Environmentally Friendly Gift-Giving

A nice gift basket

Several years ago, my wonderful sister asked me what I wanted for Christmas.  After thinking about it for a minute or two, and nothing specific came to mind, I said “consumables”.  At that time, I wasn’t thinking about saving the planet; I just didn’t really need anything and consumables, e.g., “food or wine or coffee”, seemed like something I would enjoy. 

Fast forward to today and I understand now that consumables are among the gifts, we can exchange that are environmentally friendly.  Earlier this year I decided to cease buying “stuff” because I wanted to be more environmentally friendly to our planet.  (See Too Much Stuff. A more complete analysis of the impact of “stuff” is contained in an entertaining 20-minute film entitled The Story of Stuff.  This short film provides a sobering analysis of the cycle of “stuff” and its impact on the planet and its inhabitants.

So, besides consumables, what can we give that isn’t harmful to the planet?  Well, environmentally friendly gifts that contribute to eliminating plastic such as reusable water bottles (in lieu of single-use plastic), reusable grocery bags, reusable vegetable bags, and compostable garbage bag liners are easy ways to encourage others to cut back on plastic consumption.  Similarly, paper consumption can be reduced by giving cloth napkins and cloth dish cloths to friends and relatives.  Bandanas, often found on sale, make great inexpensive and informal napkins.

Another idea is to give someone an experience such as movie or dining gift cards, or a membership to the zoo or a museum or science center.  These gifts enhance our lives, enable the recipient to share the experience with others, and create a memory.  Personal care gifts are also wonderful “experiences” by giving someone a special “treatment” such as a spa visit or a grooming experience such as an upscale barbershop. 

Making a contribution to a cause that is important to someone is a wonderful way to validate and support that person’s interests and at the same time, support a worthy cause. Providing a service to someone that can use some help is another wonderful gift.  Elderly neighbors might need some help shoveling snow or raking leaves.  Busy parents might enjoy a free “babysitting” evening for a night out.  These are excellent ways for all of us, especially our youth, to give time, in lieu of “stuff”. 

And finally, a call to a friend or relative that you haven’t spoken to in a while may be a wonderful way of sharing holiday joy in lieu of a card.  But if you want to send a card, one purchased from the Arbor Day Foundation also plants a tree. 

Last week the New York Times published a wonderful article in their Climate Fwd series providing many tips for “Sustainable Holiday Shopping” including:

  • shopping early for any on-line purchases, thus allowing for lower (slower) carbon delivery options;
  • consolidating your orders to reduce the number of deliveries;
  • combining your shopping trips with other errands to reduce driving (and gasoline burned);
  • using gift bags or other non-traditional paper sources such as old road maps in lieu of wrapping paper, and encourage recipients to re-use them.

So that’s a few ideas to get you started.  You can also “google” sustainable gifts for any range of products that are made using environmentally friendly processes – it just takes a little research – but these easy steps can make a difference and at the same time, encourage others by your example.

Regarding my sister and my request for “consumables”, she came through like a champ and I, and the planet, benefited.  And the basket she gave me containing all those wonderful consumables, well I used that the next year to give someone else consumables.  At some point, I may get that basket back again.

I hope your shopping this year is rewarding, knowing you’re sharing gifts with loved ones while helping to sustain our planet’s future.

4 thoughts on “Environmentally Friendly Gift-Giving

  1. Great points, TFG. I’ve noticed that whatever you’re trying to purchase (clothes, airlines, soap, cars, etc.), there are plenty of online resources guiding those purchases from a sustainability standpoint, if we’re only willing to spend an extra 5-10 minutes on the research.

    One recent personal example is jeans. I needed a new pair, and found this website which captures some brands who espouse eco-friendly and fair trade denim options. I bought a pair of DL1961, and let me tell you…I look DAMN good now.



    1. Thanks for the denim link and the reminder that on-line resources can provide so much information in just a few minutes. The planet is worth it!


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