At this time of year, a lot of people (myself included) do a lot of present giving. I love giving gifts, it is definitely one of my strongest love language.
However I also believe our high-consumption lifestyles, with fast turn around and disposal of products, is one of the main drivers of the devastating environmental and social issues we face today.
For a while I wasn’t sure how to manage these seemingly conflicting ideas, but I have found some ways to reconcile them, and to give gifts that still uphold my social and environmental values. They aren’t fool-proof, but they are a start
1a) Make your own gifts
1b) Support others who make stuff
2) Op-shopping and second-hand gifts. Just before Christmas is probably not the best time to score bargains, but the post-Christmas season makes up for it! I think there is sometimes the thought that it is ‘cheap’ to give second hand shop items as gifts, but I have to disagree – you can find some really great gifts there!
Plus, the environmental and social impacts of purchasing items second-hand, rather that new, are considerably lower. The article Why Thrift gives a good introduction to these ideas.
3) Find shops, brands, and companies that have values that align with yours. A fair proportion of the gifts I give are trying-to-be-more-ethical/sustainable variations of conventional gifts (chocolate, alcohol, candles, shower/bath sets, etc) or other items that I know someone might like.
4) Gifting experiences. Like all the ideas mentioned above, this option is not necessarily more socially or environmentally ethical (I am thinking of when I went on a jet boat which was an experience… but the experience was essentially burn-as-much-fuel-as-possible-in-20-minutes-while-scaring-local-wildlife), but nevertheless giving experiences is not giving STUFF.
5) Pay It Forward Gifting
This can be done informally, through your own neighbourhoods or community, or through organisations that do this work internationally.
But perhaps the thing that I have to remember most…
6) I am giving to others, not myself. Sometimes, for some people, the thing they will love most, or the things that will be most useful, or most appreciated, does not fit my criteria.
At this point I remind myself that throughout the year I try to engage in low and conscious consumerism, and so maybe once in a while it is OK to buy something that would not usually be on my shopping list.
I mean, I am not going to buy a novelty item that will just be discarded. I am not going to buy something that completely conflicts with my values (toy gun, fois gras, McDonalds vouchers, etc). But, well, if something someone will really appreciate comes in a bit of plastic packaging, or if it isn’t Fair Trade, or the brand doesn’t have any environmental accreditation…. oh well!
To end this post, I am going to finish with George Monbiot’s article from 2012, which -sadly- has ever-growing relevance: The Gift Of Death