How to be truly present this Christmas - more sustainable gift ideas from The Ecologist

Left, tree with too many presents. Right, tree with even more presents

Emma Tipping's Christmas tree in 2015, left, and 2016

Shopping is about to reach frenzy levels as the to-do list gets ever longer. And then there is that wonderful person in your life whose present cannot be fur, meat, plastic - or boring. BRENDAN MONTAGUE asked ethical companies for their best gift ideas this Christmas.

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Some feel very strongly that Christmas is about self indulgence, excess even. The one time of year when you just don't have to worry. Max out the credit cards, get the kids what they actually want. Watch TV and eat and drink pretty much all day.

For others, the fact there is a tree in the living room should be a clue. It's a pagan festival thousands of years old about surviving the deep, hard winter together as a family. The turning point towards Spring, and nature's renewal. The carnival of consumerism today is a travesty of such an idea.



The truth, however, is Christmas is really about trying to hold it together when members of the same family have hugely divergent views about what they want, what is good, and what it means to be a person in the world. And in this spirit we have brought together some gift ideas that are both really rather generous, but also have less impact on the natural world.


1. Horn of plenty

The beautiful Christmas decorations from the East African Trading Company make the perfect gift, while supporting small Ugandan businesses who source locally and sells products m the horn of the Inyambo cow. For every one of the rhino and elephant decorations sold, the company donates to the Uganda Conservation Foundation for its anti-poaching programme in Uganda. From £4 to £20. 

2. Soap exciting

Bottles of shampoo

Smellies are a Christmas cliche. But there are exceptions. Few toiletries will be equally well received from the most conservative of grandparents and the most hip of hipsters. Dr Bronner’s All-One! Magic Soaps really are unique. The label is not crammed with embarrassing marketing, but instead a remarkable list of environmental credentials - and some timeless wisdom. The story goes that Emanuel was “a third generation master soapmaker from a German-Jewish soapmaking family” who “used the labels on his superb ecological soaps to spread his message that we must realise our transcendent unity across religious and ethic divides or perish: We Are All-One or None!” The label claims the soap is 18-in-1, certified fair trade, made with pure organic oils, 100 percent biodegradable, has no foaming agents or detergents, and that the bottle itself is 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic. The peppermint Pure-Castile Soap (£17.99 for 946ml) leaves you frothy,  then tingly and finally squeaky clean. A shave with the lavender creates a feeling of natural cleanliness and well being. The bottle boasts that the company has been “family soap makers since 1858”. It’s eccentric, eclectic, and ethical. The company gave $600,000 to animal advocacy groups this year, including $100,000 to UK campaigners. I think Emanuel may have been the original hipster.  Maybe Ronseal “does exactly what it says on the tin”. But what it says is nothing compared to Dr Bronner’s.

3. Heart-felt gifts

Artist Lydia Needle, creator of the FIFTY BEES project, produces some of the most ethical needle felting kits available, with 99 per cent of her components either reused, recycled, recycled, compostable and sourced locally. All her artistic work is concerned with the environment, and for the perfect Christmas gift her reindeer felting kits hit the mark - £17. 


4. Travelling light

There is going to be at least one traveller in the family (don’t ever call them a tourist). And while the debate about whether flying is now out of the question rages on, there are small steps we can take to reduce the impact on the very planet that we are all so keen to traverse. Incognito make anti-mosquito products which are, well, basically incognito. They are already within the other creams we apply to our skins: sun screen, moisturiser. The company boasts “an award winning natural formula” which is safe for the entire family including babies over three months and has in some tests shown to be 100 percent effective for up to four hours. Pack your bags! The Second Skin Gift Set costs £44.

5. Hear me out

Earthy bass, a horizon-wide dynamic range and good separation make the Smile Jamaica wireless headphones from House of Marley a sound competitor on the increasingly crowded headphone market. You would expect this from the children of Bob Marley. But perhaps not at £49.99 - and even less if you can find them on promotion. Interestingly, the Marley family also claims that this good music is produced while listening to the needs of nature. The company tells us: “The brand is all about delivering stylish products while looking after the environment. All Marley products are made from a variety of earth-friendly materials including sustainably sourced wood, recycled steel parts, organic cotton and salvaged leather.”

6. That light bulb moment

Christmas is all about the lights. But that does not have to mean burning coal in power stations to feed ever grander street displays. The Smart Wi-Fi LED Bulb from tp-link is ideal for the perfectionist or the nerd in the family. The quality of light is kinder, warmer, more human than the classic 60-watt bulb. The LB130 light (£49.99) can be controlled from an app, so that the exact colour and intensity can be created for each moment. It also works with Amazon Alexa so your voice can dictate the hue of your surroundings. Perhaps most importantly of all, this 11-watt bulb has an A+ rating and is extremely efficient, especially for those who like low lighting. The app tells us we have used the bulb for 4.78 hours today, using 0.03kWh of energy and saving 0.26 kWh compared to a traditional 60-watt. It’s predicted the bulb will save 93.8 kWh this year - with a whole year ahead for collecting data!


People on a bee keeping course

6. Bee original

Pure gold, but without the avarice. Left it too late to establish a bee colony in a handmade hive, collect sweet, golden honeycomb with your bare hands, and then hand press your own paper labels to create the perfect gift for your significant other? Us too. But you can go online to Bees for Business now and click on the "Adopt a Beehive Gift Set". As the website says, it is "the perfect gift for the environmentally conscious, the bee or honey lover, or simply the person who seems to have everything!" You get a shiny certificate, bee friendly flower seeds, video updates of your adopted hive, and a £25 voucher off a beekeeper workshop and two pots of your own honey. It's £6 a month (minimum 12 months or £72).  

7. Snap it up

A personal favourite this year is the Lanka Kade fair trade alphabet crocodile wooden jigsaw, available from Born Gifted. This is a truly beautiful object, lovingly hand crafted and a toy that deserved to be handed down through the family from sibling to sibling, from mother to daughter. The Lanka Kade toys are made from rubber trees cut down after decades of producing rubber and immediately replaced. The company states on its website: “Our Sri Lankan producers are independent businesses - most began working with Lanka Kade as small family-run cottage industries. They are true artisans, skilled craftspeople in their own right, expanding to offer employment within their local communities.”


Girl in shoes

9. A shoo-in

Few teenagers would be disappointed with box fresh Vans to take out with their skateboard as soon as the presents are unwrapped. And Po Zu are the Jedi night challengers to this now established, perhaps too established, brand.  The freshly minted Best of Star Wars range include Feel the Force (£95), Resistance (from £99) , BB-8 (£95) and Chewie (£185). The high acclaim for the prominent roles given to women in The Last Jedi, the latest in the famous franchise, will no doubt mean girls will be just as keen on the footwear as boys. Po Zu also walks the walk when it comes to producing ethical products. It’s website states: Traditional shoe-crafting has given way to mass-production, eating up resources and sending an average of three pairs of shoes per person to landfill every year…We also believe you should be able to buy your shoes guilt-free, safe in the knowledge that they were created with love for people & planet, and with respect for traditional craft communities.” The company also sells classical styles - ideal for both the half pipe and the office. They are comfortable, robust and quietly stylish. 


10. A cut above

The Husqvarna flagship robotic lawnmower, Automower 450X, could be the ideal Christmas gift for families with a larger budget. These machines mean their owners will never have to mow the lawn again. The mower works by cutting little but often, automatically returning to its charging station when in need of power. It also eco-friendly. The Automower clips grass into tiny pieces and leaves it on the lawn to act as a natural fertiliser. It’s controllable by an app for smartphone and Apple Watch, so no matter where the homeowner is, their lawn will always be immaculate. A snip at £3,100. 


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