On the Line | When Gifts Get Green

Sustainability Thinking in the Holiday Shopping Season

By Caleb Bushner

The holidays mean two things: jacket weather and shopping (what, am I missing something?). As a sustainable business fanboy (yes, we do exist), I think a lot about commerce, and how to make it better, so, now that the holiday season is here, it seems like a particularly good time to talk about how (and why) to take a sustainably-minded approach to gift-giving.

Allow us to work off of a basic assumption: whatever you’re giving, there are probably alternatives that are more sustainable. This mightn’t have been as true a decade ago, but today we can see sustainability innovation taking place everywhere from organic cotton to recycled polyethylene toothbrushes. The best part about this increase of sustainable goods is that not all of the goods look “sustainable.” This is a huge deal when it comes to greening your gifts because not everyone on your shopping list is going to want a super granola-looking product. However, whatever is topping their lists, chances are you’ll be able to find them an eco / ethical version. And even if they don’t appreciate it for the same reasons as you, the recipients of your gifts will still be participating in a more sustainable lifestyle, while still getting what they want.

There are no good gifts in this image.

Since sustainability is a system-wide issue, we need system-wide solutions. This means we need sustainable apparel that appeals not just to your typical CWAC-reader, but also to the hordes of large-footprint shoppers out as well. After all, these are the people who have yet to discover the merits of sustainably-oriented garments, and, since many of them are unwilling to take the first step on their own, this is a great way to get them started. To put it another way, crazy Uncle Frank might not get as excited by all the green logos and certification terms that might resonate with us, but he will appreciate durable, craft-made and considerate gifts.

So what to do when buying green gifts for eco-agnostics? Some key considerations:

  • Durability – if a product uses exotic green material but wears out in half the time is it really that sustainable? Look for items that are at the optimal intersection of eco-friendliness and performance: it helps dispel the myth that all green products are inferior while simultaneously promoting maximum environmental savings.
  • Style – how about durable aesthetics? A super eco product isn’t very earth friendly if it’s part of a fashion trend that’s discarded by mid-season. Look for items with timeless style that complement your gift recipient’s wardrobe and tastes.
  • Secret sustainability – Crazy Uncle Frank mightn’t want to broadcast that he’s wearing ethically crafted garments but careful shopping can find items with great credentials that can sneak into even the most conventional wardrobe [ed note: always go #NoLogo].

Here are some examples of thoughtful, functional, attractive and secretly sustainable categories and products that can make for great gifts.


The Smartwool Diamond Jim socks are a great argyle design with a generous amount of cushioning from high quality New Zealand wool. And, they’re made in the USA.
Price: $18.95 per pair at Smartwool, or $60.85 for a 3-pair pack at Zappos


People Tree’s Classic Poplin Shirt is a beautiful and crisp organic addition to anyone’s closet that makes zero aesthetic sacrifices while making zero sustainable compromises.
Price: $70 at People Tree


I never got the memo that declares the holidays to be tie-giving season, but I might have been too busy ogling the wares from Lumina Clothing Co. to notice. Check out the Straight Shooter bow tie.
Price: $45 at Lumina Clothing Co.


I’ve long maintained that I’m the best thing to ever emerge from Marin County, California, but then I heard about Tellason and I’m starting to worry that I’ve got competition. Gorgeous jeans, impeccably made (in the USA, of course). They might be a bit much as a gift for just anyone, but you’ve been a good boy this year and I bet they’d serve you well…
Price: $198 at Seattle’s fabulous Blackbird

About the author:

Caleb Bushner is a consultant, writer and speaker on all things sustainability, branding, marketing and social media. He has an MBA in Sustainable Business from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, one of the “premier Green MBA programs in the country.” He lives in Portland, OR.