Ecocentricity Blog: Giving a Better Gift (Reblog)

By: John A. Lanier
Dec 4, 2019 12:45 PM ET
Summary: 

There is so much that is good about this time of year. That said, sometimes the holidays can turn into forced consumerism, and that isn’t good. So please give to others, but give mindfully.

Blog

Cough, sniffle, sniffle, cough. Uggghhhh. I’m pretty sure I didn’t catch a cold – I caught all the colds. I’m going to take it easy on myself, brew another cup of herbal tea, and just reblog from something I wrote about two years ago. So here you go, fresh from December 2017, but with a few updates from 2019:

Ahhhhhhh, the holiday season. ‘Tis the season of giving! And by giving, what we Americans really mean is buying stuff for people!

Before I put my foot in my mouth (or whatever the appropriate turn of phrase is when you are writing instead of talking), let me get a disclaimer out there. I’m fully supportive of the giving of gifts. I celebrate Christmas, and I can’t wait to see my little boy rip the wrapping paper off of the gifts we have for him (which will probably entertain him more than the gifts themselves).* There is so much that is good about this time of year.

That said, sometimes the holidays can turn into forced consumerism, and that isn’t good. Remember, just because it’s the holiday season, that doesn’t mean the environmental footprint of what you buy disappears. It still takes fossil fuels to ship our gifts across the country. Santa’s elves are still assembling billions of pieces of plastic into toys for our children. Our landfills will still gobble up the old stuff we throw away to make room for our new stuff. There’s no such thing as an environmental hall-pass at the end of the year.

Here is my ask – please give to others, but give mindfully. Maybe there is a more environmentally friendly substitute for that perfect gift for you child. Perhaps you could give consumable goods rather than durable ones that will eventually languish in a landfill (my wife and I often give amazing salami or jerky from a charcuterie down the street).** Experiential gifts, like tickets to an event, are great too.

Remember also that we can give the gift of service to others. A simple foray into this space is a donation to a favorite charity in someone’s honor.*** We gift some family members in this way. More advanced is to do something kind for the person you care for, rather than hand them a physical gift. You could even volunteer your time for a cause that you know your loved one cherishes.

Lastly, I want to share an idea with you all, and if any of you decide to try it this year, please reach out to me and tell me how it goes.**** Let’s call it a “green elephant exchange.”

You may be familiar with a white elephant gift exchange, wherein each person brings a wrapped gift to a party, ultimately leaving the party with something that another person brought. You take turns opening the gifts, stealing ones you like from other people, and hopefully enjoying yourself in the process.

Instead of opening and stealing physical items that you may or may not actually want, what if everyone brought a sealed envelope that contains a promise to do something good, either for yourself, another person, or the environment? Someone might bring, “I will go hiking one Saturday in my nearest state park.” Someone else might bring, “I will volunteer one afternoon at my local Boys and Girls Club.” I bet people would fight over “I will take a vacation day from work to sleep in, read a book at a coffee shop, watch a movie in the middle of the day, and cook a meal for a loved one.” Sounds pretty great, right?

I wish you all many blessings during this special season. Let’s love others, give generously, and be mindful that gifts are about a lot more than buying stuff.

2019 Updates:

* It turns out that J.R. isn’t entertained by wrapping paper at all. Put a wrapped gift in his lap and he’ll just set it aside, unopened, and go back to reading the same book for the 237th time. If you actually want to get him excited, you have to unwrap the gift, take it out of the box and then hand it to him. And by “it,” I mean the empty box.

** They moved. And I became a vegetarian. It feels weird to give meat as a gift when you’re a vegetarian. So we don’t really do this anymore. An amazing bakery just opened up in our neighborhood though, so it’s probably our new go-to for consumable gifts.

*** Shout out to Patagonia for an initiative they’re running through December 31 (or until their $10 million cap is reached). Make a gift to certain environmental organizations and they’ll match it. Just go here to find a qualified organization near you.

**** Nobody reached out last time I blogged this, so the idea is apparently still untested. The offer stands though!

This blog is available weekly via email subscription.  Click here to subscribe.

Valerie Bennett
Ray C. Anderson Foundation
+1 (770) 317-5858