Sustainability set to be key trend this Christmas

IPA data suggests young adults will close the action gap when it comes to sustainable shopping choices.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director


For many consumers, all it takes is a cursory glance at the pile up of packaging next to their front door to bring to life the gap between saying you want to shop more sustainably and actually doing something about it.

Yet research from the IPA suggests that young adults will move to close this action gap in the key festive sales period, with fifty-six percent of 18 to 24 year olds planning to be more sustainable this Christmas. A shift that encompasses trends of buying locally, upcycling and refurbishing gifts. 

The report came ahead of a landmark study from the UN, published this month, which warned of increasing heat waves, droughts and flooding. The report, which was described by the UN as a ‘code red for humanity’, thrust the urgency of the climate crisis into the spotlight.

This stark warning for the planet was delivered by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of scientists whose findings are endorsed by the world's governments. Their report is the first major review of the science of climate change since 2013. Its release comes less than three months before the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Jake Dubbins, Co-Chair of the Conscious Advertising Network and Co-Founder of Media Bounty, recently warned of the coming reckoning for agencies when it comes to tackling the climate crisis as he explained: “Marketers now need to aggressively support the science and take responsibility for our role in shaping the narrative.”

Beyond the big brand promise

The latest IPA research underlines the potential commercial upside of brands taking an active role in tackling the climate crisis.

While the shift to sustainable consumption is led by the younger generation; across all age groups there are plans to change habits in the wake of the climate crisis. For those aged 45-54, 27% say they intend to be more sustainable this Christmas, while a quarter of those aged over 55 also plan to have a more sustainable festive season. 

It is a shift that smart brands are already acting on; frozen meal retailer, Cook, will be carbon offsetting all of its Christmas Lunch bundles for 2021 while Love a Christmas Tree, offers real Nordmann Fir trees delivered to customers’ doors from their Leicestershire family farm. Customers decorate and care for the tree during the festive period, then the company will come to pick it up again and replant it in January.

Christmas 2021: A creative challenge like no other

In the wake of a year of so much loss and isolation, the research reveals how consumers plan to spend Christmas 2021, whether they will enjoy it more due to missing out last year, and considering the tone they’d like to see from advertising.

Luke Green, Insight Analyst at the IPA, explains: “These figures reveal a complex array of consumer attitudes towards Christmas 2021. While it appears that half of the UK population will be channelling their pent-up excitement into enjoying Christmas 2021 more following last year’s enforced lockdown, others may still be cautious.”

However, this caution does not extend to the shift to sustainable consumption. As Green continues: “With ESG rising in importance for businesses too, this could be an opportunity for brands and their agencies to think about and communicate their sustainability credentials more this Christmas, while not losing sight of the festive feel. Using less glitter doesn’t mean our ads can’t still sparkle.”

Gemma Smyth, Senior Planner, VCCP, added: “After such perpetual change, people are craving the comfort of festive period familiarities more than ever. Our challenge as storytellers will be in striking a tone that considers the array of situations people may be in - balancing classic Christmas codes, with optimism and hope, and offering empathy for those with less to celebrate.”

The unique creative challenge of Christmas 2021 will of course be the battle for attention in a marketplace in which ad spend is certain to outstrip 2020. Yet, perhaps the more fundamental challenge for the industry is selling consumers a vision of a sustainable Christmas which will finally close the action gap. Good intentions alone are not enough to combat the climate crisis. 

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