Published 12 December 2016
The holiday season can bring a lot of gift-related angst, can’t it? All the questions about who you should get something for, what they may want, how much to spend, and where to find the time to do it all can feel incredibly overwhelming. Not to mention the guilt felt when you receive a gift you don’t really love.
Then there are the environmental and ethical implications of gift giving – not only because of the (often) harmful production of goods, but also because of the excess donations taken to charity shops during the holiday season. Whether they are unwanted gifts or a donation of last year’s sundresses that have been replaced by this year’s style, there is a surge of donations that cost charity shops millions of dollars to sort and dispose at this time of year.
But there is also a lot of joy associated with gift-giving. We communicate our love for people through gifts, show people that we understand who they are and what they love, and even help people through hard times. So instead of a completely minimalist approach to the season, I’d like to think we can find a realistic and sustainable balance during the holidays through more mindful gift giving. Think “It’s the thought that counts” with emphasis on the ‘thought’:
- Seek sustainable alternatives to the gifts you want to give – from Fairtrade organic chocolates to ethically-produced fashion, there are sustainable choices for nearly everything. Often all it takes is a quick online search or a visit to Fairtrade store and you’ll have beautiful options at your fingertips.
- Really think about the gift recipient. What do you know about them and what might they love to receive? Even the most eco-friendly or ethical gift in the world can quickly become rubbish if it’s not something desired by the recipient.
- Vintage stores, OpShops, eBay and Gumtree all sell quality preloved items. Frequently you’ll find never-worn or used-once items for sale and you’ll be saving them from the overflowing charity bins or the landfill.
- If buying someone clothing, you need to know a lot more than just their size. Consider their personal style, what colours suit them, and what you think will fit in with their wardrobe, then buy the best quality garment you can afford. If you can’t answer those questions, it may be best to steer clear of fashion purchases because clothing and accessories can be an incredibly personal decision. But if you’re feeling game, here are a few helpful resources for understanding the environmental and ethical standards of fashion brands and retailers.
- The free Good On You app provides a rating for around 1,000 brands on environment, labour and animal rights issues.
- Oxfam’s Naughty and Nice list tells you which brands publish a list of their factories as a significant step towards transparency.
- Greenpeace’s Detox Report describes which fashion brands avoid dumping chemical pollution into waterways.
- Baptist World Aid’s Fashion Report grades brands on reducing exploitation and forced labour in their supply chains.
- Visit local markets and buy direct from the maker or designer – the gift will be more unique and have a smaller footprint.
- Donate to a charity close to the heart of the gift-recipient (if any of my loved ones are reading this blog, this is on my wish list!).
- If you’re part of a large family or friend group, draw names so each person is only buying for one other person – this allows for more time and thought to be put into that one gift that your loved one will cherish, rather than multiple gifts with less thought put into them because of the time and financial constraints that so many of us feel especially at this time of year.
- Finally, it’s worth considering who you really want to give a gift to and not who you ‘should’ give a gift to. Some of those ‘shoulds’ you’ll still buy something for, but many you won’t, and it’s important to consider why you think you should buy someone a gift.
Do you have any other suggestions for a sustainable gift-giving season? We’d love to hear them!