Green gifts: the dematerialized edition

The holidays can be a tough time for a good greenie. Sure, you want to participate in the rituals of giving and receiving associated with Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, and, yes, you want to give your family members and friends gifts they want. But does that have to mean pushing aside any sense of environmental responsibility (or good ol’ fashioned green guilt) and hitting the mall (or the internet) for “stuff” that we’ll box (in that “free” gift box) and wrap (in unrecyclable paper)?

No, it doesn’t. Sure, it’s easier to pick something up, but with a little thought about what our loved ones really like/love, we can probably come up with the perfect gift that has little environmental impact (even if that’s not particularly important to the recipient). The business model of the product-service system provides a good analogy: people don’t necessarily want more stuff; they want the benefits provided by stuff. As long as they have access to what they want, they’re happy. So, stop worrying about how much space you need to fill under the tree, and start thinking about gifts that will keep on giving long after the initial “Oohhh” of surprise.

Need some ideas? While the following aren’t free of environmental impact, they create a lot less of it, and leave almost nothing behind to throw away.

Downloadable/shared electronic media: Got a book, film or music lover on the list? Think downloads (which also get you off the hook on costs: a downloadable book/album/movie/magazine subscription is almost always cheaper than its physical counterpart). Or, give the gift of entertainment options, such as a Netflix or Gamefly membership. Keep in mind that specific equipment (an e-reader or game system) probably isn’t needed: if the recipient has a computer, s/he’s usually good.

Memberships: Whether someone on your list wants to shape up or calm down after the new year, a membership in a gym or meditation center provides them access to the tools they need without having to outfit their homes with necessary (or just desired) equipment. If they’re not into working out or breathing intentionally, they may have other interests on which a local organization focuses.

Donations: Got a do-gooder on the gift list? Why not make a donation to his/her favorite cause or non-profit organization? Most charities offer special donation “packages” during the holidays: the NRDC, for instance, allows you to support specific kinds of environmental action, from protecting wildlife to suing a polluter (seriously!). Your local branch of the Humane Society or ASPCA may have an animal sponsorship program that allows you to “adopt” an animal for a loved one. Find out what organizations your intended recipient supports him/herself, and check out their website for options.

Lessons/education: The new year’s coming, and we’ll all have self-improvement on our minds. Why not purchase lessons in a skill that your loved one would like to learn? Community centers like the Y usually have a wide range of options, and local colleges likely offer non-credit continuing education courses. Or, you may want to look at more specific outlets, like yoga studios or craft stores.

Got other ideas for great gifts that don’t involve stuff (or lots of it, anyway)? Share your ideas with us.


Image credit: at Flickr under a Creative Commons license