Sustainable Development

10 sustainable gift ideas for the holiday period

Here are 10 sustainable gift ideas for anyone wanting to gift more meaningfully this holiday season.

Here are 10 sustainable gift ideas for anyone wanting to gift more meaningfully this holiday season. Image: Unsplash/melpoole

Douglas Broom
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • The holiday season can be expensive – and wasteful.
  • 45% of consumers in Brazil plan to spend less on gifts in 2022 as inflation bites.
  • As well as cutting costs, sustainable presents can help in the battle against climate change.
  • Here are 10 sustainable present ideas for anyone wanting to gift more meaningfully this holiday season.

During the holiday season that clusters around Christmas, people in nations across the globe give one another gifts and, whether countries have a Christian tradition or not, it’s become ever more commercial.

But as concern about the state of the planet grows, should we rethink the presents we give?

Americans are forecast to spend over $800 on gifts, decorations and food this holiday season. Many are thus looking for sustainable gift ideas.
Americans are forecast to spend over $800 on gifts, decorations and food this holiday season. Many are thus looking for sustainable gift ideas. Image: Statista

In 2022, Americans are forecast to spend an average of $832 on gifts, decorations and food, according to the National Retail Federation. Yet not all gifts are well received. Last Christmas, a survey in the UK found the average amount spent on an unwanted gift was $50.

Gift spending in Japan is more modest, with the majority of people spending between $7 to $14 on each Christmas present. A recent Statista survey found that 45% of consumers in Brazil plan to spend less on gifts in 2022 as global inflation bites.


What is a circular economy?

So how can you get value for money and value for the planet when you go shopping for holiday season gifts?

10 sustainable gift ideas

Here are some more sustainable gift ideas to mark the festive season from the World Economic Forum’s innovation crowdsourcing hub UpLink.

Sustainable gift ideas: Vegan leather - plastic-free and made from plant materials
Sustainable gift idea: Vegan leather - plastic-free and made from plant materials Image: Natural Fiber Welding

1. Sustainable and recycled toys

We all know how much plastic can be in toys - and at the end of their lifecycle a great number will end up in landfill.

But, Colombian company Toynovo takes toys, baby equipment and education material that would otherwise be destined for the rubbish bin and repairs and recycles them. By doing so, they can add up to 30+ lives to the items and support a range of projects from schools to toy libraries in vulnerable communities, the company says.

2. Cosmetics made from Amazonian fruit

Every minute an area of Amazon rainforest roughly the size of five football pitches is cut down, according to WWF. The causes are multiple, from cattle ranching to agriculture.

Chiribiquete Yari aims to work in harmony with the environment to produce its products – cosmetics made from Amazonian fruit. The fruit is sustainably grown and the products produced also support local people and economies.

3. A reusable bottle for much more than just water

ReBottle is a returnable, reusable bottle that can be filled with a range of products, for example, shampoo or body wash.

You pay a £2 ($2.44) deposit and every time you return the bottle you get a voucher for your next one – effectively just paying once.

4. Make a donation to support India’s wilderness

India is one of the world’s ‘mega-biodiverse’ countries and is home to some 7-8% of its known species.

The Centre for Wildlife Studies is working to preserve that, using conservation methods to protect wildlife and wildlands. From tackling human-wildlife conflict to education programmes, its work touches numerous areas of biodiversity and conservation.


5. Vegan leather and clothes from 100% plant material

Fashion goods have increasingly used human-made materials to keep costs down. But a lot of these materials are derived from oil and plastics, so US start-up Natural Fiber Welding has developed a way of using plant materials to get the same results.

Their plastic-free vegan leather is already being used in footwear and even for car seats. When it's finished with, it can be ground up into soil or recycled. Their sustainable clothing fabric uses recycled cotton and plant fibre - and it’s being used by leading fashion brands.

6. Sustainable, responsibly sourced products from the Amazon

Current figures suggest around 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been lost already, according to the WWF. This is an area the size of France. So, how can we conserve this precious resource, which holds 20 billion tonnes of CO2, while allowing local people to make a living?

Peruvian firm Shiwi was set up by indigenous Amazon nut collectors who harvest the region’s protected natural areas sustainably. As well as selling foods, the company also produces natural oils from the harvest and funds conservation efforts in the Amazon.

7. Sustainable seaweed products

Humans have been eating seaweed since prehistoric times. Today, a start-up based in Maine on the Atlantic coast of the United States is farming kelp to provide sustainable, nutritious food.

NASA says the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of the world’s oceans, putting the local fishing industry at risk. Atlantic Sea Farms supplements fishing incomes by creating seaweed nurseries which the company says each capture over 3,600kg of CO2 every year.

Photo of person tree planting. sustainable gift ideas
Tree planting increases food production as well as tackling climate change in Africa. Image: Trees for the future

8. Planting trees in Africa

Making a donation to a good cause instead of giving a gift has become increasingly popular. A recent Statista survey showed 22% of Europeans favour donations over gifts, a view shared by one in three people in the UK and one in four Australians.

Trees For The Future supports agroforestry projects in Africa, providing training, seeds and tools so that farmers can plant their own trees. The initiative not only tackles climate change but increases food production, reducing hunger and poverty and improving biodiversity.

9. Helping restore the world’s coral reefs

Although Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has recently shown encouraging signs of regeneration, the world’s corals remain under threat from rising sea temperatures and acidification of the oceans. So why not give the gift of renewal to the world’s corals?

The Plant a Million Corals Foundation has developed a way to grow resilient corals quickly. The technique means coral reefs can be healed between 25 and 40 times faster than would naturally occur. The Foundation says 100 years of growth can be achieved in just two years.

sustainable gift ideas. Before ‘Oases of Life’ were built in the Azawak region, people had to walk up to 30 miles for water.
Before ‘Oases of Life’ were built in the Azawak region, people had to walk up to 30 miles for water. Image: Amman Imman

10. Push back the desert in the Sahel, Africa

The Azawak region was once one of Africa’s most lush pastoral lands. Today, this area – the size of Florida – is one of the places hardest hit by climate change, with deserts taking over once-fertile parts of Niger and Mali.

Amman Imman constructs 180 metre-deep boreholes to create its ‘Oases of Life’, bringing water to more than 100,000 people and their animals. The organization builds schools and enables reforestation, sanitation, food security and women’s empowerment projects.

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