Holiday Giving with a (Green) Twist

Holiday gift giving can be hard.

Do you ever find yourself agonizing over a purchase? Will she like it, or is it just something I really like? Does it show him how much I care or does it seem generic? Or, if you’re like me and can’t get environmental stewardship and social justice out of your head: Who made this thing and how were their working conditions? Is this made from sustainably sourced materials? Will this last or is it going straight into the bin?

In my heart, I know that the most thoughtful gifts are the ones that match your values: they are best for the planet, supportive of your community, and sure to be cherished by your loved ones for a long time.

If you’re looking for some unconventional gift-giving advice, I have two seemingly contradictory principles that actually work really well together. The first is to give gifts that will last a long time. The second is to give gifts that will be gone quickly. Both approaches help us keep from spending on things that nobody wants and that only consume energy, resources, and space.

Much of what we buy in our lives is never meant to last. Cute, cheap junk made of plastic is generally destined for the landfill, doing all manner of harm along the way. Most inexpensive things are made, transported, and disposed of in a way that is bad for the climate and sends chemical contaminants into our soils, water, and air.  So, skip the Eras Tour snow globe (unless that’s what someone you love really, really wants), and go for something of a quality that reflects the relationship you have with the other person. Things meant to last are better at showing your love and better at preserving our planet. Think well-made clothing not designed to wear out after 8 washes, a useful and sturdy tool for the workshop or kitchen, or a beautiful piece of jewelry made by one of our many local creators.

Remember that second-hand is not second-rate. Winston-Salem has excellent consignment stores, antique shops, and thrift stores. A friend of mine bought his wife an eclectic collection of tiny plates at a local antique shop because she likes to have mini-snacks while reading before bedtime. She loves having a different plate for each night of the week, and very little damage was done to their bank account by this miniscule luxury.

Homemade gifts are also a great way to show you care. Do you love to bake, knit, write poetry, or work with wood? Be extravagantly thoughtful rather than spending a ton of money. Just make sure that the thing you give is likely to stay out of the landfill for a long while. If doing it yourself is not your thing, there are loads of local artisans to choose from, plus nearby sustainable farms that sell fruit preserves, pickled okra, or honey, generally in glass jars you can reuse or recycle.

This leads us to the gifts that disappear fast. Those cookies you baked for a friend would be in that category, but also tickets to see a concert at Reynolds Auditorium or a play at the School of the Arts. Maybe your loved one would really enjoy a cooking class at Southern Home and Kitchen, or a day out kayaking on the Yadkin. And maybe they’d enjoy having your company along the way. One of my favorite examples of an immaterial gift came from a teenage boy I know who is obsessed with Classical guitar music but didn’t have any money last year to get his girlfriend’s mom a present. The mom always seemed stressed out by her commute to work, so the kid took the time to make her a relaxing playlist on Spotify so she could chill out on her drive to the office. Real extravagance comes from putting your heart into gift-giving. 

Finally, remember to be a cheerful advocate for the things you believe in. There are some people who just don’t want more stuff, and we should respect that. Sometimes those folks really appreciate it when you make a contribution to a non-profit in their honor. If that’s the case, don’t be shy about caring for this one and only Earth we have. Find a non-profit that both you and your loved one can get behind.

And if you need any ideas on that last suggestion, you know where to find me…

Jamie Maier

Executive Director, Piedmont Environmental Alliance