The ancient tradition of gift-giving around Christmas time is stronger than ever and many of us are in a rush to get just the right thing for our loved ones this festive season. Magazines are full of suggestions and some even point to “green gift ideas”. But does gifting “green” mean our choice is limited to one of these solar powered biodegradable bamboo gadgets that are actually of no real use to the receiver apart from the few hours of fun around Christmas lunch?

No, gifting “green” goes beyond first appearance and can include commercial consumer goods. What gifting “green” really means is that there is a great deal of environmental consideration before purchasing. Remember, everything we buy becomes our responsibility. In the case of gift giving it becomes partly the receiver’s responsibility and encompasses the following  three areas in a product’s life cycle:

  1. Upstream
  2. In-use
  3. Downstream

Let’s look at the first issue upstream: Every product was manufactured somewhere and has now been placed into the shop. By purchasing something we indirectly approve of the manufacturer’s production and distribution methods. We can even go as far as to say that we are supporting the brand’s methods by giving them our business. There are many examples where this consumer power has achieved a great deal of change. Therefore, when we have the choice to buy this or that product we ideally should ask the following questions:

  • Where does the product come from?
  • How far has it travelled to get to the shop?
  • What chemical processes are involved to produce this product?
  • Does the company have an environmental strategy?
  • Are the manufacturing plants water wise?
  • Is the manufacturer implementing energy efficiency?
  • Does the brand account for their carbon footprint?
  • How much packaging is around the product? Is it over-packaged?
  • Is the packaging recyclable or eco friendly? Is it clearly labelled with plastics of 1-7?

The second issue in-use covers mainly two aspects, and that is longevity and health impacts while in use. Once again, ideally we should seek answers to these questions:

  • How long is this product going to last or going to be functional?
  • Can it be repaired?
  • How long is the warranty?
  • Are there any health implication to the user or occupier when in contact or around the product?

Believe it, there are products which ooze out toxins during their use (such as scented candles with artificial odours, or yoga mats with so much formaldehyde and VOCs that one can only wonder about the benefits of yoga).

Last but not least, the third issue downstream relates to the afterlife. Ultimately, everything will be disposed of one fine day. So in the case of a gift, the receiver will decide in due time to discard the item and he should not be left with an awkward situation where this item is neither recyclable, nor biodegradable, nor compostable, nor reusable. Sometimes the object might even be hazardous and therefore not disposable at all! So the right questions to ask here are:

  • Is the product recyclable?
  • Is it biodegradable or compostable?
  • Can it be reused?
  • What are the components made of?
  • Is it made from recyclable materials?
  • Has the product got a “take back” option? (some companies offer such service, particularly for electronic devices)

Shu – you might think – buying has become a lot more complicated than it used to be! Yes, and this is what being “green” is really about: We have the gift of choice, all we need to do is look for the right choice and choose which product bears the least environmental impact to others and to nature. We cannot expect the easy option that got us into all that environmental trouble to get us out of it again. Consumer consciousness has to shift.

So, let’s get onto the internet and research the gift we have in mind. Let’s find out what the options are. Let’s learn about the implications of this product’s life cycle. Let’s see which brand seems to be the more environmentally conscious one.

Shu – you might think again – gifting has become a lot more expensive. Yes, environmentally conscious buying might just be the more expensive choice. (Such as the Pro-e-nergy iron from Bosch costing almost 3 times more than comparable ordinary irons). But if it is not us paying the price for such care, who or what does? Is our beautiful planet paying the higher price? Or our precious fellow citizens, the animals and creatures in the cycle of life?

There is another thing we have control off: Ensuring that the receipt of the gift is also ‘gifted’. This ensures that should the gift be unwanted, it can be exchanged for something which will actually be used and liked for all the environmental footprint it has created in it life cycle. How sad if all that energy water and pollution embedded in a product’s manufacturing process was unnecessary and wasted since the product sits in a cupboard or store room unused and unappreciated.

And when we gift green, we as givers will have an impact upstream and send a positive message to the manufacturers and retailers that are doing their bit to produce, distribute and dispose of products in environmentally sounds fashions. We become part of the change since we support their green efforts. Now that is a green gift for all of us!