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Kingston University expert explores whether Covid-19 pandemic can be catalyst to develop more sustainable approach to festive period

Posted Friday 18 December 2020

Kingston University expert explores whether Covid-19 pandemic can be catalyst to develop more sustainable approach to festive period Kingston University's Sustainable Design MA course leader Paul Micklethwaite shares tips for a more sustainable Christmas.

As countries around the world imposed lockdowns earlier this year, one of the direct benefits to the planet was the short-term positive impact reducing emissions had on the environment. Now, as the first consignments of a vaccine for Covid-19 are being made available to the public, attention is shifting to Christmas and how sustainable practice can be incorporated into traditional end of the year celebrations.

Sustainable Design MA course leader Paul Micklethwaite has identified three areas - gifts, decorations and games - he believes can prompt positive change and encourage new conversations about the environment, climate crisis and sustainability.

"Christmas has its origins as a way of marking the winter solstice, fortifying us for the second half of winter. That has been lost as we have embraced commercialisation and slipped away from its foundational elements," Mr Micklethwaite said. "We need to identify what we would like to do more of and what we can live without. How we celebrate while incorporating sustainable ideas within the traditional festivities is an interesting challenge for us all."

With nature laying low during winter, Kingston School of Art's Sustainable Design MA course leader sees this as an opportunity bring into the home sights and sounds that remind us of our connection to our planet. "My family have a real Christmas tree in our home and for us it's an important symbol of this time of year. It's a piece of the natural world we bring indoors, but we need to think of a productive second life for the tree so we're not just throwing it away after Christmas," he said.

Decorations adorn both the house and the tree of most homes, however with the proliferation of cheap and disposable Christmas-themed items Mr Micklethwaite believes it is important to purchase items that stand the test of time. "Emotional durability is the term for an item that brings back a wealth of memories from times past," he explained. "It is especially important around Christmas and carries more meaning than buying something novel or new. High quality objects built to be family heirlooms handed down from one generation to the next - these are things of beauty."

Gift giving plays a major part of the festive period with families and communities sharing presents with one another, but there are creative ways people can offer gifts that has less of an environmental impact. "Gift giving and gift receiving are symbolic but there needs to be some tangible exchange for it to be meaningful," he said. "That might not involve money, it could be an organising a day out, cooking a meal or presenting tokens for acts of kindness in the future. Instead of gifts for Secret Santa, money could be donated to charities and the surprise element is the charity you choose to give money to on behalf of the other person."

"You have to delight the person and give them something they want and value. To give them something they don't value is where it goes wrong and the presents end up in the bin during the spring clean."

This year, with many businesses struggling due to Covid restrictions, Micklethwaite sees an ideal opportunity for consumers to embrace local traders who have adapted their models to embrace digital commerce. "We can buy a bit more mindfully from local producers who are small and maybe have stronger ethics and values than some of the bigger brands. We can be more confident that the money we spend is actually going to the people that generated it rather than someone else exploiting the work of others," he said.

It's a scene easily pictured, the family gathered around a board game laid out on the table with the competitive siblings marshalled by parents reaching for the instructions. Micklethwaite believes these are the spaces in which new conversations about sustainability can be initiated. By thinking creatively about playing games, he suggests using the Good Life Goals. The colourful cards turn the United Nations Urban Sustainable Development Goals into relatable prompts for action that could be adapted to be used as a Christmas Day activity.

Designed to engage a wide audience and written in clear, concise, easy to understand language, the cards can facilitate conversations that hold a mirror to everyday actions. "With a bit of an introduction, this could be an interesting way of slightly changing the script -it's a toolkit that could be adapted to create a game without needing to have instructions and a board," he explained. "Pitched as playful, humorous and fun it can start a serious conversation about sustainability and our way of living. Giving a friend or family member this as a gift is thinking more progressively about the world and our place within it."

Mr Micklethwaite hopes conversations such as these can lead to direct action that can have a meaningful impact around the globe during the festive period. "It's not just whether you understand the principles, but put them into practice and informing your everyday behaviours. We can use this Christmas as an opportunity to reflect on what gives us value and benefit and what doesn't and only keep the stuff that does."

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