12/17/2014 05:46 EST | Updated 02/16/2015 05:59 EST

Canadians Are Going Green for the Holidays

Photos by Sally Jane Photographic Art via Getty Images

For many, as the song goes, it's the most wonderful time of the year. There are parties, food and beverages, and gifts. The latter remains one of the pillars of the season for children of all ages.

Not too long ago, it wasn't uncommon for families to gather in the morning in their PJs, and have the kids rip open the wrapping paper and boxes, and toss them aside before diving into the latest action figure or sports equipment. Parents would then gather up the discarded gift-wrapping, throw it into the garbage and continue on with the holiday festivities.

These days, filling a large green plastic bag with paper and boxes is virtually unheard of in Canada. Thankfully. There is greater thought and consideration behind the reuse of products and how we can adopt more sustainable practices when celebrating our holiday festivities. While consumers aren't giving up gift-wrapping entirely this holiday season, I'm very encouraged to learn that they are reusing more of what they have or demanding more eco-friendly options (including certified, deforestation-free, chlorine-free), according our recent survey.

The survey, conducted by business research firm Opinion Research Corporation International (ORC), completed in late September of this year, surveyed about 1,000 Canadians and 1,000 Americans to find out more about their attitudes regarding the use and reuse of paper and sustainable goods.

Nearly all Canadians (95 per cent) said they will reuse paper products as gift wrapping this holiday season. That statistic is quite remarkable to see and one I hope will sustain and even grow.

At the top of the list of reused paper products were gift bags (86 per cent), followed by boxes (74 per cent) and wrapping paper (59 per cent). The percentage of women who said they would reuse paper products to wrap gifts was significantly higher compared with their male counterparts -- 92 per cent of women would reuse gift bags as opposed to 79 per cent of men.

There were also some striking differences in how Canadians and Americans approach this holiday season as they reach for the wrapping paper and boxes. The data show that Canadians have strong positive attitudes towards sustainability, and are seeking out and willing to pay for environmentally friendly and sustainably-sourced products.

The survey also found that this holiday season, half (50 per cent) of Canadians said they plan to seek out more sustainably-sourced wrapping paper and gift bags compared to 41 per cent of Americans. The attitude was fairly consistent despite potential generational differences -- Millennials (52 per cent), GenX (49 per cent) and Baby Boomers (50 per cent).

When asked if they were willing to pay more for eco-friendly/sustainable holiday gift bags and wrapping paper, 40 per cent of Canadians said they would, compared to 35 per cent of Americans. Younger Canadians felt stronger about this issue, as nearly half of Canadian Millennials (48 per cent) would pay more, a sign to businesses that sustainable practices are beneficial to the bottom line.

Overall nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of Canadians would prefer to give gifts that have greener, more environmentally friendly packaging. More than half of Americans (52 per cent) said they would take this approach.

These are a lot of numbers to take in. But what they're telling us is that there is a growing consumer consciousness when it comes to choosing sustainable packaging options. Whether that means reusing gift-wrapping or choosing gifts themselves that are kinder to the planet through their entire life cycle, consumers in North America a seeking out a green Christmas, so to speak.

December is usually a time for reflection and for looking ahead. It is very reassuring to see that Canadians are taking sustainability more seriously, especially this holiday season and as we move into 2015. When nearly half (49 per cent) of Canadians said in the survey they consider the sustainable attributes of the product's packaging, whether it's chlorine-free, certified, deforestation-free or contains recycled materials, when purchasing a product, it says a lot about where we have come from and where we must go.

It's a testament to the efforts of many organizations and companies around the world who have been raising awareness and changing their practices to help the environment. Looking ahead to the New Year and beyond, I'm hopeful that these attitudes towards the environment and towards sustainability will continue to grow and become tangible, regular and normal actions for the benefit of all.


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