even though by switching to just 10 percent recycled content, the entire catalog industry would save enough wood to stretch a six-foot fence across the U.S. seven times.

The Maryland-based Center for a New American Dream reports that more than half of Americans feel that reducing their spending on gifts would allow them to focus more on the true meaning of the holidays.

How can holiday buyers recapture their time and their money while also helping to protect the environment? Some are opting out of seasonal spending altogether. For the past 11 years, the advocacy group Adbusters (www.adbusters.org/campaigns/bnd) has urged consumers worldwide to celebrate “Buy Nothing Day,” traditionally held on the day after Thanksgiving, the biggest shopping day in America.

Other groups are urging consumers to redirect their holiday spending to more environmentally friendly or socially responsible ends, such as boosting global conservation efforts and supporting families that are less fortunate. For example:

  • Heifer International (www.heifer.org) offers consumers the chance to help struggling families in the developing world move toward self-sufficiency by giving the gift of livestock for plowing power, food, and income. In 2001, projects in 48 countries worldwide helped more than 45,000 families obtain animals and training.
  • The non-profit group SERRV International (www.serrv.org) markets the handicrafts and food products of people in developing countries in a fair and equitable way, in an effort to promote social and economic justice. In 2000, SERRV’s sales of crafts, coffee, chocolate, and other products totaled $5.7 million.
  • The Sea Turtle Survival League (www.cccturtle.org) urges shoppers to adopt an endangered sea turtle in the name of a loved one, with the proceeds going to sea turtle conservation. The World Wildlife Fund (www.worldwildlife.org) offers a similar option for polar bears through its Polar Bear Adoption Center.
  • The Center for a New American Dream’s “Simplify the Holidays” campaign (www.newdream.org/holiday/index.html) outlines a wide range of creative options to help holiday celebrants enjoy a less-consumptive yet still fun and fulfilling holiday season.
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