All Give, No Take: Ethical Gift Ideas

Still haven't found that perfect present? Don't want to buy something that will just end up gathering dust? Here's our pick of the best ethical, eco-friendly and meaningful gifts around.

Autor*in Anna Rees, 12.17.13

Charity Donations: The Gift That Gives Back

An oldie but a goodie, making a donation to a charitable cause in someone else’s name is a simple and thoughtful way of putting your gift money towards a worthy cause and spreading some good cheer. The concept of donating to charity rather than buying physical gifts has become a pretty mainstream option in the past few years – even newly-weds are increasingly asking for charity donations rather than actual “stuff” to celebrate their special day. With a little bit of research into the options available and the impact they have, the act of giving can itself make the perfect gift.

Through Oxfam’s online charity gift shop, Oxfam Unwrapped, you can donate money in someone else’s name and give gifts that transform lives – alleviating poverty, empowering women, helping girls go to school, building farms or feeding whole families. There are choices for all budgets – from crucial basics such as mosquito nets, seeds and soap, to a couple of goats or even an entire farmyard. You get a giftcard thanking you for the support and explaining exactly where the donation goes. For even more options, World Vision’s gift catalogue has a similar concept, as does UNICEF’s Buy an Inspired Gift shop.

A gift that never stops growing? You can find a whole load of them at Forest Finance. A GiftTree is a present that is both ecologically sound and a sustainable investment. Your donation will finance the planting of a tropical tree in a sustainably-managed area of Panama, with a return of up to 5.6 per cent for the giftee. Sound confusing? We talked to the founder of ForestFinance last year about their model of modern and sustainable forest management. Italian company Treedom offers a similar „donate a tree“ gift option. Pay a small fee to have a tree – whether it’s orange, mango, avocado, cacao or coffee – and track its development online thanks to geo-localisation and photographic updates.

Making a donation to Kiva is a great way to help people to help themselves, support entrepreneurs around the globe and create opportunities for them and their families. Kiva is an online platform that provides support to entrepreneurs around the world in the form of microcredits. Unlike other organisations where your money ends up in one big pot, you can pick out a project that’s meaningful to you by browsing through a list of potential borrowers. Your financial support (which can be as low as 25 USD) is treated as a loan rather than a donation, and when it has been repayed, the money can be used again to support another borrower, and change yet another life. Loans in other peoples‘ names can be sent as a present in the form of a Kiva Card.

Investing in social businesses (called impact investing) or contributing to crowdfunding campaigns means helping out a worthy initiative and receiving a financial reward at the same time. One example of this is Trine, a crowd investing platform that lets people invest small amounts of money in solar energy systems for off-grid communities. Successful projects mean a return on your investment, and people around the world gaining access to clean electricity.

The Public Benefit category on Kickstarter is another good place to find worthy causes needing a leg up, often with a reward in the form of a special limited edition present or photograph thrown in.

Still didn’t find what you were looking for? You can find links to the RESET team’s Top 10 Fundraising Projects here: 10 hand-picked fundraising projects with real impact.

Time Is More Valuable Than Stuff

Especially at Christmas, we end up buying things we really don’t need. Want a truly inspiring and completely unique way of showing a loved one you care? How about gifting someone some time? After all, it’s something that most of feel like we don’t have enough of. How about looking at a photo album together rather than buying someone a camera? Or offering to repair something for someone rather than buying them a new one?

The website Zeit statt Zeug (Time Rather Than Stuff), developed by a German design agency, is full of ideas for ways to share special time with others. The site is designed to look like an ordinary online shop – but with one big difference. Rather than purchasing standard gifts, the user can pick out an experience  When you’ve decided on one of the presents, you can design a matching card and send it via email. And to ensure that the shared activity doesn’t (like so many vouchers) end up at the back of a drawer somewhere, a suggestion for an exact date and a time is sent along with it.

Conscious Consumption

Still looking for something you can physically wrap up and put under the Christmas tree? There are more than a few ways that you too can try to “buy better”.

One-for-One Products & Charity Shopping

The idea is simple: you buy something and the organisation you bought it from will, in turn, donate or “gift” something to people in need. Examples include TOM’s, BetterWorldBooksShoemates, SoapBox and Smile Squared. Critical voices claim that schemes like this offer simply “band aid” solutions to deep-rooted problems, and that giving products away for free in many cases can actually reinforce dependency upon handouts, but for our take on it – and the chance to make up your own mind – take a look at our Proof of Concept article here.

An easy way for shoppers to direct money to charity with almost no effort, (and usually no visibly additional cost), charity shopping is when customers make online purchases via a portal or plug-in and a small percentage of their payment goes to a charitable cause. While there are many organisations working in this field – such as GoodShop – in recent years they have been taken over by the ubiquitous Amazon and their “Amazon Smile” scheme, which offers little transparency and only transfers a tiny percentage of your cash over to the charities themselves. 

But there are a few options that offer more bang for your buck. Giving new meaning to the term “snap happy”, Photocircle allows you to upload a photo, have it professionally printed and shipped to your loved one and donates part of the proceeds of the sale to one of its numerous aid partner projects across the world – normally in an area of the world where your favourite picture was taken.

Fair Trade Food

The fair trade movement aims to help commodity producers receive viable pay for their products, and ensures their working conditions meet respectable social and environmental standards. With more and more sustainably- and ethically-produced goods on offer, it’s easier than ever to buy fair.

Many stores offer Fair Trade and ethically-produced products. GEPA is Europe’s largest alternative trading organization, with super transparent supply and value chains, so anything you find with their symbol on – you often find it on coffee, tea or chocolate – is a pretty reliable sign of its fair credentials. Fairtrade International is the largest and most recognised fair trade system and certification platform in the world, and another reliable label to look out for. Their website offers a Fairtrade Finder where you can look up stockists in your country and find out more about their work on a national level.

Precious saffron, organic black tea and the here little-known grain freekeh can be found in the online shop of the start-up ConflictFood: they import fairly-traded hand-picked food products from crisis regions around the world, working together with the producers within an equal partnership. By increasing sales for local farmers, Conflictfood helps strengthen local economic structures, open new perspectives and ultimately improve quality of life for people in those regions, meaning they’re less likely to feel compelled to leave their homes and seek opportunities elsewhere.

Second Hand Stocking Fillers

Or how about buying second hand? A great online alternative to Amazon’s ever-growing monopoly, AwesomeBooks sells a huge range of used (and new) books, CDs, DVDs and games, often at second hand prices. Oxfam’s online shops are also great places to pick up all kinds of different projects, safe in the knowledge that the products are going to a good cause – from fair trade coffee to recycled jewellery and energy efficient electronics. You can find a list of the online shops right here.

Like what you read? RESET is largely funded by donations. You can help support our work for a future-proof world by donating here.

Tips For an Eco-Friendly Christmas

Want your Christmas to be green, not white, this year? And celebrate the festive season with glow in your heart and a squeaky clean conscience? From ethical gifts to sustainable decoration and fair trade food, we show you how.

Conflictfood: Building Peace and Stability With Grains and Spices

Working with small farmers around the world, Conflictfood’s fairly-traded hand-picked regional products help strengthen economies and create opportunities for local communities.

Shoemates: A Pair for Me, A Pair for Schoolkids in Afghanistan

The Bavarian startup Shoemates will ensure a schoolchild in Afghanistan receives a pair of shoes for every pair you buy from them - it's a powerful mix of consumption with philanthropy, and a contentious business model.

Trine’s Crowd Investing in Solar Projects Helps Tackle Global Energy Poverty

Crowd investing platform Trine lets people invest small amounts of money in solar energy systems for off-grid communities. Successful projects mean a return on your investment, and people around the world gaining access to clean electricity.

Proof of Concept: Charity Shopping, Buy One Give One, Rounding Up…What Makes Sense? Here’s Our Conclusion

Over the last few days, we have looked at shops and platforms that try to mix shopping with doing good. Here are our recommendations for shopping with impact. 

What is “Fair Trade”?

Fair Trade is an organised social movement and market-based approach that aims to help producers in developing countries obtain better trading conditions and promote sustainability.