Dreaming of an ethical Christmas

A new website is giving away green gifts in an effort to show that you don’t have to sacrifice sustainability when buying presents this festive season

The Halloween decorations hadn’t even made it back into their boxes before the first not-so-subtle signs of Christmas appeared, and now fairy lights, glittery garments and super-duper one-off deals are everywhere.

But at the same time, Extra Ethical, a new initiative to promote ethical consumption and sustainable buying habits, is setting up shop too. Its founder, Oliver Sylvester-Bradley, is keen to buck the trend this festive season.

“People seem to go just a little bit crazy at Christmas, both in terms of spending and buying things they – and others – don’t really need,” he says.

So crazy, in fact, that a staggering 60% of the UK’s annual retail turnover occurs at Christmas. And yet last year’s GoodBrand survey found that, despite the recession, ethical consumption was on the rise. Consumers concerned with recycling, Fairtrade, shopping locally, buying organic and vetting companies before purchasing from them made up 55% of UK adults. There is certainly an appetite for change.

“It is a growing phenomenon, definitely,” Oliver admits. “But at Christmas lots of people’s principles and values can fly out the window. Now seems like the perfect opportunity to remind people about the need to be more sustainable, more thoughtful about where they spend their money.”

So how easy is it to walk into a high-street store and buy an ethical gift? “The big brands like M&S… they’re making an effort,” says Oliver. “But, in actual fact, you can make a bigger difference by spending your money in a charity shop. Or with a small brand that doesn’t have such a large global impact and isn’t importing things from all over the world.”

Oliver is a big believer in consumer power. For him, currency is a vote, one that can wield real change outside of the piecemeal progress of rumbling corporate social responsibility packages. “Every penny that you spend is a vote for the company you’re spending your money on,” he says. “It’s your greatest power as a consumer – to shop with the brands you believe in.”

With this in mind, he has set up the Extra Ethical advent calendar to encourage a more sustainable Christmas by offering free prizes and tips throughout advent.

Prizes from some of Britain’s best-known eco-stalwarts will be handed out each day from 1-24 December, including Fairtrade teas from Clipper, 100 rental vouchers from WhipCar, handmade Christmas cosmetics from Lush, £1,000 in clean energy investments from Trillion Fund, and even ethical holidays from Responsible Travel.

People who share Extra Ethical with their friends will receive reward points and could make it on to a leaderboard, where they will be in with a chance of winning a grand prize on Christmas Eve.