I only have one thing on my Christmas list this year. A new workshop for you. While you have done a truly wondrous thing – delivering toys to children all over the world, year after year – I doubt you’ll disagree that your global toy enterprise has a few problems. The elves working in factories throughout your supply chain often are underpaid and work in miserable conditions. And the waste and emissions of these factories are not only making the world increasingly uninhabitable, but soon enough could put your corporate headquarters underwater – literally – with the north pole in danger of becoming completely ice-free in just a few years’ time.
I understand it must be hard to make so many toys for such a large and growing population, and so corners are cut. (I’ve heard Mrs. Claus is an unrelenting chief financial officer, but let’s just use the passive tense, as this is not about blame, but about change). So my wish is for you to consider a complete overhaul of your business model: from production and distribution to what types of toys you make and even how many. Please don’t confuse this with making a few tweaks here and there. I’m not asking you to reduce packaging by 50%, energy consumption by 25% or phase out certain toxic chemicals. Other toy manufacturers are taking these middling steps. As Santa Claus, you must be held to a much higher standard.
First, recognizing how full our planet is, why keep producing so many new toys? Instead, why not facilitate ways to better share toys amongst more families? The average toy is only played with for probably less than an hour a day, then discarded rather quickly. So perhaps it would be better to have toy libraries where families could borrow toys instead of buy them. In 2010, there were 4,500 toy libraries distributed across 31 countries. Each of these libraries results in fewer parents buying fewer toys and instead borrowing them – reducing the total number of toys produced, as well as helping children learn the valuable lesson of sharing. If you could put your support behind the global toy library movement, I’m sure it would really take off.
Or if you’re feeling entrepreneurial, perhaps you could help cultivate a secondhand market for used toys, like Patagonia is doing with their already-worn clothing. Even better, why not start – or support – a Netflix-esque toy service like Spark Box Toys? For $25-$36 a month, parents can rent toys and games and send them back when they get boring. Toys aren’t as easy to mail as lightweight DVDs, so I’m sure your reindeer could provide an advantage – if they’re up for working year round.
Designing more toys and games to last for generations would also help reduce global waste streams and resource use. As would making all your toys cradle-to-cradle. Imagine: wooden blocks with non-toxic plant-based paints that last for decades and then can serve as Christmas fire kindling at the very end of their lives; plastic toys that can be fully recycled – not downcycled – into new plastic toys; perhaps even biologically grown toys from cellulose. If we can grow organs and now burgers in Petri dishes, I bet we can grow bamboo straight into the shape of interlocking blocks. (And if you can’t do it, you might be able to contract out to a certain Danish company.)
Sure, these changes might increase costs – especially if you pay your elves a living wage and process waste better – but if you spend some of your time encouraging us to get back to the original spirit of Christmas, then that shouldn’t be a problem. If Christmas once again becomes about one special toy for each child (not one toy from each parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt and friend), with friends and family giving gifts of time – such as special playdates, whether to build a snow fort, spend a few hours at a playground or read a book together – that should reduce demands on your workshop dramatically. And if you also help shift what have now become daily treats to special seasonal treats, that could help a lot too.
I know you remember when it was special to get an orange and peppermint in your stocking, Santa. But now, oranges – and even candy – are daily extravagances. For the planet and children’s health, making treats rarer would be a good tradition to bring back.
Finally, if you’re still reading (I know you get a lot of wish lists this time of year and you might have already moved on to Tommy’s 12-page toy list), I’d also like to ask you to think about what types of toys you produce. Too many of the toys promoted today reduce creative play, whether we’re talking co-branded movie toys, video games or even the growing number of “educational” smart phone apps for babies and young children. Worse, many celebrate the eco-destructive behaviors that will have to stop if humanity is to survive.