According to research from Google, 82% of consumers agree that sustainability is more top-of-mind for them than it was before the pandemic, with 78% saying that big businesses have a role in helping to combat climate change. Google Search data further indicated that consumers are looking for everyday actions they can take to make a difference, such as recycling or choosing sustainable materials.
As consumers continue to turn to brands for inspiration and sustainable alternatives to wasteful products, the landscape of advertising—and visual marketing—has shifted with it. This transformation has been brewing for a few years now: in 2020, as we navigated the first year of the pandemic, Getty Images encouraged image-makers (and image-buyers) to ditch the visuals depicting overconsumption (e.g., wrapping paper, food waste, and so on) and instead choose images that illustrate a circular economy, celebrate shopping local, or prioritize reusable gifts and products.
As we head into the holiday season, we took a closer look at how photographers today can help their commercial clients connect with customers over shared values, while also illustrating the simple, everyday changes we can make today for a better world tomorrow.
Spotlight on: Decorations
As part of their 2022 Holiday Trends report, released in the summer, Etsy named “nature themes” as one of their top decor trends, citing interest in dried flowers, branches, greenery, botanical elements, and more; searches on Etsy for “branch chandelier,” for instance, rose by 56% year over year, while “natural wooden tea candle holder” increased by 129%.
Advent calendars can be made with reusable materials and filled with homemade goodies. You can swap out traditional incandescent lights for candles or LEDs. When it comes to Christmas trees, you can reduce your footprint by shopping locally and reusing trees; in New York, for instance, you can donate trees to Mulchfest, which recycles trees into woodchips for city parks. Some have even gotten crafty by making their own trees using recycled materials like reclaimed branches, and others have decorated living trees outdoors in their yards.
And finally, many have opted to rent trees rather than buying them; you get the tree, still potted, and then give it back to the farm once the holiday’s over. Some farms will rent trees each year until they’re ready to be planted; you could also find an organization that donates your tree to reforestation projects.
Spotlight on: DIY gifts
Etsy also included “handmade gifts” as a top trend this year, with customer searches for “craft kit kid” rising by 26% year over year and those containing the term “kit DIY” going up 24%. When photographing the DIY movement, you can cover every step in the process, from the initial sourcing of materials and ingredients to the final presentation of the gift to a loved one.
Elsewhere, research conducted last year by Accenture revealed that nearly one in four consumers planned to buy materials to create handmade gifts for the holidays, with one in three planning to replace traditional wrapping paper with sustainable alternatives.
When planning your next photography session, consider edible goods over electronics and battery-powered toys, or opt for high-quality products made of bamboo. Maybe you team up with a friend to photograph their side-hustle selling homemade candles (or loose-leaf teas, or vintage wares…). Or perhaps you organize a still life/product shoot featuring baked goods, jams, or sauces—plus reused, eco-friendly fabrics for wrapping.
Spotlight on: Second-hand shopping or shopping local
According to that same report from Accenture, 37% of consumers said they would likely shop second-hand for the holidays, so you can also consider a thrifting-themed photo session, either online or in-person.
Last year, thredUP’s Thrift for the Holidays report indicated that nearly one in two shoppers (49%) considered alternatives like thrifting amid rising gift prices, limited inventory, and shipping delays. Among Gen Zers, 73% said they were open to receiving a second-hand gift.
Of course, shopping local is another way to reduce your footprint this season. Also in 2021, over half of respondents to a survey from Twitter Insiders said they’d be making an effort to shop local for Christmas, with 40% of British consumers wanting to buy more from brands and businesses based in the UK.
No matter where you’re based, you can tap into this movement by teaming up with local shops, small business owners, or their suppliers. You can consider offering a discount in exchange for permission to license the pictures yourself (get those signed model and property releases). Make sure to avoid any branded details, signage, or logos in your shots if you plan to license them.
Spotlight on: Plastic-free everything
Last year, research from Twitter for Business further found that 56% of consumers in the UK wanted to avoid presents made of or containing plastics, with 60% of Twitter users actively selecting food with little or no packaging to avoid Christmastime waste.
Consider plastic-free alternatives for everything this Christmas—from gifts to decorations to groceries. Shop for plant-based glitter alternatives to avoid microplastics. For stocking stuffers for loved ones, consider products that help them live more sustainably, such as reusable metal straws or water bottles.
Spotlight on: Eats
In 2021, we encouraged Licensing Contributors to tap into the plant-based movement during the holiday season, and 2022 is no different. As part of a recent trend report, Getty Images spotlighted “plant-based indulgence,” citing interest in dairy-free ice creams, luxury vegan chocolates, “cheeze” dips, and seaweed chips.
Plant-based alternatives to our favorite holiday meals make for evergreen content that speaks to the importance of living sustainably, so bring friends and family together for a lifestyle shoot around a vegan cooking theme. Or do some research on local, ethical vegan farms, or visit the farmers’ market for ingredients for your next food shoot.
Spotlight on: Giving back
Last but certainly not least, the 500px team also urges Licensing Contributors to consider signing, decorating, and mailing forest-friendly, plantable Christmas cards—that is, greetings made with plantable paper and wildflower or carrot seeds. You could also shadow someone who’s giving back for the holidays by volunteering as part of a tree-planting initiative or donating to a sustainable cause.
In the United States, we produce 25% more waste between Thanksgiving and the New Year, accounting for an extra one million tons of landfill waste weekly. Here’s the good news: in 2020, a study from IBM found that more than half (54%) of global consumers surveyed said that they were willing to change their habits to reduce their impact on the environment, with 44% reporting that they’d consider sustainability “to a great extent” when shopping or choosing a brand to support.
Small changes can make a significant difference, so use this holiday season to celebrate the actions you (or members of your community) take in your everyday life, and help make them feel more accessible for people around the world—for generations to come. Going forward, images that take our values into consideration will prove the most enduring and effective. “Get creative,” the 500px team suggests. “Use these ideas to build off of, and get inspired to create your own.”
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