The Art of Green Gift-Buying

As environmentally-conscious consumers, we’re used to making green decisions. Whether it’s investing in solar panels or opting for an electric car, we’ve trained ourselves to think about making the best choices to suit an eco-friendly lifestyle.

But what about our friends and family; what about when we’re buying stuff for them? Suddenly the priorities change, and in the rush to tick off the never-ending shopping list we can easily forget our ethical and eco principles.

It’s a game-changing dynamic, as the environmental choices go out the window and the need to fulfill the seemingly administrative task of buying gifts takes over. And this isn’t just about the C-word (Christmas). It happens at birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, christenings… the list goes on.

For newbie eco warriors, here’s handy list of ideas and advice; for seasoned environmental soldiers, it’s (hopefully) a useful refresher…

Getting To The Shops

Let’s start from the beginning. How are you getting to your point of sale? How are you transporting your presents home? In the mad rush to just get the gift-buying done, we often abandon sound practice and jump in the car. We use the car to make short journeys to shops. We use the car to make short journeys between the shops.

Sometimes using the car is the only way. But often it’s possible to walk, cycle, take the bus or share the trip with someone on a shopping quest of their own. Don’t give in to laziness to make get a ‘chore’ be over a little quicker.

Choosing The Right Seller

Think about the shop you’re buying from. What do they stand for? What are their green policies and initiatives? What do they contribute to the community? It’s not about ‘local independent trader vs. faceless international corporation’, but what fundamental values underpin each individual business.

How do you find out? Most businesses with any genuinely green credentials will arm their staff with information to give you. Ask them about their hiring policies, where they source their materials from, where their labour base is, what charity drives they take part in, what they invest in the local community.

A very trendy consumer issue right now is corporation tax. Is the place you’re shopping in paying their fair share? I won’t name names (the high-profile candidates are very Google-able) but there are some well-known brands in hot water right now. Would you boycott them to send a message?

The businesses that deserve your business will be the ones who are able to talk about their business, either on their website and social profiles or, even better, face-to-face.

Checking The Product

Ah, the actual product itself. This is the crux of the matter, isn’t it? Deciphering a credible green and ethical product from one that isn’t can be tough. It’s a minefield.

Good places to start are the things that make up the product. The ingredients or materials. Are they natural products? Are they ethically sourced and manufactured? Is there anything about the make-up of the product that sets off alarm bells?

You could write a whole feature on current ‘alarm’ ingredients in themselves. But you’ll probably spot them. Obviously don’t scrutinise the make-up of every single thing you buy (it’ll take ages and you’ll look weird), but be aware of what is in the thing you’re buying.

Check to see if there are clues to how and where the product was made – is there a more ethical variant? Do you need to buy a version that’s been shipped thousands of miles? Could you choose a more locally (or at least domestically) made alternative?

Look at the price. If it’s very low, think about how decent wages might realistically be getting to the workers who produced it. Don’t pay £5 for a suit and wonder how people in Asian factories only earn 1p per hour for making it. Similarly, if the prices seem to be staggeringly high, where are those profits being re-invested? Into business growth? Worthy initiatives? Or share-holders’ pockets?

Ordering Online

In the UK we shop online more than any other country in the world. So it’s no surprise that web retailers see a lot of our cash. Does this eliminate the need to think about ethical and environmental factors?

No. The same principles above apply to your digital shopping basket. Think about the logistics of how a product gets to your front door. Does it reduce your carbon footprint to shop online, or would it actually be greener to be shopping in person?

And what about the online retailer themselves? Who are they? How do they operate? It’s often been said that there’s a disconnect between the processes of food being produced and the final product we expect and buy from off the shelf. The same is true of the online shelves. Is a giant web delivery organisation the best place to spend your money, or would a smaller, independent delivery service be better?

Packaging And Wrapping

Packaging could easily fit in the section above about checking the product, but it fits nicely here. Some products are encased in an outrageous amount of packaging. It’s wasteful. It’s damaging. Even if it’s recyclable packaging, way too much of it means there’s less capacity for other presents in the delivery van or the boot of your car – meaning more trips, more miles and a higher carbon footprint.

In terms of wrapping, bear in mind that most wrapping is appreciated for about 10 seconds and discarded 20 seconds later; so make sure whatever you use is recyclable and environmentally friendly. The same goes for cards, which spend longer being appreciated but still ultimately are of no interest after a few weeks – so make sure your cards can be put in the right colour bin when it’s time for them to make the journey to the big card store in the sky…

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