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Sustainable Gift Giving Guide

It is the giving season! It is easy to get caught up feeling you need to get many gifts for people. Yet many of us are waking to the reality that we are living in the era of excess and the winter holidays tend to magnify our cultural tendencies towards waste and excess.

I have put together a short guide to support people in making more creative, meaningful, and sustainable choices around gift-giving this season. This list is designed to help you consume less, connect more, and have more joy this year.

Step One: Decide who you need to give a gift to.

Most people want to feel that they have been thought of and remembered more than they want to receive a gift. A thoughtful card or an invitation to spend time can often be more meaningful than a bought object. Write out your gift list and then explore who on your list would be open to being given something intangible.

Consider doing “Secret Santa” type exchanges as much as possible (where a group of people each randomly choose one other person from the group to give a gift to). Secret Santas are a great way to minimize the number of gifts that need to be given. With this type of gift exchange, it’s a good idea to have a clear set price for what each gift should cost.

Step Two: Choosing the right gift.

One helpful technique for changing how we think about gift-giving is to turn the process of choosing a gift on its head. Instead of starting with thinking about the person and what you think they might like, think about what businesses you want to support and where you want your money to go. That narrows the gifted field and helps you to make choices that have a more positive overall effect on society and the environment.

Questions to Ask Your Self Before You Buy a Gift for Someone

  1. Do they need it?

  2. Is it useful?

  3. Is it good for them? Is it healthy? Is it educational?

  4. Will it break?

  5. Where does the profit go? Is this a business that you want to be supporting?

  6. What are the gift’s environmental, social, and carbon impacts? (eg. gold, diamonds, electronic products)

  7. Was the labor ethical?

  8. Is it made from sustainable materials (locally sourced, recycled, or repurposed materials, limited single-use items, does not use toxic materials, has been given industry sustainability certification)?

  9. Do they have something like it already?

  10. Do they have space for it?

  11. Will it end up in a landfill?

  12. What is the packaging like (include packaging for shipping)?

Finding a gift that is ethically and sustainably sourced can feel overwhelming. It takes effort and creativity to step outside the corporate box of giving.

Below are some tips to make sustainable gift-giving easier.

Tips for Sustainable Gift Giving

  • Consider partnering up with friends or family members you would like to spend time with to work on putting together gifts. You can craft, cook or gather things together. This can make the process of preparation for the holidays feel more pleasurable and less stressful. Scheduling preparation with others also helps to prevent procrastination.

  • Don’t be afraid to re-gift things that have been given to you that you don’t use.

  • Don’t be afraid to give used things. Giving someone something of yours that you have loved can be touching and very personal if framed with a clear intention and sentiment.

  • Consider either going battery-free with your gifts or including rechargeable batteries with the gift.

Here are some ideas for gifts that are unique, sustainable, thoughtful, useful, and also beneficial to individuals and communities.

Services and Gift Certificates

  • Massage/facial/pedicure/acupuncture

  • Local restaurant or bar

  • Local shops and boutiques

  • Plant nursery

  • Groceries

  • Local music venue

  • Local wine store

  • Local bookstores

  • Yard service

  • House cleaning service

  • Car detail


  • Homemade edibles (by you or a local artisan)

  • Wreaths or bouquets

  • Homemade ornaments

  • A work of art you created (drawing, song, collage, story, scarf, etc.)

  • Rocks and crystals

  • Small potted plants (you can craft or personalize the pot in some way)

  • A list of your favorite books or musicians

  • A compilation of poems you love

  • A music playlist

  • Make together cardboard box creation for children

  • Found objects (can be something you already have and want to share)

  • Offering your services (babysitting, dropping off a home-cooked meal, gardening help, organization, etc.)

  • Giving an imaginary gift (telling the person what you would give them if there were no limits for what you could give)


  • Tickets for sports, cultural or musical events

  • Museum or garden memberships

  • Trip together

  • Treating them to a coffee, tea, a drink a meal, or a movie out

  • A class (pottery, art, writing, business, health, or life coaching)


  • Used items bought at local vintage stores

  • Items you have and love but don’t use (books, CDs, antiques, scarves, art)

  • Home items that reduce waste or toxicity (food storage items, cleaning products for house face and body, reusable towels for cleaning, travel water bottles or coffee mugs, bamboo charcoal bags, dryer balls, wooden travel utensils, reusable bags for grocery shopping)

  • Plants or seeds that benefit the habitat of pollinators (and offer to help with planting)

  • Recycling services (Terra Cycle everything box, Ridwell membership)

  • Portable solar technology

  • Birdfeeders

  • Online magazine or newspaper subscriptions

  • Apps for computers or smartphones


  • Donations to charitable organizations

  • Commitment to do community service in honor of the person or with the person

  • Emergency preparedness kits

Wrap It Up and Tie it With a Bow?

For gift wrapping, think outside the box- literally! Wrapping paper and boxes that are purchased are wasteful. Many people don’t realize how many of the types of wrapping paper cannot be recycled even though they are paper.

Wrapping paper cannot be recycled if it contains sparkles, glitter, sequins, foil, artificial texture, sticky gift labels, or plastic. Nor can it be recycled if it has been laminated or has loads of leftover tape, ribbons, or bows still attached. If you buy wrapping paper make sure to get something that can be recycled.

There are lots of clever ideas around for alternatives to wrapping paper.

  • Use bags that can be reused over and over and again or try to reuse wrapping paper more than once.

  • Use reusable tote bags to give gifts in

  • Use fabric scraps to wrap gifts in

  • Wrap gifts with dishtowels or scarves that are part of the gift

  • Use simple butcher paper, old newspaper, or old paper grocery store bags that you can decorate or write on yourself.

We are moving into an era where people are grateful to be given fewer things and also appreciate others’ efforts to waste less!

Don’t be shy about making the shift to more conscious consumerism around the holidays. The simple step of shifting yourself out of the buying frenzy will support you in feeling more thoughtful, authentic, and grounded throughout the whole season.

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