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Vancouver winter markets vie to offer mindful choices

The amount consumers spend over this holiday season is expected to the lowest in three years, according to a recent…

By Codi Hauka , in City Feature story , on November 26, 2014 Tags: , , , ,

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Handmade crafts are a popular draw of winter markets.

The amount consumers spend over this holiday season is expected to the lowest in three years, according to a recent BMO report.

The BMO holiday outlook report projected that the average Canadian would spend $1,517 this winter, down from $1,810 last year.

Experts say one reason for decreased spending may be a move towards more ethical spending — a trend some winter markets in Vancouver are encouraging this year.

Other Vancouver is one such event. It is a partnership of independent artists who are encouraging what they call mindful consumerism. Sofia Fiorentino, one of the founders of the event, said that the market aims help visitors understand what’s behind their purchase.

“You don’t actually appreciate what’s in front of you unless you slow down and understand where it’s coming from,” Fiorentino said.

The main goal of the event, which will be held in Chinatown Nov. 28 to 30, is to educate people on the idea of slow design, so consumers know what went into a product. Artists and designers from across Canada and the United States will feature their work at Other to give a personal connection to their projects’ histories.

Fiorentino said that structuring the market around a designer collective sets it apart from what she called the greenwashing of other winter shopping events.

“We basically want to be something else in terms of not marketing directly towards being ‘eco’ or ‘sustainable’,” she said. “That should be something that’s the standard, not something we need to advertise.”

A growing consciousness

According to Tourism Vancouver, winter markets have become popular among tourists and locals for purchasing gifts. Many such events promote selling handmade work of local artisans.

Ceramic mugs and other recycling options are available at the market.
Ceramic mugs and other recycling options are available at the Vancouver Christmas Market.

Other isn’t the only event that’s providing more sustainable options to the fast-paced shopping frenzy at malls. Creating a green event was always an important consideration for the organizers of the Vancouver Christmas Market downtown at Queen Elizabeth Plaza.

“We give a lot of thought in how to do it,” said Malte Klutz, the market’s president. “We really want to push [being green] and we’ve been doing that from day one.”

At the market, hot beverages are served in ceramic mugs, for example, rather than paper or plastic cups. Visitors pay a small, refundable deposit or can keep the container as a souvenir.

The Vancouver Christmas Market started five years ago and has quickly become one of the most popular winter markets in the city. In that time, it’s almost doubled in size, increasing from an original 27 vendors to its current 52.

Despite the growth, Klutz maintained that the ecological footprint of the event has not simultaneously increased.

“About 20 to 25 per cent of our market goes to the landfill,” he said. “Everything else is recycled or reusable.”

Vancouver’s permitting for markets requires all applications be filled out with a green event form, detailing what measures will be taken to be sustainable and decrease waste. This step has been added to help Vancouver reach its greenest city goal by 2020.

The Vancouver Christmas Market certainly checked off some of the items.

Experiential gift giving

BC residents are some of the most frugal holiday shoppers in Canada.
B.C. residents are some of the most frugal holiday shoppers in Canada.

But in spite of consumers’ better intentions and new efforts to be green at Christmas markets, the BMO report also reveals that last-minute panic shopping often sends people into more debt than they had originally planned for. Gifts accounted for 37 per cent of total spending in 2013.

However, there are ways to cut spending that combine environmental mindfulness. Adbusters advocates Buy Nothing Day as a way of mocking the consumerism surrounding Black Friday in the United States.

There are other alternatives. Katherine White, an associate professor at the Sauder School of Business, believed that it’s possible to spend more sustainably over the holidays by purchasing experiential gifts rather than material ones.

“Planning a movie date, giving them an online magazine subscription, enrolling them in a cooking class, or taking them to a concert are relatively more sustainable options,” White said.

“Research also shows that experiences make people happier than do material goods, and they don’t require excess packaging or wrapping paper.”

Metro Vancouver has a holiday campaign expressing the same concept. Their “create memories, not garbage” initiative encourages green gifts that will reduce the high volumes of garbage generated by material gift-giving.