Have Yourself a Sustainable Little Christmas

Christmas can be expensive with a large environmental footprint. We pick out some of the best ways to reduce your impact

Have Yourself a Sustainable Little Christmas
Dr Simone Webber
Dec 8, 2022

In spite of the simple origins of the Christmas story and the pagan celebrations that pre-dated it, the modern celebration has become associated with a large consumerist footprint. It is possible to keep the magic and indulgence of holiday season gifts, however, without a large price tag and with a more sustainable and environmentally friendly ethos. Indeed spending less and being more environmentally conscious can go hand in hand if you focus on reducing, reusing, and recycling. You can even give presents that have a positive impact on the planet, a real gift for all our futures. We have collated some of the best ideas for cutting down on waste and reducing your spending.

Quality not quantity

We have all received gifts that ended up in a drawer unused, many of which would have been bought at the last minute in a panic. With the cost of living soaring, many people are reducing the number of gifts they are giving people this year and focusing on one or two presents that are really well thought out. This is a great way of reducing both your spending and the environmental impact of your Christmas, and helps to ensure that people will receive presents that they will use. It can be a good policy to ask people what they would like, and to write a list yourself, to take the guesswork out and gift them something worthwhile that they will use.


Giving experiences is a great idea as it focuses on time that you spend with people rather than physical presents. This does not need to be expensive, as you can give homemade coupons for things such as theatre trips, cinema visits, museum outings, restaurant meals, or even a breakfast in bed. Experiences are a meaningful commitment to spend time with someone over the course of the next year, require little in the way of purchasing, and spread that holiday spirit through the coming winter months. For children this also encourages them to value time spent with family or friends rather than equating Christmas with the money spent on them. Experiences for children can be given as a small toy with a label attached explaining what the experience is that the toy represents, e.g. a toy turtle for a visit to an aquarium. If you use homemade vouchers, it also spreads the cost of buying presents across the year.

The five gift rule

The five gift rule focuses your present buying on five categories to avoid buying many items in a rush. The categories are: something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read, and a special gift. This reduces the number of presents purchased and also encourages you to search out things in each category that the recipient will really appreciate. Again, it reduces the cost of the holiday season and helps with the present buying process if you are stuck for ideas.

Buy secondhand

It has never been easier to buy secondhand presents from home through selling websites such as eBay and Vinted, and selling pages on social media channels such as Facebook Marketplace. This is a really great option for reducing the production of new items, for giving life back to other people’s unneeded things, and avoiding additional landfill. For children’s toys it can be really useful and save you money on some high cost items such as bikes. If you buy locally then you also cut down on the carbon footprint of delivery services.

Homemade gifts

If you are a keen baker or talented with handicrafts, you can make gifts for people such as jam, cookies, a toy kitchen, or hand knitted clothes for example. This is an economical option and is a good choice environmentally because it avoids the waste associated with unwanted presents. It can require a lot of time, which not everyone will have, although some recipes such as chocolate fudge are really simple and always appreciated. Homemade gifts are particularly sustainable if you are using up an excess of something, e.g. making preserves with fruit, or using up scraps of wool to make toys. If you make things out of wood, then you know that you are keeping the carbon that is in the wood out of the atmosphere by reusing it.  

Give back to the planet

Finally there are now ways that you can gift presents that give back to the planet directly. This can involve buying something from charities who will fund conservation work from sales of products, or by paying to plant a tree or restore biodiversity on someone’s behalf. These gifts go to fund ecosystem preservation and restoration work directly, which is critical to maintaining our natural world, but is also essential for assuring our own survival. Every resource we use, the air that we breathe, the food that we eat, the medicines that heal us come from the natural world. Giving back directly using schemes such as our Gift a Tree or Gift of Nature vouchers is the ultimate way to give sustainably. Our vouchers fund our forest creation and habitat restoration projects directly and the recipient will receive regular updates on how the ecosystem that they have helped to fund is progressing. By giving our gift vouchers you are helping to create forests, wetlands, and meadows, investing in our future for the long-term.

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