It’s the season of giving, and no doubt many of you have already started doing some of your shopping, or at least thinking about gifts for loved ones. So even though this newsletter is focused on sustainable business practices, I wanted to write about something that may be less business-focused but could be impactful for your personal lives this holiday season: how to incorporate sustainability into your gift-giving.
This is not meant to be prescriptive. The holidays mean different things to different people, and people have different traditions and experiences when it comes to giving (or not giving) gifts. What is meaningful to one person might not be meaningful to another. However, if you are reading this newsletter, you have some interest in sustainability — and likely others in your life do as well. Therefore, with the goal of adding additional meaning to your holiday season, here are some ideas for gifting with the sustainability of our planet in mind.
Regifting is OK! (And our definition is wrong.)
I’ll kick things off with an admittedly controversial statement — in our society, regifting is typically looked down upon; some see it as lazy, cheap, impersonal, and/or rude to the person who initially gave you the gift. But if you can give someone a gift that will be special or useful or delightful to them, does it really matter if you bought the item or were given it? When you put thought into what to give someone, if it is store-bought or already-used should be irrelevant.
Plus, from a sustainability perspective, regifting is fantastic. And you can regift something that is still new! How many gifts — for whatever reason — go unused each year? Instead of a product essentially becoming waste by sitting unused, it will now provide utility to someone else, requiring none of the production or supply chain that a new product would need. Even if you return a gift instead of letting it sit unused, returns are not nearly as sustainable as you’d think — billions of pounds of waste are generated through returns each year, as many returned items get shipped to various destinations before simply ending up in landfill.
If you’re regifting just to get rid of an unwanted item, that’s not thoughtful or sustainable (the gift will likely stay unused, just in a different location.) But if you regift with a person in mind, your gift will be meaningful, and you’ll be following local-to-local sharing principles of mapping needs by location and connecting to the community, something you will hear my team at Rheaply talking about quite a bit in the next few months.
So, especially in a year where money is tight for many, let’s reframe regifting as a positive action — just make sure you don’t regift an item back to the person who initially gave it to you.
Our world is increasingly globalized, and it is an amazing thing that we can so easily purchase items from different cities, countries, and continents. But by keeping our focus on our own communities, we can reduce the stress on our environment. This is because supply chains make up a huge percentage of green-house gas emissions — every time an item gets shipped from one location to another, there is the added carbon-in-transit cost. In other words, when a product in a global supply chain moves across borders, it comes with the added carbon emissions needed to make it. This cost represents 10 percent of all global carbon emissions. (So much for “free” shipping.)
Shopping local this holiday season will also help support small businesses who have been hit hard during COVID-19. It’s important to remember that sustainability isn’t just about the environment — we must be conscious of economically sustaining our communities as well. Buying local can help you accomplish both at the same time.
Consider a donation in someone’s name
While we all enjoy unwrapping presents under the tree, a gift doesn’t have to be something tangible. In fact, many of us probably often feel like we have too much stuff, and don’t need more things taking up space in our home.
A holiday donation can be a nice gift not just because it doesn’t take up space; it can make a positive impact in the world, and therefore be extremely meaningful to the recipient. There are so many great organizations fighting for sustainable change around the world, and they rely on donations to continue that fight.
Products made from recycled material are great — remanufactured is even better
We’ve seen environmentally-conscious (and marketing-savvy) companies promote their products that are made from recycled materials for many years now. This is great, and the more you know about how a product was created, the more informed purchasing decision you can make.
Less well-known is remanufacturing, which is generally even more sustainable than recycling. Instead of breaking down the materials from a product to be used for something new like recycling, remanufacturing keeps the product’s original form, reducing the need for resources in the breakdown/assembly process and doing so in a closed loop fashion. (Here’s a good example in the context of furniture.) Remanufactured products not only function at a high level, but they are extremely sustainable, making them a great choice for an eco-conscious recipient.
Whatever last minute gifts you choose to give in the last few weeks of December, a little extra thought can make a big difference — and that goes not only for the gifts themselves, but how they are presented too! Wrapping presents is certainly an art, but you don’t necessarily need to use wrapping paper to wrap. There are plenty of sustainable alternatives that still look lovely.
Because our economy is currently mostly linear, we may not be used to giving sustainably — but with a little creativity and thought, you’ll be giving a gift to a special someone and the planet.
Do you have other creative ideas for sustainable gifting or would you like to share the best re-gift you ever received? I’d love to hear them in the comments below. However you are celebrating — and whatever you give or receive — I hope you have a wonderful holiday season. Thank you for joining me in this movement toward sustainable business this year, and I look forward to connecting more with you all in 2021!