By Susan Arnot Heaney, Rainforest Alliance Director of Marketing & Company Engagement
Whatever holidays you celebrate, wherever in the world you gather, there are some traditions that transcend borders, including sending greeting cards and giving gifts. In the US alone, holiday retail sales this year are expected to reach more than US$680 billion. At the Rainforest Alliance one of our mission goals is to help transform consumer behavior, which also aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goal number 12 – responsible consumption. With each purchase decision we make, in our personal and professional lives, we have the opportunity to help or hurt people and the planet.
Does this make a difference? Yes! When you step back to assess holiday consumption, the opportunity to drive positive impact is clear. Here are just two examples – greeting cards and flowers.
In addition to giving gifts, holiday cards are a significant part of many cultures. For the November-December holiday season alone, Americans exchange about 1.6 billion greeting cards, representing 25% of all cards sold year-round, for a total value (in 2015) of US$2 billion. These holiday cards would fill a football field 10 stories high, and require the harvesting of nearly 300,000 trees. The UK is not far behind, selling more than a billion cards, enough to stretch around the world five times. One can extrapolate similar metrics for countries around the world.
The cost and impact of a single greeting card is negligible, but as a whole, the impact is staggering. This is why making thoughtful, informed purchase decisions is key: look for greeting cards and other paper products carrying the Forest Stewardship Council® seal (the Rainforest Alliance is proud to be a founder of FSC), which demonstrates that behind the product is a company committed to sustainable forestry, such as Avery Dennison, Domtar, P&G and many more. There is an urgency to these decisions: every day 123,000 acres of forest are lost, and we need to support the companies that are driving mores sustainable practices and protecting forests.
There are opportunities to make smart choices in cut flowers, too. Each year, in the US $7.5 billion is spent on cut flowers, with 30% of sales (or about US$2.25 billion) occurring during the holiday season, outpacing Valentine’s Day or even Mother’s Day. The Rainforest Alliance has been working for many years to drive sustainability in the flower industry, including positive benefits for the ecosystems and communities where flowers grow. Flowers and other crops grown in compliance with the Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard protect the environment, wildlife habitats, safe working conditions, and much more. Rainforest Alliance Certified flowers are available in many retail stores, including, for example, Costco, Whole Foods and Kroger, which recently produced the “Journey of the Roses” video.
Consumer demand is key to driving sustainable solutions in the products we choose and use every day, and consumers are indeed voting with their purchase decisions. Whether it is a cup of tea or coffee, a bar of chocolate, fruit, furniture, household paper goods, or so much more, choosing products that are certified sustainable tells companies that they should pursue responsible sourcing and supply chains. Research shows 84% of consumers seek out a “responsible” product whenever possible, and 90% would boycott a company if they learned of deceptive or irresponsible practices, representing a rapidly expanding movement making a difference with daily purchases.
It Is Important to Act Now
The holidays are a time for giving, a time for sharing, and time for spreading love and good cheer — a time to give back to others. A responsibly sourced gift demonstrates care for the recipient as well as for the planet and the people behind the product. And, of course, there is another sustainable gift giving option: donating to a charity of your choice in the names of friends and family. The Rainforest Alliance depends upon individual donations all year round, and our donors can be confident that their gifts are used effectively. Click here to donate.
Remember, at the holidays and always, if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem.