Green Gift Giving

Green gift lists and eco-friendly gift ideas abound. Green gifts comprise a portion of the $586.1 billion holiday shoppers are expected to spend in 2012 on gifts, décor, and greeting cards, which according to a National Retail Federation holiday consumer spending survey represents a 4.1% increase from 2011.

Gift with Earth Wrapping PaperAt this time of year, many of us are scouring our brains for gift ideas and stressing over whether we have enough time to shop, wrap, and mail gifts before holiday deadlines. We say we have too much stuff and our children definitely have too much stuff. We declare this year we are going to cut back. We decry the holidays have gotten too commercial. And yet…we don’t want to disappoint our family and friends…so off we go to the mall or we hop online in search of the perfect gift.

I admit to all of the above. Last year we did actually dramatically cut down and there was a decidedly green hue to the gifts we gave. My spouse is a lighting designer and I love anything chocolate, so last year we gave LED light bulbs and organic fair trade chocolate.

What is a Green Gift?

I’m not aware of any “official” definition of the term green gift which leaves the interpretation wide open. I pondered the question and came up with the following guidelines I’m trying to follow for my own green gift giving.

Gifts are about giving not receiving. Gifts should be optional, not mandatory. Some people really don’t need or want any more stuff—respect that.

Evaluate potential gifts against the three R’s, reuse, reduce, and recycle. For instance, was the gift pre-owned, was it manufactured in a plant powered by renewable energy thus reducing greenhouse gases, or was it made with recycled materials?

Be mindful about gift giving. Ask yourself who, what, when, where, why, and how?

  • Who made it? Was it someone earning a fair wage under decent working conditions?
  • What is it made of and is made to last?
  • When was it made? Is it a classic made years ago or made last week for the latest fad?
  • Where was it made? Locally or did it travel across the ocean?
  • Why are you giving this gift? Because it is useful or fun or special or because they gave you a gift last year?
  • How did or will it impact the planet, the people who made it, and the person receiving it?

Green Gifts

Green gift giving seems to be a growing a trend. Interestingly many green and eco-friendly gift ideas have been around for centuries.


In times past, an orange would have been a special treat in the middle of winter. Not so much now, but a basket of seasonal organic produce or a bag of fair trade coffee beans might be.

The Gift of Time

Sometimes it seems as if we don’t value our time or talents enough and feel we must give a thing as a gift. A friend getting ready for a house full of guests might actually prefer a few hours of housecleaning to a bottle of expensive wine.

Computer Help from the Younger GenerationGetting kids involved is a good way to help them learn the value of giving of one’s time and that gifts aren’t just about stuff. Kids growing up in the digital age are often masters of electronic devices and ideal at helping parents or grandparents get the most from a smartphone or learn a new computer program.

Alternative Gifts 

Making a charitable donation, buying a share of a goat, or investing in a micro loan on behalf of another person may be appreciated by some people. Keep in mind others may prefer to make their own donations and investments. While teaching philanthropy and caring for others is important, kids and even adults might not be as receptive during the holiday season. At least until we change the gift-giving paradigm.

Really Green

Some people may welcome receiving carbon offsets, renewable energy certificates, or a car share membership, but it’s not for everyone.


Gently-used Pots and PansGiving a previously owned item is especially green because it is getting a second life. Like sharing favorite books with an avid reader or DVDs with a movie buff. How about a few gently used pots and pans for someone who just moved into their first apartment. Perhaps a pair of vintage earrings from a 2nd hand store. Or passing along an heirloom so other family members can enjoy it.


Giving a gift you previously received is okay but should be done with care. If a friend has admired the set of 6 bright green coffee mugs you have never used and don’t intend to, why not re-gift them to someone who likes and will use them. Keep in mind re-gifting something just to get it out of your house is probably not the best idea.

At the end of the day green gift giving involves broadening our thinking about what constitutes a gift and being mindful of our choices.

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