A Guide to Planet Friendly Gift Giving

  • Nature's Source

Each year, one of the first signs of the upcoming winter holidays is the appearance of glittering goodies and specialty sales in stores. While end-of-year celebrations are joyous occasions to spend with love ones, they also tend to create a highly wasteful time of year. On average, 5.5% of a person’s annual carbon footprint is emitted in only three days surrounding their major holiday event. Gift giving, along with travel, food, and lighting are among the top reasons our footprints grow exponentially over the holidays. Why should you care as much about the environment as how your gifts are received? There is a well-established link between human wellness and the health of the larger ecosystem. This means that the choices we make today impact our own health and wellbeing, let alone that of future generations. That is why this winter; we can all work towards gift giving practices that make everyone feel warm and glowing – except our planet.

Set Boundaries around Gift Giving

A 2013 study showed that even amongst individuals who consider themselves eco-conscious, there is resistance to eliminate gift giving all together. The most common reasoning given was that gift giving is a core way of expressing to their family how much they are valued. However, attempting to set boundaries around gift giving is an essential way to reduce unwanted gifts. A 2007 report by the Stockholm environment institute stated that the equivalent of 4.8 million tonnes of CO2 is produced from unwanted gifts in Sweden alone. Put this into practice by striking an agreement with extended family or friends on a reasonable spending limit, or a one gift per person cap. If you do happen to be on the receiving end of unwanted gifts, make sure they go to a local charity or donation service.

Select Consumables

Giving gifts that aren’t going to end up in a landfill at the end of their lifecycle drastically reduce holiday associated waste. Bonus points if they also come in minimal or recyclable packaging. Consider a nice bottle of wine or liquor, fair trade coffee, tea or chocolate, a luxurious bar soap, or some delicious local baked goods!

Create Memories

The Journal of Positive psychology published an article that found people enjoy a greater sense of wellbeing and consider it a better use of money when they spend on life experiences rather than material possessions. This holiday, consider tickets to a concert, signing up for a class together, or a night out at their favourite restaurant. Better yet give an act of service: make them dinner, shovel their snow, or run some errands for them.

Get Crafty

Home made gifts done with the right intention and effort become unique artisanal treasures that demonstrate true thoughtfulness. Check out Pinterest for DIY gifts and prioritize using materials you already own that can be upcycled. Those mason jars can be turned into rustic light fixtures and old cotton t-shirts into reusable tote bags. Leftover craft bits and bobs can be made into any number of adorable decorations. Homemade confections never disappoint, and pack so much more of a punch than their store-bought counter parts (and likely create less packaging waste too!)

Avoid the Worst Offenders

If there is no way you’re going to change your gift giving traditions this year, you can still improve your impact on the planet simply by avoiding these five gifts that have been ranked as the least environmentally friendly gifts: perfume, clothing that needs dry cleaning, battery operated toys and tech gifts, cars, and televisions.


Haq, Gary & Owen, Anne & Dawkins, Elena & Barrett, John. (2007). The Carbon Cost of Christmas. 10.13140/2.1.1088.4808. Pchelin, Paulina, and Ryan T. Howell. “The Hidden Cost of Value-Seeking: People Do Not Accurately Forecast the Economic Benefits of Experiential Purchases.” The Journal of Positive Psychology 9, no. 4 (July 4, 2014): 322–34. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2014.898316.

Prescott, L. Susan, C. Alan Logan, Glenn Albrecht, E. Dianne Campbell, Julian Crane, Ashlee Cunsolo, W. John Holloway, et al. “The Canmore Declaration: Statement of Principles for Planetary Health.” Challenges 9, no. 2 (2018). https://doi.org/10.3390/challe9020031.

Farbotko, Carol, and Lesley Head. “Gifts, Sustainable Consumption and Giving up Green Anxieties at Christmas.” Geoforum 50 (December 1, 2013): 88–96. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2013.08.004. “Sustainable Gift Giving | Green Action Centre.” Accessed October 30, 2019. https://greenactioncentre.ca/green-your-special-occasions/sustainable-gift-ideas/.