A Guide to Ethical Gift Giving: 6 Eco-Friendly Gift Ideas

Learn to rewrite the rules of gift giving with this ethical gift giving guide and make your silly season sensible with these six ideas.

‘Tis the season to be wasteful! But times are a-changin’, and if your loved ones aren’t ready for ethical gift giving then they really need to read the news.

It’s hard to feel like getting festive when we’re in a climate emergency. But it’s heartening to see the climate movement that has swelled in recent times. Climate strikes, increased pressure on governments, and spate of local councils declaring a climate emergency are something to raise a glass to.

But whether we feel like celebrating or not, gift-giving at this time of year is often a non-voluntary social obligation. And one that goes to the very heart of our culture if anthropologists and psychologists are to be believed.

Why do we give?

Gift giving is hard-wired into human culture, across religions and ethnicities globally. It is a cultural exchange that follows a system of rules. In our society gift giving must seem to be “generously offered” and spontaneous, but in fact is a “social deception”, according to anthropologist Marcel Mauss.

Mauss’ work helps to explain why gift giving can be such a source of anxiety and stress. This is because it has very little to do with generosity, kindness or selflessness and more about social rules and expectations. It’s no wonder psychologists are starting to believe that we actually get very little out of the act of gifting.

We strive to find the “perfect” gift for a loved one, wasting huge amounts of time and energy. We dread the thought of those awful gifts that show our loved ones just don’t “get” us. And equally we dread the thought of being responsible for giving a gift that goes down like a lead balloon. Particularly at Christmas, we have the added pressure of giving and receiving. We all know how it feels to receive an elaborate gift in exchange for something “stingy”.

So what is ethical gift giving?

For one, don’t tear your hair out about gifting. The time you save worrying about what to get your granny can be better spent striking for climate or growing tomatoes.

Given gifting follows an established set of rules, ethical gift giving aims to rewrite them. Set up clear expectations with the people you’re gifting to. Tell them this year you’re giving eco-friendly gifts. And encourage them to do the same.

Genuine gift giving can help to reinforce positive social relationships and bring joy. But this is the exception rather than the rule.

Quit gifting to people you feel obliged to (but have no desire to). Be upfront. A simple “let’s not do presents this year” is all it needs. You may be surprised at the relief it brings!

For those you do choose to give to, spend time thinking about why you appreciate them. Write it down and make this message an integral part of the gift.

Here are our top picks for a gift that gives back to the earth…

1. A book with ideas the world needs

So, world needs great ideas on how to reduce our waste, and buying a book full of them is a sneaky way to set those ideas free. Our pick for this year is ‘A Family Guide to Waste-free Living’ by Lauren and Oberon Carter.

2. Something handmade

Can’t make your own crafty creation (because, time)? Then support a local artist or artisan who can. Our picks are the practical implements from Spoonsmith or the gorgeous creations of Fern Tales.

Have a go at seeking out someone who makes locally near you out of upcycled, natural materials. And, every time you buy handmade an actual real live person does a happy dance.

3. A subscription to Pip mag!

This is the go-to gift for my in-laws who like to garden. It’s the gift that keeps on giving as every time we catch up I’m lavished with stories of the carrots they have grown or their compost successes thanks to Pip! And we don’t have to think about what to buy them every year, we just keep renewing.

If your loved ones are already hooked on Pip, then perhaps our pretty Pip Kitchen Garden Calendar would please? We also have Pip covers available as printsethically made tote bags. and back issues of the mag.

4. Milkwood’s online courses

Give the gift of mad skills with a Milkwood course.

5. Ethical foodie treats

Nothing trumps a homemade jar of homegrown raspberry jam. But if you don’t have time (or raspberries) then there are plenty of makers who do. Or you could try something completely different like the Wholesome Supplies fermenting kit.

6. An experience

Avoid giving stuff by giving an experience. A surfing lesson, a massage, a weekend away to a drought affected area. There’s an experience to suit everyone’s interests.

Like more articles like this one? Subscribe to Pip Magazine’s print or digital editions here.

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