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Jill Sanford | 11.27.2018

The holidays are wonderful time of year, whether magic for you means singing carols for all to hear or hiking along a silent, snowy trail. Regardless of why you love winter, sometimes the process of buying and receiving gifts can feel overwhelming, especially if, like many outdoor enthusiasts, you try to minimize your impact on the environment. The waste associated with packaging and the carbon footprint of the products that are made, shipped, and gifted can definitely add up.

But that’s no reason to be a Grinch about gift giving. It’s actually a great time for those who wish to make a difference in the world to share that view with their loved ones. Whether you use this guide as a your own wish list or a shopping list (so to speak) to give mindful gifts yourself, either way you’ll come away from the holidays with a lighter heart and a lot less waste.

Experiential gifts

Gifts don’t necessarily have to fit under the tree. Planning an adventure or an outing with friends or family, especially adventures that involve a new skill that a more experienced individual can teach the rest of the group, can be just as meaningful. A simple outing in lieu of a gift may seem underwhelming, but ultimately it will lead to lasting memories. I can’t remember what I got for Christmas when I was 8, but I do remember going cross-country skiing with my mom and grandmother around that age. Still want folks to unwrap something? How about an empty picture frame with a note describing the day ahead? Check out this post on Great Holiday Adventures for ideas. 

Gifts that give back

As the outdoor industry gets more vocal about conservation, climate change, and other issues of our times, new brands that give a percentage of profits to a worthy cause are popping up right and left. Parks Project is a B-Corp that supports our national parks (and their shirts are pretty cool!). United By Blue removes one pound of trash from the oceans for each product they sell, and they are currently donating 100% of the proceeds from this $20 mug to California fire relief efforts. It looks like a great stocking stuffer to me!

Gift a donation on someone’s behalf

Consider donating on behalf of your loved one to an organization they support. Do you have a family member who loves skiing or snowboarding? Make a donation to Protect Our Winters in their name. Worried about fire danger in your community? Look up what organizations are helping fire victims that are still displaced with nowhere to go this holiday season. Is conservation and the conservation of public lands the paramount issue you care about? Purchase a shirt from or make a donation to Utah Dine Bikeyah, one of the organizations leading the fight to protect Bears Ears. Is there a particular place that you love to get outdoors? Look up local nonprofits or watershed councils and put a donation to them on your wish list.

Throw an event

And while you’re in the spirit of giving, encourage others to do the same by hosting a fundraiser or holiday party that donates a percentage of drink prices, raffle tickets, or even the event cover to your favorite nonprofit. You’ll have fun and have something to show for it at the end of the evening.

Trace the carbon footprint of all material gifts

If you must give a physical gift, or if someone in your life actually does need something, track the item’s carbon footprint before buying or even include information on it in a card. Many outdoor apparel companies, such as Patagonia and Prana, are doing everything they can to make clothing as sustainable as possible. If you do have the means (and not everyone does) to purchase something with a heavier price tag that is more sustainably made than “fast fashion,” it does make a difference. And even if you can’t, awareness of the environmental impact of what you are purchasing is the first step in understanding how to make your voice heard as a consumer.

Gift reusable items

Another great way to encourage your loved ones to make more sustainable decisions in their daily lives is to gift them things that make the choice easy. Reusable coffee mugs, stainless steel straws, and fun, fancy water bottles are all worthwhile gifts that go a long way in minimizing impact.

Start new traditions

The best part of holidays for many people is spending time with loved ones, but consider devoting a day to volunteering with your family rather than sitting around at home. Volunteering with a trail crew or spending the day picking up trash at your local park are both great ways to give back but also get outside and be active.

Give back to your local heroes

There are a lot of people whose job it is to keep people safe during the winter holidays. Search and rescue teams, firefighters, ski patrollers, and other emergency first responders are out there keeping us safe, and oftentimes in the harshest conditions. Bake them cookies or drop off a bag of coffee grounds to show your thanks.

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