Ultimate Eco-Friendly Holiday Gifting Guide 2020

Environmentally friendly gift ideas for anyone on your Christmas list

Jesse Harris
Nov 20, 2020 · 14 min read
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Photo by Mel Poole on Unsplash

Christmas is coming up fast, so it is time to start our holiday shopping! If you are like me, gifting can feel a bit strange. It’s fun to spoil our family and friends, but you feel guilty about the environmental costs, the waste, and the plastic. Luckily, there are more and more businesses selling products that are ethically sourced and environmentally friendly!

But where to start?

With so many options, it can be frustrating to find the right gift. To help you out, I’ve compiled a list of great sites that offer wonderful eco-friendly gifts for reasonable prices. Whether you want to lower the carbon footprint of your own gift giving, or are trying to impress the environmentalist in your life, this list will be your eco-friendly gift guide!

Note: all choices are made independently and without the direction of the recommended sellers. No affiliate or referral links are included.

Housewares

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Images: Uncommon Goods, edited by author.

Uncommon Goods was started in 1999 as an online marketplace for craftspeople to connect with shoppers. It features a very wide range of products, from customized skateboard wall hanging and glass hearts to dog treats and world map coloring tablecloths. If you are struggling for ideas, this is a great site to get your creative juices flowing.

Uncommon Goods encourages its creators to use sustainable and recycled materials, is fur and leather-free, and uses environmentally friendly packing material. Through its Better to Give program, Uncommon Goods donates $1 of every purchase towards charities like American Forests and the International Rescue Committee.

It’s hard to choose between all their neat products, but some of the standouts are the scratch map and the BBQ spice blends. On the higher end, the indoor herb garden and the kitchen composter seem like fabulous gifts for the environmentalist who is stuck in an apartment. For the animal lover, check out the Protect the Animal Mugs, which are hand-made, and include a $5 donation to Global Wildlife Conservation.

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Images: KeepCup, edited by author

Travel mugs have become very popular in recent years, so it can be hard to find a brand that stands above the rest. KeepCup goes the extra mile, offering travel mugs that are beautiful and functional. Made with glass, cork, stainless steel, and BPA-free plastic, they have developed mugs that have a low carbon footprint while minimizing waste. In fact, after just eight uses, a Thermal KeepCup’s carbon impact is less than single-use coffee cups.

KeepCup’s commitment to environmental responsibility is truly obsessive. Their online store offers replacement parts, to help you get more mileage out of your mug. KeepCup has an impressive charity portfolio, including 1% For The Planet, meaning 1% of all global revenue is donated to environmental causes. In 2016 they began production in the UK for the purpose of reducing their carbon footprint, rather than reducing costs. They even have a Life Cycle Assessment on their website that is 94 pages long! Who does that?

For the actual products, the company is very focused. There are cups for sale, and nothing else. I’m personally partial to the classic black lid with a cork band and glass. Using glass in a travel mug may seem strange, but the material is sturdy and lets baristas better construct your drink. In some regions, you can design your own cup, mixing and matching styles to build the perfect gift!

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Images: Etee, edited by author

Kitchens are ground-zero for household waste. Whether it is packaging, paper towels, or spoiled food, the kitchen is where you want to look to reduce garbage, and Etee has tons of cool kitchen essentials to help. This Ottawa-based company is particularly passionate about reducing plastic waste. Everything from Etee’s is plastic-free and designed with biodegradable and natural materials — including the packaging!

For gift ideas, check out the reusable beeswax food wraps. These seem to be Etee’s signature product, and they have a ton of positive reviews. Beyond that, they’ve got luffie scrubbers, tooth care kits, and soaps! You can also pick up some organic cotton face masks, which are always handy these days.

Clothing

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Images: Tentree, edited by author

Do you like trees? Because Tentree loves them! In fact, they love them so much that they plant ten trees for each item purchased. So far, they have planted over 50 million trees, and aim to plant 1 billion by 2030! Inspiring work for a fashion company.

Want to learn more about Tentree’s planting projects? They have tons of details on their website. This includes breakdowns of where trees are being planted, what kinds of trees are being used, and why. Their passion for ethics goes beyond the environment, as they require suppliers to follow a strict code of conduct to protect workers’ rights, as well as a factory registry to facilitate transparency.

The juniper hoodie is one of many great gifting options: it comes in men’s and women’s fits, and a variety of colors. Tentree’s loungewear section looks very cozy, with fun items like a hoodie dress for women and a yak hoodie for men (no yak included). Be sure to also check out their accessory section, there are a few hidden gems there. The Mizu cutlery set is one of the best looking travel cutlery sets around — perfect for white elephant-style gift exchanges.

Note: Tentree is offering an AMAZING “Green” Friday sale, where everything is 50% off. Check that out if you have a chance!

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Images: Happy Earth Apparel, edited by author

Eco-friendly clothing can be a little on the expensive side — not expensive exactly, but not cheap. Unfortunately, some of the budget “sustainable” clothing available isn’t much better than conventional clothing. Happy Earth offers environmentally-friendly clothes and accessories at an affordable price, making it a great place to check out if you are gifting on a budget.

Happy Earth keeps costs low without compromising on environmental impact. Each purchase gives you a choice to plant 15 trees, prevent 150 lb of CO2, or remove 1 lb of trash from natural areas. They use organic cotton, which has a lower carbon footprint. Their packaging is made from recycled materials. They also purchase carbon offsets for any emissions from their operations, making Happy Earth a carbon neutral business.

There are lots of great gift ideas throughout the Happy Earth store, but a few eye-catching options include the short-sleeved shirts, long-sleeved shirts, and the women’s tanks. They also offer bundles, allowing you to get even more value out of your money.

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Images: Allbirds, edited by author

It’s tough to find high-performance shoes that are environmentally friendly. A few brands offer eco-friendly slip-ons and sandals, but when it comes to eco-friendly runners, your options are much more limited. Luckily, Allbirds has you covered.

Allbirds is obsessed with using the best materials. Shoes are made with Merino wool from New Zealand, recycled plastic, TENCEL from trees in South Africa, and responsibly sourced sugar cane from Brazil. They are even working with next-generation materials, like Trino and chitosan. All of this in the pursuit of developing products that are sustainable and high performance.

The brand’s signature shoe is the Tree Dasher. Named by Time as the best invention of 2020, it is available in men’s and women’s sizes. If you want to upgrade your gift to be water-resistant, you should take a look at the Dasher Mizzles (also available in men’s and women’s sizing). Allbirds also offers a range of apparel, including cardigans, shirts, socks, and masks.

Note: Allbirds uses a lot of wool and other animal products in their store. If you are shopping for a vegan, you might want to double-check the material list to make sure it is vegan-friendly.

Babies and Kids

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Images: Mini Mioche, edited by author

Kids can go through a lot of clothes. Whether they are stained, damaged, lost, out-of-season, or just outgrown, it seems like kids need a whole new wardrobe every four to six months. With such high turnover, it is important to pick clothing that won’t load up landfills with polyester fabrics that will take decades to decompose.

Mini Mioche is a Toronto-based company specializing in essentials clothing for children. When I say Toronto-based, that includes manufacturing their organic cotton fabric, their toxin-free dyes, and the final assembly. This centralized supply chain means they can tightly control quality and reduce unnecessary carbon emissions transporting their products between locations.

Another great feature of Mini Mioche is more practical — selection! They offer toques, sweat pants, hoodies, and mittens. For babies, they offer onesies, sleepers, and bibs. Everything comes in a range of colors and sizes, making it easier to find the perfect gift for every youngin’ on your list.

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Images: Tender Leaf Toys, edited by author

Like so many products for children, more toys are made with cheap plastic. Luckily, companies like Tender Leaf Toys are providing an alternative. Constructed from reclaimed rubberwood, they offer high-quality handcrafted toys that will last for years. They are also committed to ethical production and have integrated their manufacturing into one factory. This allows Tender Leaf Toys to control quality and working conditions while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Tender Leaf offers a ton of gift ideas. The Leaf Family and the Twisting Cubes are great budget options. Tender Leaf also offers a beautiful train set and some cute building blocks for the little builder in your life. Looking to spoil a special kiddo? They have some massive dollhouses, like Fantail Hall or Dovetail House, with tons of furniture and accessories.

Note: the US website only allows you to ship within the US. If you are ordering internationally, be sure to use the Canadian, UK, Swedish, Thai, or Taiwanese sites. The websites are partially walled-off from one another, so make sure you are looking at the correct offerings.

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Images: Green Sprouts Baby, edited by author.

Finding eco-friendly baby kitchenware is tough. Plates, cups, bowls, and utensils all have to be durable, easy to clean, and there never seems to be enough! Parents trying to live plastic-free will find it hard to stick to that commitment in the kitchen.

Green Sprouts Baby offers a wide range of environmentally-friendly meal-time supplies for babies and children. Their products are generally made with silicone rather than plastic. While these materials may look and feel similar, silicone is less burdensome on the environment to produce, is more durable, and has a higher tolerance for extreme temperature. If you are curious to learn more, Almost Zero Waste has an helpful article explaining the difference between plastic and silicone.

If you aren’t sure what to get, I would recommend the suction plates. When my son was younger, he would often flail around at the dinner table, knocking over his food. Suction plates allowed me to get up for a minute without worrying that his plate would land on the floor. The parents in your life will love them. Green Sprout Baby also offers utensils, bowls, and bibs for meal-time. While it isn’t in-season, you can find boys’ and girls’ swimsuits, water shoes, and swim diapers on the website as well.

Eco-Friendly Beauty

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Images: Soko, edited by author

Jewelry is a shockingly problematic industry. Between the exploitation of workers, counterfeit materials, and careless environmental practices, it can feel uncomfortable to buy any accessories nowadays. Ethically-minded companies like Soko aim to change the jewelry industry. They work with artisans and craftspeople to bring high-quality jewelry from Kenya to the rest of the world. To learn more about their business model, read their 2019 impact report.

In terms of materials, one of their specialties is brass. Almost 90% of brass is recycled, meaning it has a smaller environmental impact compared to other materials. They also use sustainably sourced ceramics, bone, and wood in their jewelry.

For gifting options, items like the Open Square Statement Ring, Ellipse Collar Necklace, or the Mini Bold Hoop Earrings look good. Personalized necklaces and bracelets also provide an added intimate touch. If you are thinking of upgrading, check out the Soko Sets, which offer a package of accessories that look great together, or can be worn separately.

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Images: Lauren Conrad Beauty, edited by author

For those who follow the beauty world, it may be surprising that Lauren Conrad (of The Hills fame) is leading the way in environmentally-friendly cosmetics. For those who do follow the Conrad’s career, they probably already know about her serious commitment to ethical beauty products.

These beauty products are vegan. They are paraben-free. They are formaldehyde-free. There is no SLS. No triclosan. The company also uses eco-friendly packaging and includes a recycling guide on the website. They use a solar-powered warehouse. While I wish they provided a little bit more detail on their manufacturing and business practices, Lauren Conrad Beauty is clearly far ahead of much of the competition.

For gifting options, the lip gloss, lipstick, mascara, and the eye shadow palette would all be great for the makeup users in your life. The body cream and body lotion are also good options, especially if your giftee struggles with dry skin in the winter.

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Images: Ethique, edited by author

Bar shampoos have come a long way in the last few years. Bar shampoos and conditioners are better for the environment because you don’t need a plastic packaging. Not long ago, bar shampoos were incredibly rare. Now, there are dozens of companies springing up to capture interest in the waste-free movement. More options are exciting, but it becomes much harder to find the best products when there is so much selection!

Ethique is one of the most popular brands of bar shampoo on the market. Their products are plastics-free, palm oil-free, and vegan. Not only are they carbon neutral, but they are also working to become carbon negative, meaning Ethique offsets more carbon dioxide than they create! Ethique also uses ethical trade practices, such as direct trading. Overall, the company has outstanding business practices.

Ethique offers an impressive selection of different formulations for customers with different hair care needs. The shampoos that are the most popular are the Heali Kiwi for dandruff, St Clements for oily hair, and the Frizz Wrangler for dry or frizzy hair. You should also check out Tip-to-Tot, one of their shampoo bars formulated for babies. They even have dog shampoo if you want to get something for your fur baby! If you are looking for something other than hair care, they also offer deodorant and body lotion.

Books

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Images: Goodreads and Indiebound

Sir David Attenborough needs no introduction. He has chronicled the natural world for decades and has seen the changes in our environment with his own eyes. At 94 years old, Attenborough’s life is coming to a close and he is taking this opportunity to share his thoughts on the future of the planet. A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future will give you a unique perspective on the natural world, and provide hope for the years ahead.

Climate change isn’t one story — it is many stories. It is about activists, academics, journalists, and citizens seeing the challenges of our time and doing their part to stop the environmental disaster we are all facing. All We Can Save is a collection of essays written by women at the frontier of this struggle. Great for anyone passionate about the environment, and particularly perfect for the eco-feminist in your life.

What will climate change really look like? Assume we do nothing to stop global warming, and temperatures continue to rise 2, 3, 4, or 5 degrees Celsius. What does the world look like? The Uninhabitable Earth seeks to answer that question, and the picture isn’t pretty. This controversial book is a must-read for any environmentalist who wants to take climate change seriously, without the sugar-coating.

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Images: Green Giving, BURN, Climeworks, and Clean Air Task Force

Charities

The holidays are the time of year many give to charity. In a year like 2020, there are obviously countless great causes to donate to, but it can still be tough to decide where to pass along your hard-earned money. Luckily, there are charity evaluators like Green Giving. They study climate-centric charities, and determine which are the most effective. Here is a brief description of some of the top climate charities according to Green Giving. (It is also possible to donate to Giving Green to support their work evaluating climate change-focused charities.)

Have you ever thought “I wish I could just undo my carbon emissions”? You’re in luck! Climeworks is a Switzerland based company that performs carbon capture via direct air capture. Basically, they use giant fans to suck up lots of air, which is then pulled through fancy filters to remove the CO2. When you donate to a cause like Climeworks, you really know where your donation is going, and what impact it will have.

Feeling conflicted about donating to the climate or donating to a humanitarian cause? BURN is a Kenya-based company that sells high-efficiency stoves in Africa, which helps to bring down carbon emissions. As a donor, you can purchase carbon offset credits, which will then be used to buy high-efficiency stoves for people in need! Donating new stoves is a big help for families — open fires increase the risk of house fires and are linked to health issues. A great cause for anyone looking to donate to the environment and sustainable development.

Carbon offsets are cute, but what about real structural change? Where can I donate to push policymakers to address the big problems in our society? Since 1996, The Clean Air Task Force has pushed for policies that reduce carbon dioxide emissions. They have real accomplishments, such as their support of the Clean Air Act, and promoting policies that reduce methane emissions. If you are a “big picture” type of person, these folks are worth a look.

The 2020 holiday season is going to be weird. So many family traditions will need to be put on hold for the sake of safety and public health. Now is a great time to start new traditions! Environmentally-friendly gifting will help to inspire eco-friendly habits for the year to come.

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Jesse Harris

Written by

Scientist / Writer / Environmentalist ~ I would love to work with you. Learn more about me: https://jesse-harris.ca/

Climate Conscious

Building a collective vision for a better tomorrow

Jesse Harris

Written by

Scientist / Writer / Environmentalist ~ I would love to work with you. Learn more about me: https://jesse-harris.ca/

Climate Conscious

Building a collective vision for a better tomorrow

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