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How To Reduce The Impact Of Your Holiday Shopping Without Driving Yourself Crazy

Emma Loewe
Author:
December 11, 2020
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
December 11, 2020
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Holiday shopping, like everything else, feels heavier in 2020. There's extra pressure to nail the present for someone you can't see in person. There are shopping restrictions that make last-minute buying impossible. There are small businesses struggling and makers being underpaid and climates warming and—ah!—it all adds up to a gifting season that feels impossible to "get right."

(And if you aren't thinking about any of this, apologies for that dark glimpse inside my brain.)

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For some tips on navigating these weighty, murky waters, I called up Jane Mosbacher Morris. She's the founder and CEO of To the Market, a supply-chain company that connects retailers with sustainable suppliers around the world, and the author of Buy the Change You Want To See, which translates her business knowledge into digestible tips that people can use to flex their purchasing power in support of a more ethical system. I figured if anyone could help me find low-impact, high-payoff gifts, it would be her.

And I was right! Here, Morris walks through the way she's approaching holiday shopping this year and shares some great tidbits that anyone could use along the way.

First, change your starting point.

While the norm is to decide on the gift first and then find a company selling it, Morris does things a little differently.

"To me, the biggest thing is trying to figure out what the values are of the recipient and how I can buy into those values," she tells mbg. Would this person prize a made-in-America product? Or maybe they're all about empowering BIPOC-run businesses? That can be the jumping-off point for your gift. "Making it special by figuring out how you align that purchase with the values is to me so much more interesting and meaningful."

This values-first shopping approach might also make it easier to shop for choosy people on your list. For example, one of my family members just moved to a new community that she loves. Knowing that she'd probably enjoy getting a gift from a local maker helped me narrow down what could have been a very broad search.

Then, get practical.

Once you identify what your recipient's values are, you can get to work finding the gift. Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D., a psychologist who studies how time, money, and technology shape human emotion, previously told me that putting yourself in the giftee's shoes is key here. Before choosing anything, consider their needs and daily routines and put some thought into what product could help them achieve them with more ease or joy. While the thought does count, practicality is important, too.

Online marketplaces like Future Prosperity, which rallies against single-use plastic; Made Trade, which prioritizes small businesses and ethically made products; and Goldune, which sells bright, funky, and decidedly "not beige" sustainable products, are there to help you identify products that fit various needs and value systems. mbg's Holiday Gift Guide also has some great ethical finds for the wellness lover in your life.

As for the brands on top of Morris' list this year, she is all about buying organic and has her eye on Under the Canopy for the home, Isto for menswear, and Saint Holiday for womenswear.

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Buy close to their home.

It's a big year for online ordering. If you're going this route, Morris says that trying to buy from a retailer that is closer to where you or your giftee lives is a smart way to cut down on emissions in the final shipping stage and reduce the likelihood your gift gets held up in transit—a legitimate concern this year.

Use the web as a resource here. "Sometimes it's just a function of being your own Sherlock Holmes and Googling something like 'businesses of color in Houston, cookies,'" she says.

Opting for ground shipping will further reduce the emissions of your gift, but it could slow down its delivery. For this reason, if there was a year to normalize the "IOU present," it's this one. Write them a thoughtful note explaining that your gift is held up in the firestorm of 2020 but will be there soon.

For smaller gifts, consider donations.

Morris has noticed that gifts given in traditions like Secret Santa and White Elephant are more likely to miss the mark and end up getting tossed. Instead of buying something new for her gift swap this year, she'll be making a donation in her recipient's name. Humanitarian group CARE will be her organization of choice.

"That's something that can be done totally digitally and reduces the likelihood this will end up in the landfill, and I won't have the shipping component associated with my gift," she says.

With this advice in hand, let's all go forth and track down some great gifts for everyone on our list—knowing at the end of the day, reusable face masks will still be very much necessary and appreciated.

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Emma Loewe
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.