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Great Gifts Don't Have to Be "Stuff"

By Jeff Milchen
Published November, 2010. Updated November 2013.

We occasionally receive comments from folks concerned that campaigns like Shift Your Shopping and Small Business Saturday encourage more consumption. To be clear, our goal is to promote more conscious purchasing from local independent businesses, not necessarily purchasing more.

Those comments, however, inspired us to offer these ideas for those who consider the environmental impacts when choosing gifts. We're not listing "green gifts," for which there are countless other sources, but primarily non-material or consumable gifts -- many of which can support local entrepreneurs.

Keep in mind that your giving is only part of your impact. Consider communicating to your friends, co-workers and loved ones in a tactful way that the ideal gifts for you aren't found online or at the mega-marts!

   Photo by Turning Wheels for Kids


Local Ideas 

  • Gift certificate to an indie restaurant, pub or cafe (bonus points if it supports local farmers, ranchers and brewers!) 
  • Tickets to a local theater, concert, sports event... 
  • Donating in recipient's name to one of their favorite non-profits (not recommended for kids)
  • Offer your skills for X amount of time on a gift certificate (so the giftee won't forget your offer)
  • An online subscription to recipient's favorite local newspaper or other publication
  • Credit for a class at a community college or continuing education program
  • Punchcard or gift certificate to a local gym, recreation center, yoga studio...
  • Gift certificate for massage, hair styling, housecleaning, landscaping or other personal service
  • Child care for a play day/night
  • Lessons to learn a new skill (see list at bottom)
  • A close-to-home getaway at a special B&B, inn, etc. 

Physical Things Likely to Reduce Net Consumption
In many cases, giving well-chosen physical items can clearly yield environmental benefits. For example:

  • A water cooler or filter system for folks who habitually use disposable bottles
  • A home soda fountain for consumers of soft drinks
  • A household energy audit / weatherproofing service
  • A quality commuter bicycle, tune-up, fenders, panniers or other items to make commuting easier
  • Regionally-grown and produced foods and beverages
  • LED lighting or other efficiency improvements
  • Durable, locally-crafted items that replace disposable mass-produced ones

Gift Ideas for Kids (we would suggest these as complements to some material gifts)

  • Trip to a museum, amusement park, sports event, bowling, theater...
  • An outdoor adventure
  • An outdoors skills course
  • Many of the class ideas offered below 

The Gift of New Skills

Among many to consider are: cooking, brewing, dance, pet training, computer skills, sports/fitness, foreign language, musical instrument, pottery, knitting, painting and other arts, outdoor skills, first aid, massage, photography or video production, writing.

One reader wrote us to say, "My brother is a music promoter and I donated 5 hours to help him improve his website...gifts of expertise are especially useful to people who work for themselves."

Lastly, if you're gifting to someone you know has needs for certain physical items, consider a gift certificate to a local independent shop in their community, so you know an item will be valued and used.

Know others who might find this information useful? Tweet it!

Learn More!

Top Ten Reasons to Buy Local

Holiday Campaign Ideas

The Multiplier Effect: How Local Ownership Creates Jobs and Wealth

© 2013 American Independent Business Alliance.