Sustainable Gift Giving in the Time of Coronavirus

Sustainable Gift Giving in the Time of Coronavirus

By Sarah Baillie

Sustainable gift giving can be challenging in the best of times, but during the current reality of social distancing and quarantining ourselves at home it’s even more difficult.

I have several friends and family members with birthdays in the coming months. I’m also thinking about how to support those whose lives are most affected by the pandemic, whether they are overworked healthcare staff or friends out of work due to closures. I don’t want to be in stores more than I must, and even though I could shop online, I still want to avoid giving things that may be wasteful especially considering the additional packaging and emissions involved in shipping. I usually like to plan fun experiences as gifts, but it looks like there won’t be a chance to take them out to celebrate in the near future.

While this isn’t the time to browse stores in-person or plan an outing, I can still give experiential and alternative gifts that are meaningful and environmentally-friendly. The key to good sustainable gift giving is to think of a memorable gift that doesn’t use a lot of natural resources. Buying local, secondhand and giving useful items are all good guidelines to follow.

Second-hand and fairtrade home decor make ideal sustainable gifts. Credit: Archive New York.

Here’s a breakdown of a few different stay-at-home gift-giving options I’ll be using.

Celebration IOU

I’ve already started sending gift cards to my loved ones for favorite local breweries and restaurants. The benefits are two-fold — these small businesses receive immediate financial support and my friend gets a good excuse for a night out to celebrate once that becomes safe to do. Same goes for theater tickets or museum and park memberships. They can’t be used right now, but it’s something to look forward to later.

Morale booster

Our newfound free time while staying home could be an opportunity to educate and stay excited for a future trip. My husband’s birthday is in April, and we’ll likely need to postpone our honeymoon as well. I’m going to get him a field guide about wildlife local to our honeymoon destination. We will be disappointed to delay our plans, but we’ll use the extra time to be more prepared.

Related Post: #TogetherAtHome: How Humanity is Coming Together in the Face of COVID-19 Pandemic

You can also give something to support your loved ones’ hobbies. Help your favorite foodie, plant parent or amateur bartender add some new recipes to their repertoire by sending them a cookbook, plant or cocktail book. Then they can show off their skills on their next video chat happy hour.

Credit: Snapwire.

Digital connection

For those who want to give something your loved ones can immediately enjoy, you can gift digital subscriptions for streaming services, e-books, audiobooks and online classes. You can plan to watch movies at the same time or start a long-distance book club to stay connected. Even pub trivia has found a way to relocate online and there are platforms to support remote game nights as well.

I’ve also been invited to my first “online surprise party,” a video call with friends to surprise someone who can’t party in person right now. We’ll all log on to toast the birthday girl from our screens and I’m planning to decorate via my virtual background on Zoom.

Snack support

Send consumables like a meal kit to someone who is out of work now due to the precautions being taken or an overworked healthcare worker. Another idea is to arrange a delivery from a local restaurant that offers it.


Whether it’s an in-person experience later, or a thoughtful personal gesture from afar, we can show each other we care in more creative ways than a gift card to a big box store or large online retailer. There is already research that suggests we get more happiness from experiential gifts over physical gifts. I’m hopeful that we will come out of this pandemic with a renewed value for connection, and these kinds of experiences will be so appreciated.

Alternative gifts are more sustainable every step of the way. They often require fewer raw materials, which means less habitat destruction in the name of resource extraction. Gifts that can be used daily or consumed don’t contribute to waste in landfills. And online experiences and IOUs don’t require any kind of additional gift wrap.

Ultimately experiential gifts are better for the environment and will continue to be a great alternative to just giving stuff, no matter what the circumstances.

Sarah Baillie is the Endangered Species Condoms Coordinator for the Center for Biological Diversity. She works to increase awareness about how human population growth and consumption are tied and can negatively affect wildlife.

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Feature image via Secret Garden.

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