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What items make an environmentally sustainable gift? According to Lazy Turtle, a Naples, Florida, clothing and accessories retailer that donates a portion of the proceeds to marine life charities, holiday gifts don't have to include toys.

For the upcoming holiday season, the brand is collaborating with the Sea Turtle Conservancy to create eco-friendly holiday gift guides, which include products like the brand's sun-safe long-sleeve T-shirts for women and kids. The brand also donates a portion of its proceeds to the conservancy throughout the year.

Megan Elwell founded Lazy Turtle after moving her family from Chicago to Naples. Around the time that Elwell created the company, she became aware of water quality issues in Southwest Florida and wanted to prioritize giving to charities that helped marine wildlife.

"As a parent, I'm all too familiar with the pressure of buying all these toys at the holidays that get opened in 20 seconds and forgotten, and you're left with just a giant mess packaging in your living room," Elwell said.

Increasingly, consumers are turning to brands and retailers that adhere to their values, such as environmental sustainability and charitable giving. Additionally, they are changing their consumer habits to lessen their environmental impact during the holidays, experts told Retail Dive.

Research from the NPD Group and Accenture have pointed to consumers seeking responsible retailers to shop at during the holidays. The NPD Group's survey of nearly 3,500 consumers found that a retailer or manufacturer's stance on social issues is likely to be a positive influence on consumers, but political issues were the least important to consumers.

Meanwhile, Accenture's Holiday Shopping Survey of 1,500 consumers found that 45% of respondents are more likely to shop with retailers that address social issues through their business practices and working conditions. The survey also found that 48% of consumers would consider giving second-hand clothing as gifts, and 56% would appreciate receiving used clothing as gifts.

But what exactly is driving this trend? Lori Zumwinkle, a managing director at Accenture who oversees the North American retail market, and Mary O'Donnell, Alliance Data's chief marketing officer, told Retail Dive that millennial shoppers are moving more toward sustainable and value-based holiday shopping, but consumers at large are examining how their shopping habits and the materials used to create products impact the environment.

"Consumers are looking to shop with responsible retailers and what they are looking at is: What are their business practices, and what are their business operations, and how does that support not only the environment but also their social values?" Zumwinkle said.

Lazy Turtle doesn't offer one-day shipping, and so far, Elwell hasn't received complaints from customers who want their goods shipped to them quickly.

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A report from Alliance Data suggests that consumers may alter their shopping habits into 2020. The report found that 36% of second-hand shoppers actively buy used merchandise for environmental reasons.

Zumwinkle has noticed that major retailers have introduced options for consumers to pick up their purchases without having to enter the store, which combines convenience with lessening the environmental impact of having goods shipped directly to their home, she said. At a time when major retailers are speeding up their delivery times, consumers are also opting to extend the wait for a day or so to minimize the environmental impact of shipping, she added.

"I think you can't necessarily have it both ways. A person who's looking to support a small business or a local small business, that small business can't compete on those kinds of parameters with Amazon," Elwell said. "There's always trade-offs."

Retailers are already implementing sustainability efforts into their operations, but whether they partner with other companies or roll out those initiatives themselves varies from one company to the next, O'Donnell said.

Retailers like Walmart and Best Buy have created recycling programs, Zumwinkle said. Meanwhile, Macy's and J.C. Penney have partnered with ThredUp to sell second-hand clothing in its stores, she said. Retailers like Everlane and Reformation have created products from recycled materials, and sales for those kinds of products have increased over the last three years, she added.

While some retailers have engaged with resale partners, others have been more hesitant toward engaging in the second-hand market and have opted to introduce those sustainability efforts in-house, O'Donnell said.

"Brands are recognizing that consumers like these options," O'Donnell said. "Their brand can benefit from these partnerships or the ability to bring that into their brand and offer that to consumers."

As brands and retailers aim to lessen their environmental footprint, how they communicate those values to consumers during the holiday season varies. Visitors to Lush's website will notice the beauty retailer's selection of Christmas products with subheadline text that reads, "Dreaming of an eco-friendly Christmas?" O'Donnell noted. Though Black Friday remains an critical shopping day for many retailers, REI will close its doors on that day and is instead encouraging consumers to participate in clean-up events nationwide as part of its #OptOutside campaign, she added.

For Elwell, it means adding hangtags and point-of-sale merchandising illustrating to consumers that their purchase is helping to save sea turtles, she said, adding that retailers that carry Lazy Turtle items request the signage.

Though the NPD report found that holiday shoppers are least concerned about politics, research from Alliance Data found that 36% of consumers have stopped shopping with a brand because they were called out for something that didn't align with the consumer's values.

For brands looking to appeal to consumers' social values, doing so without alienating other consumers can be "tricky," O'Donnell said. Brands are trying to stick to promoting positive messages and identifying shared values among their target customers, she said.

"Your consumer is going to know if you're only doing this to get their attention."

Mary O'Donnell

Alliance Data, Chief Marketing Officer

"Knowing what's important to your customer is the most important thing," O'Donnell said. "I don't think brands are worried about being negative, per se ... It's a third, so it's not an insignificant number, but I think more brands are focusing on things that they can do to help the community, to help the environment, to help those who are in need."

Elwell said that she hasn't run into negative feedback from consumers regarding her brand's support of sea turtles and marine life. She said supporting marine life is "not really a polarizing issue."

To attract consumers through the social causes they support, brands must authentically present themselves and weave it into the brand's story, O'Donnell said. Company leaders must support the social issues in question as well as incorporate them into the company's values, overall brand story, marketing channels and community events with brand ambassadors and influencers, she said.

"Your consumer is going to know if you're only doing this just to get their attention," O'Donnell said. "It's really living that. And when the consumer can see that authenticity, that's what's really going to attract them."

For Floridians like Elwell, environmental issues like water quality are no longer theoretical; they're ever-present as beachgoers watch dead marine life wash ashore, she said.

"Sadly, I think a lot of these issues, in general, are getting worse," Elwell said. "I think consumers right now are a lot more educated than they used to be and interested in, sure convenience and practicality, but also trying to make our lives better and our world better."