“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.”Anne Lappe

Here are a few ideas and suggestions for less materialistic, more beneficial and values-driven gift-giving—for the holidays or any other occasion:

  1. Think about some non-commercial or non-material things you would like, and think about or ask your family and friends what types of non-material things they would like. On sokind_logothe SoKind Registry, you and others can create your own wish lists, which can include anything (not just new stuff), such as experiences/activities, time/assistance or services, handmade/homemade or homegrown goods, donations to charities (see #2 below), etc.
  1. Donate to charitable organizations in honor of the people on your gift list. You could pick a cause that you know they support. Some of our previous posts list various environmentally and socially beneficial organizations, including: broad-based sustainability orgs, and other lesser-known environmental and non-environmental orgs. You can also go to our Links page, or scroll down this blog’s sidebar to see lists of additional non-profits. And here are some other types of organizations you might consider: a refugee rescue organization (such as the IRC or UNHCR), wildlife conservation/protection group, animal shelter or animal rescue group, food bank, homeless shelter, women’s shelter, foster child or other children’s organization, seniors support organization, Meals on Wheels, a tree-planting organization, or a public radio/TV station. You could also give the TisBest Charity Gift Card, which allows the recipient to spend the funds on a charity of their choice (among 300+ options).
  1. When buying products, buy from small, locally owned businesses, green businesses, and/or businesses that are certified B Corporations or benefit corporations. A few B Corps that sell consumer products include: Patagonia, The Honest Company, Indigenous Designs, W.S. Badger, Alter Eco, Atayne, Better World Books, Seventh Generation, Method, and Ben and Jerry’s. A couple of other socially and environmentally conscious companies include: PACT (apparel) and Newman’s Own Organics.
  1. 9780300206319Give the gift of information and inspiration: books! There are so many great books (and e-books) on sustainability topics. Here are a few recently published books you should check out:

Voices of the Wild: Animal Songs, Human Din, and the Call to Save Natural Soundscapes, by Bernie Krause (who also recently wrote The Great Animal Orchestra)

The Heart of Sustainability: Restoring Ecological Balance from the Inside Out, by Andres Edwards

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert9780865717626_p0_v2_s192x300

Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality: On Care for Our Common Home, by Pope Francis

The Permaculture City: Regenerative Design for Urban, Suburban, and Town Resilience, by Toby Hemenway

You can find a wide selection of other books on green topics from Chelsea Green Publishing and New Society Publishers and Island Press, among other publishers.


Whatever you give as gifts, do your best to avoid buying cheaply-made, sweatshop-manufactured (labor-exploiting), toxic, disposable, or wasteful products and packaging. Instead, consider alternatives to buying new Things, and when you do buy products, look for Fair Trade or locally made, well-made and durable (or consumable), efficient, non-toxic, and needed or at least useful goods made by ethical companies, using organic, recycled, or natural materials and minimal packaging, whenever possible.

To get off of mailing lists for unwanted catalogs and junk mail, check out CatalogChoice.


For some additional green-gift suggestions, see these posts:


November 27, 2015
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About a year ago, I posted a piece with tips, ideas, and considerations for selecting green gifts. Here’s a summary recap of the 7 types of gifts I suggested in that post:

  1. Non-“stuff”  (e.g., activities, services, or donations, rather than products)
  2. Homemade, handmade, or homegrown stuff
  3. Locally made or Fair Trade goods
  4. Products with green attributes or purposes
  5. Re-gifted items or lightly used finds
  6. Eminently useful things
  7. Small stuff

Take a look at last year’s post to see the specific ideas that I suggested within each of those categories. This year, I’d like to supplement those suggestions with a few more. In addition to the criteria listed above, you also might want to consider choosing the following types of gifts:

  • Products (or services) made and sold by small, independent (and ideally local) businesses, rather than national chains or multi-national corporations. Or at least try to buy things that were Made in the USA (or whichever country you live in) to help boost the domestic economy.
  • Goods made or sold by companies that are members of the 1% for the Planet campaign: “a growing global movement of 1,395 companies [as of Nov. 2011] that donate 1% of their sales to a network of 2,691 environmental organizations worldwide.”
  • Goods made or sold by Certified B Corporations (or Benefit Corporations), which “are a new type of corporation which uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.” As of Nov. 7, 2011, there are 451 Certified B Corporations. That number will be growing, as more companies achieve this certification and as more states pass laws establishing the legitimacy of Benefit Corporations. One of the Founding B Corporations is BetterWorldBooks.

Speaking of books, here are a few green-themed books that might interest some of the people on your gift list:

Also, I might as well mention a few green product brands that are personal favorites of mine: Newman’s Own Organics; Seeds of Change; Sustainable Seed Co.; Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds; and Patagonia. I am not getting paid to recommend any of these companies.

Lastly, here are some online resources for additional information on green products and reducing wasteful consumption:

Related posts:

Greener, More Gratifying Gifts (added November 2015)

Green Goods: Beneficial Products and Gifts (added November 2012)

Good Duds: Sustainable and Responsible Clothing (added October 2013)

Benefit Corporations and B Corps: Businesses for the Common Good (added July 2013)

Lesser-Known Organizations that are Worthy of Support (added December 2012)


November 8, 2011
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Before the holidays (and other gift-giving occasions), I sit down and have a brainstorm session to try to come up with thoughtful, meaningful gifts that are well suited to each person on my list. Then, I run those ideas through my budget filter, as well as another set of filters that I consider to be just as important: In an effort to be an environmentally and socially conscious consumer, I strive to choose gifts that meet one or more of the following criteria—many of which also happen to be economical:

  • Non-Stuff: As Art Buchwald said, “The best things in life aren’t things.” Consider alternatives to material things, such as:
    • Activities: Doing something special for/with someone or a group of friends or family (e.g., making a fancy dinner or going out to eat);
    • Giving a gift certificate for a restaurant, a service (e.g. spa/massage), an educational opportunity (such as an online solar training course), or music/movie downloads (e.g., iTunes gift code by email); a ticket to a special event (e.g., a concert); or a voucher for a personal favor (e.g., babysitting or a household repair task); or
    • Making a donation (or getting a membership) to a nonprofit organization on someone’s behalf.
  • Homemade, handmade, or homegrown stuff: e.g., baked goods, jam, art, crafts. Or, if you have been growing herbs or have saved flower or vegetable seeds from your garden, I think that fresh or dried herbs (like rosemary, thyme, or lavender) and seeds (like cilantro/coriander, which can also be ground for use as a spice)—or flower bulbs or seedlings—can make really nice gifts.
  • Locally-made or Fair Trade goods: You can help support your local economy/community by buying locally-made goods from small independent businesses in your town, or you could support a sustainable enterprise in a third-world country by purchasing Fair Trade goods. Whatever you do, try to avoid buying cheaply made (low quality, low durability) stuff that was manufactured with toxic materials in an overseas sweatshop; unfortunately, that description applies to a lot of the stuff sold in Big Box chain stores these days.
  • Re-gifted items or lightly-used finds: When I receive an item for which I don’t have any use, I don’t have qualms about re-gifting it (or donating it) to someone who would enjoy having it more than I would. In fact, I get great satisfaction out of redirecting things to the right recipients. You can also sometimes find a perfect and perfectly lovely gift for someone at a vintage/antique shop, yard sale, flea market, thrift store, or Craigslist. Some “pre-owned” items are treasures just waiting to be found.
  • Eminently useful things: There are certain things that almost anyone can put to use, such as consumables (favorite specialty foods or spices), cozy socks, a mini-LED light for a keychain, or a good book about a topic of interest to the recipient.
  • Small stuff: Try to choose items that don’t use a lot of resources, don’t require a lot of packaging/shipping material, and won’t take up much space in someone’s home.  Sometimes the best gifts can fit into a stocking.

And if you still just can’t think of anything good to get for a certain person and you decide to get that person a gift certificate for a store, get one from a store that offers electronic/email gift notices (or else paper certificates) rather than disposable PVC plastic gift cards.

Lastly, minimize your use of store-bought/new wrapping paper. Some people like to use the cartoon section of their newspaper as wrapping paper. I keep a stash of reusable gift bags and ribbons that have come to me over the years. If the contents of a gift don’t need to be covered up, putting a nice ribbon or bow around it (sans wrapping paper) is an elegantly simple way to adorn it.


NOTE: See our newer posts, Greener, More Gratifying Gifts and Green Gifts (2.0), for more tips and suggestions.

For additional info on green gifts, products, and consumerism/over-consumption, take a look at these sites:

Please share your own green gift ideas and suggestions in the Comments section below.


November 20, 2010
1 comment