Photo: EcoVessel/Facebook

The Most Sustainable and Thoughtful Gift Ideas for the Whole Family

Sustainability Holidays
by Noelle Alejandra Salmi Nov 24, 2020

With the barrage of greeting cards and the endless rolls of gift wrap, it’s hard to stay sustainable during the holidays. But there are plenty of ways to celebrate the season thoughtfully. Beyond sending e-cards and wrapping gifts in old newspapers or sheet music, you can also give eco-friendly gifts themselves. From the toys and books that are good for trees to personal care products that are healthy for you and the planet, these are the greenest — and also some of the all-around coolest — gifts you can give this year.

1. Adopt an animal in a child’s name

The World Wildlife Fund lets your child symbolically adopt an endangered animal, since you can’t actually bring a duck-billed platypus or a polar bear into your home. The NGO offers different giving levels, from $25 to $250, which come with an adoption certificate and a little stuffie in the form of that particular animal, be it a koala or snow leopard. And if it’s a monarch butterfly or a sockeye salmon you want to support, it even has toys for those species. If your child is younger, the token stuffie might be perfect, but if they’re a bit older, consider the virtual adoption kit. That means nothing is wasted and more of the gift goes to saving the animal in question. Sadly, there are plenty of animals to choose from.

2. Mugs and straws that last


Photo: EcoVessel/Facebook

This year, don’t just give a mug to the coffee-lover in your life. Give an EcoVessel, a mug that they can take with them wherever they go and that will keep the hot coffee hot and the iced coffee (or cold beer) cold. The 12-ounce Transit and the 16-ounce Double Barrel are both $24.95, and the 10-ounce Port mug comes in under $20. For under $5.95 each, the two-packs of colorful stainless steel straws, which come with their own cleaner brush, make for great stocking stuffers. EcoVessel uses no BPA or phthalates in its products, and donates five percent of its online sales to non-profits.

3. Thoughtful toys

PlanToys forklift

Photo: PlanToys/Facebook

To say that PlanToys has been ahead of the game in producing sustainable toys would be an understatement. Four decades ago it set out to make toys with as little waste as possible, and the 70-plus awards it has received speak to its success. To make its beautiful toys — everything from a $25 set of condiments to a $90 kitchen set — it uses the wood from aged Thai rubber trees that are tapped out and destined to be destroyed anyway; and it even reuses the sawdust leftover from the production process to make more toys. It has had time to refine its process to be as green as possible, using biogas from old food waste and solar energy to run its factories. Add in organic dyes and recycled packaging with plant-based inks, and it’s hard to find a more eco-toy. You can search for these toys based on what you want for your baby or toddler: social-emotional development, fine motor skills, and so on.

4. Personal care that cares for the planet

Beauty Kubes

Photo: Well Earth Goods/Facebook

Personal care products always make for lovely gifts, but they tend to come inside a plastic container. Many contain microplastics within them as well. To ensure your gifts this year have none of that, look to Well Earth Goods. From clever Beauty Kubes shampoo or conditioner squares that you simply crush in your hand with some water to reusable metal tins containing all-natural moisturizer, aftershave balm, or hair styling clay, these gifts let the recipient care for themselves and the planet at the same time. Ranging in price from $15 for a box of 27 shampoo squares to $33 for face cream, these gifts come in attractive recycled and plastic-free packaging.

5. Relentlessly sustainable, and hip, clothing

outerknown shirts

Photo: Outerknown/Facebook

The carefree style of surf clothing has long since ceased to be just for surfers, and what could be more appealing than a cozy flannel shirt being modeled by Kelly Slater, the most decorated surfer in history? Beyond winning 11 world surf championships, Slater has pioneered artificial waves and, now, an eco-clothing brand. Outerknown pursues what it calls “relentless sustainability,” making fabric and buttons from fishing nets, plastic water bottles, and the small plastics that pollute our oceans and beaches. The clothing is also made under conditions approved by the Fair Labor Association. The meticulous attention to sustainability does mean that hoodie could set you back $150, but if you’re ordering online for the first time, you’ll get a 15 percent discount.

6. The gag gift that’s good for your bum

Toilet paper

Photo: Who Gives A Crap/Facebook

Everyone loves a good gag gift, but here’s the thing: Gag gifts tend to be a waste of plastic and packaging, just for a laugh. Giving somebody a box of toilet paper is pretty funny — but it’s a humorous gift that’s actually good for the planet and those who live on it. Who Gives a Crap’s dye- and scent-free TP isn’t just made from recycled paper; the company says it’s “as soft as unicorn kisses.” You can also buy sustainably sourced bamboo TP, which is like “wiping with clouds.” Both help to move us away from using toilet paper that’s destroying ancient boreal forests and which comes in quickly discarded plastic wrap. Moreover, 50 percent of Who Gives a Crap’s profits go directly into better sanitation and new toilets for people in need around the world. Two dozen rolls are $30, or you can get a box of 48 rolls for $48.

7. Tree-friendly books

Greystone Books

Photo: Greystone Books/Facebook

Audio books are a gift for the whole family, since they can be enjoyed together on things like car trips. The Hidden Life of Trees, a bestseller written by German forest manager Peter Wohlleben and narrated by English actor Mike Grady, tells us so much about trees and how they care for each other that it will leave adults and kids over 10 with a sense of wonder — and a deep desire to protect our forests. You can then listen to Wohlleben’s later books, The Secret Wisdom of Nature and The Inner Life of Animals. Wohlleben has also written a version of his bestseller for younger kids called Can You Hear the Trees Talking? as well as Do You Know Where the Animals Live?, which are available for under $20. These lovely books, which inspire admiration for the natural world, are available from Canadian publisher Greystone Books, which prints all of its books on recycled paper.

8. Organic clothes for everyone


Photo: Winter Water Factory/Facebook

Many people think that the point of organic cotton kids’ clothing is to dress little ones in chemical-free clothing. It’s equally the point to promote the healthy planet that you want them to grow up in. Conventional cotton farming is pesticide-intensive and uses up to 20,000 gallons of water to produce just one T-shirt and a pair of jeans. Brooklyn-based Winter Water Factory knows this, and so it uses only 100 percent organic cotton — which is free of toxic chemicals, replenishes the soil, and uses less water — for all its onesies, pajamas, and even adult sweatpants in bold and whimsical prints.

9. A camping stove that makes energy


Photo: BioLite

While nominally for the person who receives it, a camp stove is a gift that benefits everyone in the family who goes camping — and more people are camping than ever. What makes BioLite’s award-winning CampStove 2, selling now for $112, so sustainable is that it actually turns fire into electricity. It takes everything from sticks to wood scraps and burns them, smokelessly, while you charge lights or cell phones. BioLite doesn’t only make great camping products, like the stoves or solar powered lights, but it also works to provide solar lighting and smokeless, safer cooking solutions for rural communities in Africa.

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