Supply Chain Issues. Opportunity to panic? Or to do different?

Opportunity to panic? Or to do different?

Supply chain issues have been all over the news of late.

Reporters and experts telling us, “If it’s on the shelf, buy it because it won’t be there long!”. Headlines scream, “Buy your Christmas gifts now, shelves are emptying!”, “Feeling Supply Chain Pain?”, “Where’s my stuff?”.

These unexamined statements lead to panic, panic buying and mindless consuming with the results being increased personal and financial stress and a whole lot of waste to our landfills.

Some facts on waste in Canada[1]:


Within 6 months, only 1% of everything the average person buys is still in use, the other 99% has been discarded


545,000 tons of waste is generated from gift-wrapping and shopping bags each year


Household waste can increase more than 25% in the holiday season


less than 11 percent of plastics are recycled

Now, let’s see how we are doing in Vancouver, British Columbia – some facts:
Vancouver’s landfill (opened in 1966 and has an end date of 2037) currently has 225 hectares filled with garbage [2]
in 2018, the residential, commercial/institutional, and construction and demolition sectors in Metro Vancouver disposed of a total 1,282,752 tons of waste – per capita disposal rate in the region is 0.48 tons per person [3]
We, as people, are producing a staggering amount of waste that is causing havoc on our environment. We can no longer do the same behavior over and over and expect different results. Some would say that is the definition of insanity.

There are many factors causing the current global and local supply chain demands: climate change, COVID 19, and a spike in consumer demand. Shoppers buying up products as quickly as they see them — and in large quantities — results in a shock on the supply chain that’s known as the “bull-whip effect.” “When you crack a whip, a small action at the hand propagates into a big effect at the end of the whip,” said Dr. P.K. Kannan, the Dean’s Chair in marketing science at the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business. “It is the same with supply chain — a small shock in demand upstream can create a big shock downstream”. [4]

Consumer demand has grown so quickly over the past two years, it’s equivalent to about 50 million new Americans joining the economy, according to Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation, told Insider. [5]

What are we demanding though? Items we or the people we are buying for don’t need or want or will even use, ending up in our nearly full landfill?

Seeing the supply chain issues as a time of panic buying and hoarding items will not change the situation. Doing the same behavior over and over every time while expecting different results is not going to work. We have to do something different. This is an opportunity to do just that!

In an excellent article written by Carolyn Ali of UBC, Second-hand gifts, new experiences: shaking up holiday gift giving, Dr. White and Dr. Hardisty offer six strategies that can help us all start the shift to more sustainable gifting. [6]


1. Focus on the individual

If you’re advocating more sustainable giving in your social circle, figure out what resonates with each person, says Dr. White. “If you’re getting somebody to change their behaviour, not everybody wants to hear that it’s good for the planet. Some people want to hear that it’s good for their family, or it will save them money, or maybe they’ll enjoy getting creative with gifts.”

2. Get creative with gift ideas

A gift doesn’t need to be tangible. “Research shows that gifts of experiences make people happier,” says Dr. Hardisty. “People enjoy them more and they connect you to other people.” There are plenty of creative gift ideas and ways to celebrate with less waste, says Dr. White, including offering people a service like babysitting, which they might appreciate more than anything else.


3. Ask people what they want

If you are buying an object, getting the recipient exactly what they want can help avoid waste. While a thoughtful surprise is often seen as the perfect gift, Dr. Hardisty says thoughtfulness can be conveyed in other ways as well. “People love getting things they requested,” he says. “It shows that you care about them, listened to them and remembered what they said.” And, he adds: “If they say they don’t want anything, don’t give them anything.”

4. Tell people what you want

Conversely, if you don’t want to receive material objects, make your wishes known. “People really want to get you a thing,” says Dr. Hardisty. “Tell them you want an experience or something like food that you can consume instead. Or tell them, ‘If you feel like you have to buy me a book, get me a used book.’ Or if it’s a sweater, ‘how about one made of recycled materials?’”

5. Make “second-hand” cool

“What other people are doing, and what is socially acceptable, is a very big driver of sustainable behaviour,” says Dr. White. To combat the stigma of second-hand gifts, consider modifying the social rules for things like Secret Santa gift exchanges to have everyone give second-hand or re-gifted items.

6. Keep the traditions, reduce the stuff

Tradition and habit has a strong influence on behaviour, says Dr. White. “Figure out ways to keep the essence of tradition without having tangible things that people don’t want and just end up in the trash.” For example, if your tradition includes celebratory Christmas crackers, make them yourself out of sustainable materials and tuck in individually tailored gifts.

Let’s take this opportunity to shift our attitudes and behaviours toward more sustainable gifting that can bring more than environmental benefits to us.

These shifts can lessen the negative and harmful impact of capitalism on our minds, spirits, and our wallets.

Make “second-hand” cool to combat supply chain issues and climate change