1. Be sure your material gift will get used
It may be the thought that counts, but a gift that the receiver does not use is simply wasted: not a very nice thought. Give material possessions only if you know the recipient well enough to pick out something they were on the cusp of getting for themselves, or which they really need and will certainly enjoy using.
2. Give a consumable gift
Your friend will love your consumable gift twice: once while enjoying the organic teas, fair trade coffee, fresh flowers, fresh or dried fruits and nuts, or other consumable gift; and again when they appreciate that your gift leaves them with no guilty conscience about a gift left unused in the corner of their closet.
3. Share a piece of yourself...
Avoid material consumption altogether. Instead, offer your services to baby-sit while your friend enjoys a cozy date with their partner, give a gift certificate for a relaxing massage, or a winter’s-worth of driveway shoveling (in which case you just save that massage for yourself).
4. Make a gift of a green service
If your time is prioritized elsewhere, you can buy a green service. Consider a gift of carbon offsets for a commuting colleague or a Zipcar membership for a friend who more frequently must turn to taxis to supplement their public transport lifestyle.
5. Make a gift of any service
You will still reduce material consumption by giving a service of any kind. Especially heart-warming are humanitarian services, such as making a gift of a micro-loan (for example via Kiva).
6. Give a gift where it is needed on behalf of someone better off
Make a child smile when they get a card describing the child in another part of the world whose life will be improved by the gift of a llama or a sheep on their behalf (for example via World Gifts or Heifer.
7. Creative gifts show you care
The baby sweater you knit yourself is more likely to become a family heirloom, extending the life cycle of the materials in your gift.
8. Buy a local gift
A gift made or grown locally can tell a story or share a unique product you have discovered on your own stomping grounds. Your locally-sourced gift will save the environment from the emissions involved in shipping.
9. Buy high-quality goods
Sometimes a little extra care or money invested will result in finding a high quality gift that will do justice to the materials consumed in the manufacturing by a long lifespan. Try flea markets or vintage and second-hand shops for quality goods you can afford: then make the gift “new” with a personal touch like a special paint job, or some ribbon around the edges. Your friend will enjoy your perfect high-quality gift much longer!
10. Think about your packaging
Use packaging that will not go to waste. Your packaging may be part of the gift itself, such as wrapping the gift in a scarf or enclosing it in a box that can be reused for collecting life’s odds and ends. Reusable wrapping, such as a gift bag, will pass on the fun. For family and close friends, consider the Sunday funnies instead of commercial gift wrap.