The Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Gift-Giving

Christmas may be done for another year, but it’s not the only time we give gifts to each other. In fact, between birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, or simply saying thank you, it’s pretty rare for a week to go by without the opportunity to show someone how much you care for them!

While giving and receiving gifts is a wonderful tradition – and a lot of fun – it doesn’t come without a cost to the planet. Simply put, a culture highly focused on buying and consuming new things all the time isn’t sustainable, and if left unchecked can cause great harm to our planet and society as a whole.

The hidden cost of traditional gift-giving includes:

  • Transportation of goods – Which carries a high carbon footprint and contributes to climate change

  • Labour – Which can be exploitative, unfair, and unhealthy, and contributes to inequality and poverty

  • Materials – Which may also carry a high carbon footprint and put a strain on the earth’s resources, and possibly exploit poorer countries and those living in conflict zones

  • Waste – The more we design our goods to be disposable, and the more often we give them, the more we encourage huge amounts of waste, both from the packaging and the gift itself. Where recycling is under-utilised or not possible, this waste presents huge challenges for the ecosystem.

How to Give Better

Of course, we would never dream of asking you to give up gift-giving entirely. We love it too! But there are ways you can minimise the environmental and social impact of the gifts you give, and find alternatives that both you and your loved ones will enjoy just as much - if not more.

Buy Local

Yes, we know that mega companies like Amazon, Shein, and AliExpress are much more convenient and cheaper. But at what cost?

Even if you are saving a few dollars here and there, you need to consider exactly how these companies are providing these savings. More often than not, it’s because they’re paying workers less, using cheaper and less environmentally-friendly materials, and using monopolistic power to squeeze out smaller competitors.

If you don’t want to contribute to these kinds of practises, it’s much better if you buy from local, independent stores. Buying from local stores won’t necessarily reduce the environmental impact of transportation, but it will contribute to an economically stronger and happier local community, as well as encourage more sustainable business practises that take the environment into account.

Check the Materials and Trace your Purchases

Every physical gift has to come from somewhere. If it’s made of plastic, this means fossil fuels. For the latest tech gadget, this can mean rare minerals, often from conflict zones. Even seemingly eco-friendly alternative materials like wood and paper aren’t always good for the environment: even now, virgin old-growth forests are being razed to the ground to go into toys, cards, and much more, all because it’s cheaper than investing in a renewable plantation.

That means if you want to give a sustainable gift, it’s crucial that you look into not only what’s gone into making it, but where it’s come from. While supply chain-transparency has generally improved in the past decade, and there are sometimes direct indications on products if they’re using sustainable materials, making conscientious purchases will sometimes need a bit of digging.

Make sure you check the packaging carefully every time you buy – even just a few minutes of your time in this way can help you make an informed decision and save the planet. If you’re still not sure, try and search online for the manufacturer’s sustainability report, or contact them directly to ask (social media is a great platform to do this loudly). If you still can’t tell after this, it’s best to assume that the gift doesn’t come from sustainable sources and see if you can find an alternative.

Shop Second Hand

Many people would – understandably – baulk at the idea of giving a loved one something that’s already been used. Unfortunately, though, the increasing trend towards blind consumption, and always buying something new, is incredibly harmful to the environment, drains already scarce resources, and encourages manufacturers to produce cheaper but lower quality goods that are designed to be disposed of and replaced frequently.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to re-gift any old thing you have lying around the house. High-value family jewellery, appliances, or technology that you don’t need anymore can still make very thoughtful gifts that, at the same time, also allow the recipient to save a significant amount of money.

Don’t forget about charity second-hand shops too, where you can find a wonderful, considerate present and help others in need at the same time!

Do it Yourself

Is there anything more touching than getting a gift that someone’s made themselves? Handmade presents show effort, thought, and ultimately love. Because, of course, if someone takes the time out of their lives to create something just for you, it clearly means that they care!

Aside from this, making a present yourself means you drastically reduce – if not eliminate – the transport and labour costs associated with factory-made products, as well as allowing you to carefully control materials and reduce waste, especially if you’re reusing things you already have around the house. Not only that, but DIY is usually much friendlier to your wallet, too!

If you don’t have the knack for arts and crafts, remember that homemade food or sweets also make fun, thoughtful gifts, and are essentially zero-waste, too.

Buy an Experience

Struggling to come up with a physical gift idea? Why not literally think outside the box and give that special someone an unforgettable experience instead?

The options are endless: concerts, movies, dining out, holidays away, spa treatments, scenic flights, wineries, tours… and these are just a few suggestions. There’s a world of possibilities out there which rate high on adventure and low on environmental impact, and at any price point that works for you. All you have to do is look.

Gift Cards

At first glance, a gift card might seem like the exact opposite of a sustainable, thoughtful gift. After all, you’re really just letting them choose for themselves, and it’s more than possible that they’ll buy something environmentally unfriendly with the money anyway!

But there are alternatives. Gift cards don’t necessarily have to represent something physical, and a simple yet lovely option is to get a gift card for, or donate to, a charity of your choosing. That way you’re avoiding all the waste and environmental impact of a standard gift, while also supporting a cause that they’re passionate about. It’s a win-win!

Even better: find a gift card where the recipient can choose which non-profit projects the money will go to. Compared to just giving to a charity on their behalf, this gets them much more involved and excited, while showing them exactly how the money will change lives across the world.

We call this the Gift of Giving. If you’ve got someone in your life who cares about the planet and the people that live on it, but doesn’t have the time or funds to make their own impactful contribution, it’s the perfect gift. In fact, since it makes everyone feel good and actually improves the world, it’s the ultimate sustainable gift that money can buy!

Do you want to surprise someone with a thoughtful gift and inspire their passion for change? A Copalana Gift Card is the perfect choice. Find out more here.

Raphael Shinners
About the author
Raphael Shinners
Giving gifts is a wonderful tradition, but it comes at a cost to the planet. Here's how to make your next gift better and more sustainable!

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