• Half of all British adults receive at least one unwanted holiday gift, according to research from the website, finder.com.
  • With sustainability in focus, maybe it's time to change tack and channel money toward a climate-change fighting cause.
  • UpLink entrepreneurs offer these ideas for holiday gifts that can make a difference.
  • List includes planting trees, saving coral, farming kelp and plastic alternatives.

It’s that time of year again where many of us dust-off our shopping lists and delve into our wallets to give presents to our nearest and dearest.

So, what will you be giving this year, and how much thought do you put into your holiday shopping? Half of all British adults receive at least one unwanted holiday gift, according to research from the website finder.com amounting to billions of wasted cash.

With many of us receiving unwanted gifts, why not give something different this year?
With many of us receiving unwanted gifts, why not give something different this year?
Image: Finder.com

With that in mind, it might be time to change tack and focus on channelling your money towards a cause that supports the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Any initiative with the potential to make a difference is important as we near the end of a year that saw climate experts sound the alarm on the outlook for our planet. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a broad-spectrum report indicating global warming is widespread, rapid, and intensifying.

Here are six ideas for earth-friendly gifts you can give at the click of a button.

They’re all the work of UpLink entrepreneurs who form part of a crowdsourcing platform built by the World Economic Forum, Salesforce and Deloitte. It brings people together to source ideas that support and accelerate progress toward the SDGs.

How UpLink is helping to find innovations to solve challenges like this

UpLink is a digital platform to crowdsource innovations in an effort to address the world’s most pressing challenges.

It is an open platform designed to engage anyone who wants to offer a contribution for the global public good. The core objective is to link up the best innovators to networks of decision-makers, who can implement the change needed for the next decade. As a global platform, UpLink serves to aggregate and guide ideas and impactful activities, and make connections to scale-up impact.

Hosted by the World Economic Forum, UpLink is being designed and developed in collaboration with Salesforce, Deloitte and LinkedIn.

1. Plant a tree in Africa

Trees for the Future employs local staff to train farmers across sub-Saharan Africa in an agroforestry technique called the Forest Garden Approach.

“Through a series of workshops, farmers learn to optimize their land,” the organization says. “They learn to select, grow and plant diverse trees and crop varieties that maximize yields while also significantly improving the quality of the land being farmed.”

Aiming high with more trees
Aiming high with more trees.
Image: Trees for the Future

The typical Forest Garden is around half an acre in size and gives rise to around 2,500 fruit, nut and agroforestry trees and dozens of species of food and resource crops.

You can give tree planting gift certificates, with each tree costing 25 cents. This includes the seeds, training, tools and operations needed to plant each tree, which is then maintained and cared for by the farmer and family that plants them on their land.

2. Invest in coral

The oceans were also a focus of the IPCC report on climate change, and the global coral population is now at severe risk. Vital for biodiversity, a key driver of tourism and local economies and a producer of oxygen, we should all be interested in protecting coral.

Plant A Million Corals founder Dr. David Vaughan has come up with a new way to breed corals and is an advocate for coral restoration around the world. So why not join in and buy your friends and family a piece of coral - not for a necklace, but one that can help protect the future of the ocean.

3. Give the gift of kelp

Want something that’s good for you and good for the planet? What about a kelp-based gift?

Our oceans are changing fast, including warming, more frequent marine heatwaves, ocean acidification and reduced oxygen levels clearly linked to human influence, according to the IPCC report.

While the section of the report on the outlook for the oceans makes for uncomfortable reading, one company is promoting kelp as a potential way to offset some of the impact. Kelp forests may remove as much as 20 times more carbon from the atmosphere than land-based forests and also help mitigate the effects of ocean acidification, according to Atlantic Sea Farms.

The company offers sustainably farmed sea greens that are nutrient-dense and a source of iodine, iron, folate and vitamin K.

4. Use plant-based leather and plastic

Natural Fiber Welding (NFW) uses technology to manufacture textiles and leather-like materials from plants that can replace leather or plastic. The materials are recyclable and can safely degrade. Products that use their technology include a plant-based wallet that looks and feels like leather.

A World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer, the company focuses on plants as the basis for materials, rather than making things from fossil resources like petroleum and coal. That also means emissions are lower.

“The textiles industry is far too dependent on petroleum and plastic,” said NFW’s Founder and CEO Luke Haverhals. “Regenerative agriculture and plants are inexhaustible in their abundance and ability to meet the needs of the world’s population.”

5. Sustainable products from the Amazon rainforest

Roughly 1,100 square miles of Peru's forests are cut down every year, according to WWF, through agriculture, cattle, gold mining and unsustainable timber exploitation. This tree loss, which has also been quantified by Global Forest Watch is not only bad for biodiversity, it also contributes to the country’s carbon emissions and impinges on a way of life for many.

Loss of tree cover
Loss of tree cover.
Image: Global Forest Watch

Shiwi is a Peruvian company that offers products from the region made in a sustainable way. You can buy a whole Amazon chesnut, forest honey or even adopt a beehive.

“With your purchase you support people who work in harmony with nature and are guardians of protected areas,” the company says, “so you also participate in conservation”.

6. Help restore marshlands

Amman Imman aims to bring “water and hope to those who have none,” by helping indigenous populations of the Azawak, in Niger and Mali.

They are “the unheard victims of the climate crisis” it says. Donations help restore watersheds, rebuild pasturelands and promote agroforestry, recreating the environmental landscape that has been thwarted by climate change.

“40-years ago, the Azawak had abundant pastures, permanent ground-water, and large acacia forests thanks to a 5-month rainy season. Livestock and wildlife abounded,” the website says. “Today, rains last approximately one month. Desertification and water scarcity are settling in. Groundwater evaporates rapidly; forests and pasturelands have all-but disappeared.”

People living in this area sometimes have to travel as far as 50 kilometres a day to find water, infant mortality is at 25% and malnutrition rates are high. Holiday donations provide water with boreholes, support education for children, underpin mobile health clinics and promote food security.

These are just six ways to shop for the holidays with the UN SDG goals in mind. What’s going to be top of your list?