This holiday season, choose people over things

December 23, 2011 | 12:18 pm | , Research Director and Rapid Response Manager

© 2008 Flickr/Mahdi Abdulrazak CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Still trying to find that perfect gift for the impossible-to-shop-for relative/friend/mailman in your life, but nothing seems right? I always tell myself that I’ll buy more “green” gifts every year, but no matter how environmentally responsible, it’s still “stuff.”

As our friends at PSFK have already noted, personal choices alone won’t be enough – we need to pursue deeper institutional change if we’re to solve the climate crisis. Usually in this space we talk about the technological and policy solutions to the climate crisis. But at the same time, the energy it takes to make and transport the “stuff” in our lives is a major contributor to climate change. Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change are threatening the natural resources we all draw on to make those things!

So with the holidays upon us, how do we reconcile the reality of climate change with giving presents to those we love? Here’s one idea: Instead of giving away things, give someone an experience.

For example:

  • Give the gift of time – Gift certificates to locally-sourced restaurants, housecleaning services, handyman help, etc.
  • Give the gift of health – Spa gift certificates, running clinics, healthy cooking courses, etc.
  • Give the gift of adventure – Guided hike or kayaking trip, skiing, etc. Especially good for kids (anything to pull them away from video games), as well as city dwellers and office workers.

  • Give the gift of savings – Buy your loved one an energy audit. Who doesn’t want to save money day and night? And they’ll thank you every time they look at their energy bill.
  • Give the gift of yourself – Everyone has something they’re good at: accounting, painting bathrooms, planning weddings …

The best thing about many of these ideas is that you can be the one to give them the time. Know your local state park? Take a friend who’d never go alone to see the vista that takes your breath away. Have a relative who isn’t able to work a wrench that well anymore? A few hours and some elbow grease, and you’ve got a happy and proud grandma. Your gifts can then take a step beyond just being “green” or not contributing to carbon-fueled consumption, and invest in the personal connections and relationships that make this a world worth passing on to our children.

How are you side-stepping consumption this year?