How to shop for the Christmas present without unwrapping the rest of our future

Lily and Sarah, the Founders of Y.O.U underwear.

Lily and Sarah, the Founders of Y.O.U underwear. 

Christmas has become a festival of consumerism, rather than giving and family. So how do we fulfil the social expectation to find perfect, novel presents without sending more plastic to landfill. BRENDAN MONTAGUE and LAURA BRIGGS try and find some nice stuff that might just be a little more sustainable.

Perhaps giving gifts can be a way of gently encouraging more ethical consumer choices...can the Christmas of the future be about buying well, to consume less?

This is a tale of Christmas past, of Christmas present and of Christmas future. It is also Part 1 of The Ecologist Guide to Ethical Present Buying this Christmas. We have some gift ideas that will make centrist dad excited about reducing his carbon footprint and also make the vegan, climate avenger feel like one of the family rather than a heretic. These ideas are presented to inspire your own creativity. 

Christmas past was the glimmer of light in the bleak mid-winter. Families who may have gone without food could look forward to one day of plenty. Children who had little but chalk and slate to play with may have tasted chocolate for the only time that year, or some fresh fruit and a hand-me-down toy. The Christmas card scene of snow and rosy cheeked children remains hugely powerful. 

But for Christmas in the present, and especially after the Second World War, we in the UK at least are experiencing not a crisis of underproduction and destitution but instead a crisis of overproduction and runaway consumption. Today, families are forced to take out more credit to meet the demands of young children, children influenced by advertising and peer pressure. This is not sustainable either economically, or ecologically. 

Consume less

As the environmentalist and author George Monbiot has powerfully argued, Christmas has now become a bizarre and overwhelming ritual of consumerism and insatiable desires. Factories in China press plastic into ever stranger objects, and before the New Year has begun these false idols are fuelling incinerators and overspilling landfill.

"There’s nothing they need, nothing they don’t own already, nothing they even want," Monbiot argues. "So you buy them a solar-powered waving queen; a belly button brush; a silver-plated ice cream tub holder."

But it may just be possible to express our love for our closest friends and family through the generous spirit that is Christmas, without adding to the ever growing environmental crises that always blights at the parameters of our world view.

And so we’ve been searching out some of the most innovative and ecological Christmas gifts so you can revel in this season of goodwill without it costing the earth. Perhaps giving gifts can be a way of gently encouraging more ethical consumer choices, one  more powerful than arguing about eating meat or recycling paper at the dining table. Can the Christmas of the future be about buying well, to consume less? 


1. Reindeer food

If you’re thinking of gifts to make before the big day, then the RSPB has got the perfect idea for children – wildlife-friendly reindeer food. This recipe has a high calorific content - perfect fuel for flying high and keeping warm in the wintry months. It’s also nature friendly. Mix up raw porridge oats and sunflower seeds, nyjer seeds, blueberries and apple, for a high carb, tasty and colourful feed for Rudolph. The RSPB stresses not using glitter or sequins, as these micro-plastics can cause huge problems for the environment in the long term. Seeds for your wildlife-friendly mix can be purchased from the RSPB.

Perhaps giving gifts can be a way of gently encouraging more ethical consumer choices...can the Christmas of the future be about buying well, to consume less?

2. Smalls for all

Knickers and pants are a traditional Christmas gift, and they don’t have to come from a sweatshop. Y.O.U (see main picture) claims its “on a mission is to be the world's leading ethical underwear and lifestyle brand”. The company is running a “buy one, give one” campaign so each pair you buy this Christmas will help provide underwear to people in need. The company also boasts 100 percent organic, Fairtrade cotton, as certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard and Fairtrade Foundation. You can pledge money through its kickstarter campaign and get your gift in time for Christmas. They even have special pair of Y.O.U pants for men or women all wrapped up in an fancy pouch which they will deliver in time for the festivities, at £15.

3. Bunny rattle

Knitted rabbit

This crocheted bunny rattle from Myakka is made in a co-operative in Bangladesh that provides fairly paid employment to women in rural locations. Workers supplement their income with this work for as little or as much time as they want. The company claims that this means that the workers can take a big step away from poverty, without having to compromise on their other family and home commitments. This little chap costs £16.95.

4.…don’t forget the dog

If you’re hunting for a sustainable stocking filler for your four-legged friends, then Sea Treats might just be what you’re looking for. Sea Treats make the world's first white fish jerky dog treat which complies fully with Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) sustainability standards. The MSC is an international, not-for-profit organisation that runs an exciting and ambitious program which aims to transform the world's seafood market and promote sustainable fishing practices. An 100g box of MSC certified Whitefish Jerky Small Crunchies costs £7.99.


5. Actively ethical 

The baselayer from BAM, made from a mixture of bamboo and 100 percent organic cotton, makes the perfect gift for the active person in your life, and looks pretty cool too. Bamboo grows without the use for fertilisers and chemicals, and where possible BAM uses sustainable materials. Their Seam Detail Bamboo Baselayer in Kaleidoscope print costs £38. 

6. Style and substance

Furniture maker Pentatonic is a relatively new company with the humble aim of trying to “lead the world into the circular economy”. Its products are made from post-consumer trash. No toxic additives or hybridised materials are used in its range of home products. The small but unique glassware collection - made from old smartphones - is perfect for Christmas. The scratch-resistant glassware has a pentagon-themed design, allowing for the glasses to tessellate together. At £40 for four, it’s a bit of a steal – and iconic to boot.

7. Life is sweet

Coffee and chocolate

From “dark web” to “Quinoa Puffs Dark”. Chocolate maker Amelia Rope has recently switched all of her couverture chocolate to Colombian cocoa growers who are being backed with a Government initiative encouraging growers to abandon cocaine as a crop and grow cocoa instead. Amelia regularly visits to check working conditions and is now also sourcing her vanilla and sugar from the same region. Amelia has written: “The company I buy from runs a training school to teach chocolate farmers about sustainability and quality. It also shows new farmers, switching from cocaine, the basics…They also run a school for the cocoa farmers’ families.”

The chocolate itself is intense, rich, with notes of winter fruits. The bars are “vegetarian friendly” and the dark range is made with vegan ingredients (although produced in the same kitchens as the milk so not labelled as such). The Quinoa Puffs Dark (that is a real bar) is gluten free. The 70 cocoa carries quite a caffeine kick, and our non-coffee drinker felt just a little high. The Colombian Chocolate Bar Explorer Set costs £75.00 and includes 12 bars representing all of the flavours in the collection.


8. Five gold (and silver) rings

A ring

Arabel Lebrusan is an award-winning ethical jeweller, and claims to be one of the first UK jewellers to embrace Fairtrade Gold. For Christmas, she has created an exquisite range of filigree designs made from either 100 percent recycled sterling silver, or silver plated in 18ct yellow gold. Each piece is hand crafted from only the finest precious metals and gemstones, using ethically sourced gold and silver. Gemstone stacking rings cost £145.


9. Cashmere pennies

Two centuries of sustainable farming proves that for the Travelwrap Company producing ethical wraps is no ethical fad. The company participates in programmes to help prevent over-intensive grazing of pastures by cashmere goats. Further, it has worked with the same group of herdsmen for more than 200 years. The cashmere fibres that makeTravelwrap products are dyed at a Scottish mill and the colourful cashmere yarns provide a palette full of richness and depth. Their Fairisle Orkney wrap costs £248. 

10. Simply electrifying

Woman looking at mobile phone


There are for some, even when we are fully grown, no greater pleasure than tearing back Christmas wrapping paper to reveal a new gadget - something at the cutting edge of technology. But this desire obviously contributes to the mountains of circuit boards and plastics in landfill. If only there was some toy / device that could wow and reduce our impact on the world. Lightwave has an entire range of exciting gadgets, some finished in brushed gun metal, that look very at home in flagship Apple stores.

The Link Plus (£129.95) allows you to create a network of toys / devices including the Smart Dimmer (£59.95), the Smart Socket (£59.95), the Wireless Home Thermostat (£79.95) and also the Radiator Valve (£54.95). Boxing Day can now involve rewiring, setting up wireless networks and downloading new apps. It supports Apple Home Kit, Amazon Alexa and Google Home. The kit means that you can not only closely control the use of energy in the home - but also collect all the data. Parents can even create a set up where the heating switches off as soon as the teenager throws open a window. The room will be perfectly warm, the lights dimmed, and the Hi-Fi can switch itself off at the mains as you sleep. Thank you Santa!

In the lead up to Christmas day, we have ten more gift ideas, presents that will show loved ones you care about them, and also care about the future of the planet. 

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist and tweets at @EcoMontague. Laura Briggs is a regular contributor to The Ecologist and tweets at @WordsByBriggs.

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