Ten Gifts with a Purpose 2014

Thanksgiving is behind us and the gift-buying frenzy in preparation for Christmas is here. It can be overwhelming—the number of gifts, the types of gifts, the busy stores, and the squeezed bank account. And on top of it all, buying gifts that aren’t contributing to unethical production practices, human trafficking, slave labor, or environmental degradation seems impossible. So here are ten gift ideas that are ethical, environmentally friendly, and fabulous.

(Please note, when I say “local” in the ideas below, I am referring to Minnesota and the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. If you’re from another part of the country, try to find an equivalent gift idea from a local business.)

  1. Origin Candles

    Origin Candles. Photo by Mykou Thao.
    Origin Candles. Photo by Mykou Thao.

    My friend Mykou makes these eco-friendly soy candles. The candles are hand-poured, fragrant, and come with a surprise piece of cultural jewelry inside. You can feel good about buying one of these unique candles made by a local woman.

  2. A CSA Membership

    CSA baskets. Photo from www.localharvest.org
    CSA baskets. Photo from www.localharvest.org


    Have a friend or family member who loves fresh vegetables? Consider gifting them with a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) membership or a half-share of a membership. It’s a great way to buy local, seasonal food right from the farmer. You’re supporting local agriculture, receiving fresh vegetables, and reducing your environmental footprint. This is quite a bit more expensive than what I typically spend on Christmas gifts, but it might be perfect for a group gift.

  3. Go Thrifting

    thrift store sign
    Photo courtesy of S. Jones on Flikr.

    Gifts don’t have to be brand new. Go on a treasure hunt to local thrift, consignment, and antique shops to find unique home decor pieces, jewelry, and furniture. I have found so many pretty vases and wall art at thrift stores. It’s a cheap way to give beautiful gifts while preventing perfectly good items from landfills and not buying new items from supply chains that begin with slavery or sweatshops. Take it a step further and choose a thrift store that is nonprofit and invests in the community, such as Goodwill.

  4. Diamonds from Canada

    Maple Leaf Diamond diamond ring.
    Maple Leaf Diamond diamond ring.

    Diamonds are a popular Christmas gift—whether you’re popping the question or simply giving an extravagant gift to show your affection for someone. Before you run out to the jewelry store though, consider how the diamonds may have been mined or purchased. Most diamonds, whether acknowledged by the jeweler or not, come via conflict, environmental degradation, and exploitation of laborers. (I wrote about our decision to buy an ethical engagement ring here.)  One way to make sure your diamond isn’t part of this, is to buy one from Canada. Canada has strict diamond mining regulations and environmental laws that protect wildlife, water, and the land. Look for the maple leaf etched into the diamond (visible only through a microscope) to make sure it’s from Canada. (Brilliant Earth is also a just and fair diamond company.)

  5. Chocolate, Coffee, and Tea

    Equal Exchange gift basket.
    Equal Exchange gift basket.

    Chocolate, coffee, and tea are three of the most consumed products that have questionable ethics in their supply chains. Primarily, these three delicious goods are produced through human exploitation and environmental degradation. But it doesn’t have to be this way. If you buy any of these three from Equal Exchange, or another Fair Trade Certified brand, you will get high quality goods and can feel good about where they came from. Equal Exchange has some great gift baskets at reasonable prices.

  6. Kiva Microloan

    Buying for someone who has everything already or who has told you they don’t want a gift? Consider buying a Kiva Microloan in their name. It’s $25 that goes toward alleviating poverty by helping someone start a business. And since it’s a loan, you end up getting your money back–and you can reinvest it again in somebody else!
  7. Accessories, baby items, and clothing to support HIV Mothers

    Lulu Diaper Bag
    Lulu Diaper Bag

    The Lulu Tree works with HIV mothers in the slum of Katwe, Uganda (the worst of Kampala’s eight slums) equipping them to care for their own kids. Their slogan is, “Preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers.” Make sure to order by Dec. 5 if you want to receive it by Christmas. My friend who lives in Tanzania pointed me to this organization, and has several other Africa-based gift ideas here.

  8. A subscription to YES! Magazine
    Yes Magazine cover
    I’m not a subscriber (yet), but I think I’d like to be. YES! Magazine reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions. Online and in print, they outline a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world. It’s also printed on 100 percent post-consumer waste, chlorine-free paper.
  9. Beez Kneez honey
    Beez Kneez honey
    Beez Kneez is a honeybee education and advocacy organization in Minneapolis. From the website: “We recognize that bees are vital to our food system and work to raise awareness around the health and protection of pollinators.  We keep bees, deliver raw, local honey by bicycle, and teach in-hive education classes at Twin Cities community gardens, parks, schools, museums and urban farms.  We also operate the first ever community beekeeping center, the Beez Kneez Honey House.”
  10. Make it yourself!

    Photo by Kate Ware, on Flikr.
    Photo by Kate Ware, on Flikr.

    DIY gifts aren’t just for kids or last minute gifts when you can’t think of anything else. People who aren’t particularly crafty (like me) love receiving homemade gifts, especially if they are practical, wearable, or edible. Jams, knitted scarves, and jewelry can all be made from home. If you’re the one making it, you know where the ingredients or products came from and since you’re the labor, you can ensure that it didn’t come via exploitation. It’s an opportunity to really put thought into a gift and make someone feel really special.

I’m sure there are plenty more ethical gift ideas. I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments! And please let me know if you give or receive any gifts with a purpose this holiday season. It would be an encouragement to me and my readers.

Here’s a link to the gift ideas I suggested in 2013: 10 Gifts with a Purpose.

Merry Christmas!

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