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Sustainable Gifting Guide

December 3, 2020

By Chris McAnally, Environmental Sustainability Coordinator, Royal Botanical Gardens.

December is a time of celebration for many folks across several faiths and belief systems. For some, these holiday celebrations involve purchasing and giving gifts to friends and family. While hearts may be in the right place, all this gift giving comes with an impact on the environment. The things we buy require resources and energy to make, transport, and eventually dispose of once they are no longer needed. When it comes to holiday gift giving, we can all take some deliberate action to reduce our environmental impact by being intentional with the types of gifts we give. It is a tough balancing act, but here are some ideas to help:

1: Give memories and experiences

A great place to start is with gifts that are not material at all. Some options to consider are event tickets, memberships, registration in a class or workshop, or any kind of new experience. These types of gifts are often easier on the environment than many physical items, and typically have the additional benefit of supporting your local community.

Boers Falls Frozen In Winter

2: Be Creative

Another option is to create something one of a kind. You will need to know the recipient a bit better, but homemade, used, or upcycled gifts may often be less impactful then buying new. These types of gifts will help you connect with your creative side and require you to think outside of the box. If you are having a hard time, there is lots of inspiration to be found on websites such as Pinterest.

four handmade gifts in jars with food mix inside, decorated with burlap and ribbon

3: Shop Ethically

To shop ethically means to make purchasing decisions that align with your values. In this case, someone who defines themselves as a steward of the environment would strategically purchase products that provide a benefit for, or minimize their impact on, the environment. A few ways to shop ethically include buying local, buying used, and buying certified. Certifications such as Fairtrade, or the Canadian-specific ECOLOGO are reputable certifications to look for. For more information on some of the common certifications and labels in Canada, see the government’s webpage on “Environmental labels and claims”.

Two packages containing colourful beeswax food wraps by Mind Your Bees

4: Shop Less

Fewer items purchased means fewer resources are consumed, less energy is used, and waste generation is reduced. If more folks choose to buy less, or buy long lasting items, this takes some pressure off nature.

Looking for ideas that are a little outside the box? Here are a few other options to consider:

Organize a gift exchange:

If you are buying gifts for each person in your family or friend group, you may consider organizing a gift exchange where each person purchases and receives one gift. This is a good way to reduce the number of items you are purchasing, while still having gifting be part of your holiday experience. Elfster is a popular online gift exchange generator which could be just what you need to get things set up.

Make a Donation:

Another option is to make a donation to a cause or organization on behalf of the individual you are purchasing for. This is a great fit for folks who are passionate about causes in their community.

Don’t Shop:

Some folks have completely replaced holiday gift giving with other types of traditions. If it suits your circumstances, consider taking a year off from gift giving (and receiving) and enjoy the season for the time spent with family and friends, knowing that you are giving the planet a gift by reducing your environmental impact, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

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