9 tips for a low impact Christmas


Whether you’re a seasoned “low-waster” or a newbie simply trying to give gifts that tread lighter on the planet, Ethique’s founder Brianne West has got you covered.

Here is her easy guide to help you navigate eco-gifting this holiday season. You’ll be sleigh-in’ it in no time! 

Tip 1: Buy nothing

Kicking off the list with one that makes me sound like the Grinch, but bear with me.

This holiday season, you do have the option to just…opt-out. Tell people ahead of time that you won’t be doing presents and don’t expect them in return. 

The ‘nothing’ approach is the most sustainable option! But if that sounds a little too wild, keep on reading…

Tip 2: Make a list (check it twice)

Resist the urge to ‘go Christmas shopping’ without planning ahead which often leads to letting impulse take you.

You may find yourself overspending, buying too much, too little or not the right things.

The solution? make a list. Consider who you’re gifting to and what you think they’d like to receive.

The hardest part is sticking to the list, but you’ve got this!

Tip 3: Ask others what they want

When people want the things you’ve given them, they’ll value and use them – ie. they won’t become waste within days.

Ask what they’d like – or better yet, really take notice.

Then, include exchange cards, and don’t be offended if they make full use of them.

Another sure way to make sure they get something they love and won’t return is by gifting a gift card.

Tip 4: Buy second hand

There are already MOUNTAINS of stuff out there just waiting for new homes.

Stuff that people will love. The common misconception is that second hand means sub-par.

But as an avid thrifter, I can personally vouch for the treasure trove of goodies out there.

And buying something second-hand means one less thing has been bought new (a win for the environment too!).

A feel-good bonus: many second-hand shops are attached to charities, so each purchase also represents a donation.

Pre-loved gift ideas:

  • Books
  • Pottery or dinnerware
  • Accessories
  • Collectibles
  • Kids toys
  • Games
  • Art

Tip 5: Support local and ethical businesses 

Now more than ever, local businesses need our help. Skip the mall or mass online shops this festive season and opt to shop local instead.

Sites like Felt, Etsy or Christmas markets are the perfect place to spot new businesses to support. 

Not only does supporting local help your community, especially as many small businesses do good within theirs, but it also means you are lessening your environmental impact. Win!

Tip 6: Give experiences (or things that create experiences)

Scientific studies have shown that experiences make us happier than things because material goods visibly degrade as time goes on, while our memories of experiences get better.

Give a massage voucher, book a night at a local comedy club or rent a karaoke machine.

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology suggested that things that create experiences are great too.

Books, art supplies, tools, an instrument or music – all winners. 

Tip 7: Make, bake, create 

You know how it’s the thought that counts? I’d like to tweak that a bit – it’s the effort that counts.

Anything that feels like it has real effort and intention behind it will be treasured.

It doesn’t have to be complex – collect old bottles and infuse some delicious olive oil, bake and wrap some of your signature brownies or craft a pretty bookmark.

Or if you’re looking to go the extra mile, create kits – if someone loves picnics but you notice they don’t have the essentials, put together a kit containing a blanket, basket, plates, cups etc. – most of these can be found at your local charity store!

Tip 8: Don’t buy pets 

Let’s talk puppies: so cute, and also such a big responsibility.

January always sees a sharp uptick in pets being abandoned, or surrendered to animal shelters – people get gifted animals they simply can’t take care of, or leave their animals behind when they head away on holiday.

If a pet really is on the list this Christmas there are a few must-dos – first, make sure that whoever is getting the animal knows they’re getting an animal.

They need to have input into this decision so they can be sure they can offer an animal a home for life.

Then, adopt, don’t shop – there are so many wee fluffies waiting for love in the animal shelters, while pet shop pets come with the added worry that you might be supporting puppy farming, or other unethical breeding practices.

A hot tip is to give a representative present – a picture of a dog or a cat, and then wait until after the holidays to choose the animal with the recipient.

That’s when shelters need good homes the most for the huge influx of animals left with them. 

Tip 9: Give to charities 

Instead of 20 small things people don’t need or want, how about one big thing that could change someone’s life?

Pooling your gift budget and giving it all to charity could really make a difference – and it’s really delivering on the spirit of Christmas, however, you look at it. 

Brianne West is an environmentalist, scientist and founder of NZ sustainable beauty and lifestyle brand Ethique.
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