Here’s a gift that absolutely nobody wants: Something they don’t need, won’t use, have no room for, or feel guilty for tossing because of its long, long future life as a landfill resident.
Don’t be that person who forces the gift-getter’s awkward smile and faux gratitude.
Instead, be the cool friend or relative who gets screeches of excitement—or happy tears—for a thoughtful present that’s as great for the recipient as it is for the Earth.
Tips for more sustainable gift shopping
Eco-friendly gifting doesn’t just come down to finding the perfect surprise for your nearest and dearest. There are lots of ways you can help the environment by making climate-conscious decisions about how and where you shop, too.
That could mean shopping local, or supporting a sustainable Canadian brand. Depending on your list, there might be a difference in emissions between shopping online or in-store, and we’re sure you don’t need to be told twice about skipping the cellophane wrapping that can’t be recycled in favour of sustainable packaging.
Read more: 7 ways to shop more sustainably
The eco-friendly gift guide for 2022
So, without further ado, let’s get into this year’s environmentally-friendly gift buying guide for everyone on your list.
1. Climate-friendly gifts for the foodie
As far as cutting down on stuff, stuff and more stuff, there’s no better friend to have than a foodie!
Once upon a time, buying for a foodie friend was a breeze. A cute card with a gift certificate to a fancy restaurant knocked it out of the park every time. And it still does.
Just a few tweaks can make your gift even more eco-friendly (good for you!): Skip the greeting card—or make one, even cuter—and swap the single-use plastic gift card for an electronic version they can’t lose.
Give your business to a locally owned organic, sustainable or vegetarian restaurant that needs more support than a corporate chain.
And pick a place nearby, walking distance if you can, so your friend won’t need gas-guzzling wheels to get there. A nice stroll to and from dinner is much more pleasant, anyhow.
2. Eco-friendly gifts for the brand-new baby
No way around it: Babies need lots of stuff, and if you ask any new parent, they'll tell you it's already too much.
First and foremost, skip the immediate fail pile by having a conversation with the parents-to-be about what they really don’t want and won’t use—even the most eco-friendly recycled reusable organic cloth diapers are a waste if your friends end up using disposables anyway. (There’s a reason registries exist, and this is it.)
But if your friends are as environmentally conscious as you are, great news: The secondhand social-media trade is an ample, thriving, supportive community that is thrilled to unload barely used (or brand-new) stuff for next to nothing or nothing at all.
Swings, bouncers, bassinets and bathtubs are all things new parents need—for a month or two, tops, at which point they’re thrilled to pass it on to make room for what baby needs next.
You can score what you need for the right price, they can unload what’s only taking up space, and everyone helps stop the unnecessary production of more stuff while keeping perfectly good products from a slow death in a landfill.
3. Sustainable gifts for the sports fan
For your friendly sporto, skip another jersey (they have lots, I promise), cheap kitschy keepsakes (no one needs a bobblehead) or oversized foam fingers (no explanation necessary).
Sports fans know this more than anyone else: Every sport on the planet is about the experience in the moment, and that’s the only thing they really want.
Tickets to see their favourite team is the obvious choice, but that can get a little tricky depending on where the team is based. Consider all the carbon-emitters involved in getting your friend to and from a game, and aim for an arena or stadium they can reach on foot or via public transit. It's also worth looking into which teams and facilities have the best green initiatives.
An alternate choice for your lucky pal is a digital subscription to a sports package they can use all year, delivered to the TV, tablet or computer they already have.
Double-down on the experience by visiting for a playoff game or Super Bowl party with some zero-waste, home-brewed growlers to go. Yum!
4. Low-carbon gifts for the clothes horse
Oh, fashionistas. It’s no easy feat to constantly stay in style without resorting to over-shopping, fast fashion or dumping last year’s look. (Despite all recycling efforts, statistically, most used clothing will end up in a landfill anyhow.)
Certainly there are many wonderful ethical, sustainable, fair trade and even vintage options available: Check out Tentree, which uses sustainable fabrics like hemp, organic cotton and cork; Pact Organics, whose production uses no toxic dyes or pesticides; Patagonia, the outdoor clothing brand well-known for its commitment to saving the planet; and The Dirty Seahorse, which donates 10 percent of profits to environmental and ocean conservation.
All are good choices, but so, too, is something less tangible, like a digital subscription to a fashion magazine, or even design or sewing classes where they can learn to create, recreate or upcycle old garments into new.
Looking for something smaller but still thoughtful? One jar of gentle, chemical-free Simply Co Laundry Detergent cleans up to 60 loads of their favourite most-fashionable pieces to help them stay loved and last longer in the closet rotation.
5. Green gifts for the green thumb
We suspect your garden enthusiast is already pretty eco-conscious, making this gift recipient oddly both easy and hard to shop for.
Their sustainability standards are likely just as high as yours are, but you can still throw them a curveball in the best possible way with a sentimental, do-it-yourself gift that means way more than a new pair of gardening gloves.
Start well in advance with your own favourite plants or trees—many perennials, shrubs and herbs will grow roots from a few snipped stems. From there, propagating can be as easy as placing clippings in a cup of water by a window.
YouTube is filled to the brim with instructional videos and easy techniques, so you’ll score double points for time and effort.
Even better? Use an extra-special plant or tree—for example, your childhood favourite from Grandma’s backyard—for a heartfelt, meaningful present to make your gardener gush with good feelings every time they tend to it.
A little thought goes a long way
When buying gifts for our friends and family, we have an opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of our purchases by considering where we shop, and what we buy.
This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada, RBC Ventures Inc., or its affiliates.