Sustainable Gift Giving Ideas

Ali Segersten Dec 16, 2011 17 comments

I know I predominantly share recipes here, but I have decided to begin sharing more than just recipes, because our health and the health of the planet is all connected in this intricate web we call life. When we purchase toys and products created from industrial plants and cheap labor in Asian countries we continue the demise of our environment and our children's, grandchildren's, and great-grandchildren's health. With the uprise in food allergies, it is clear that our immune systems are very confused and not functioning properly anymore. Environmental toxins, GMOs, and stress are the main culprits. We CAN support a cleaner, greener world every day by voting with our dollars. What we buy and consume affects everyone else on the globe. So, I thought I would share some wonderful, eco-friendly gift ideas this holiday season!


Worldly Gifts

Support a family in a developing country with the gift of a goat, ducklings, a cow, a pig, or honeybees through Heifer International. Your gift goes a long way in promoting health and self-reliance in communities. Last year Tom's brother gifted a goat in our name and we thought it was such a wonderful idea that this year we are letting our children pick an animal to gift in their names.

Donate money through World Vision. You can Sponsor a Child, Give an Animal, or Contribute to Clean Water for a community in a developing nation.

Donate to the Environmental Working Group. EWG is a nonprofit action group based on science and research that works to protect the most vulnerable segments of the human population, children, babies, and infants in the womb from health problems attributed to a wide array of toxic contaminants. "EWG's research brings to light unsettling facts that you have a right to know. It shames and shakes up polluters and their lobbyists. It rattles politicians and shapes policy. It persuades bureaucracies to rethink science and strengthen regulation. It provides practical information you can use to protect your family and community."

Donate to the Cornucopia Institute! "The Cornucopia Institute will engage in educational activities supporting the ecological principles and economic wisdom underlying sustainable and organic agriculture. Through research and investigations on agricultural issues, The Cornucopia Institute will provide needed information to consumers, family farmers, and the media."

Give Experiences

What will your child remember most when he or she grows up: a particular toy they received or time spent with you? I remember the trips and fun hiking adventures we did as a family much more than I remember any particular toy. Here are a few of my ideas, please feel free to share your ideas in the comments section. :)

A day sewing with mom. A day skiing in the mountains with dad. A special evening with just the older girls playing cards and having a tea party. Taking the kids to a movie (they have never been to a movie theater yet and our oldest is almost 10)! A little card for the kids saying we will go to Seattle for the day and visit the Zoo and go out to eat. An afternoon at the train museum (for our twin boys).


Unconventional Gift Ideas

Give a six month supply of eco-friendly, biodegradable laundry soap and dishwashing soap to your college student or family member. Most of what you find at your local supermarket is quite toxic to our bodies and local environments after it goes down the drain. These chemical detergents contain hormone disrupters that not only affect ourselves but the aquatic life around us. Plus, they smell disgusting. Products such as Biokleen and Seventh Generation are good choices.

Give a gift certificate to a local food co-op. We received a gift card to our local co-op a few years ago from Tom's family and it was very helpful to stretch the food budget!

Buy a share to a CSA for a friend or family member. Ask your local food co-op or Farmer's Market office to get the names and contact info of a few local organic farmer's who offer CSA's. If you are in the Northwest, this is a good site to look for a CSA.



Eco-Friendly Gifts

Beeswax Candles scented with pure essential oils. Many people do not realize that regular petroleum-based paraffin candles may be emitting solvents like toluene (that can negatively affect the nervous system), and benzene (which has been linked to cancer) when you burn them. As an extra bonus, those candles with wicks that stand up straight may have lead in them. Within an hour of burning these candles, you may end up with an unsafe level of airborne lead that may contribute to learning disabilities in children.

Wooden Toys made in the USA. I have been on a mission since I was pregnant with my first daughter, ten years ago, not to allow plastic toys in the house. We have succeeded for the most part except for last year when the plastic Legos made their appearance. Other than that our children have wood toys and cloth dolls stuffed with wool to play with. What happens to all of these plastic toys when they break? They end up in the landfill or our oceans causing pollution for many years to come, not to mention the pollution caused during the production of the plastic and toys themselves. Wooden toys can biodegrade once they are old and worn. Before you go online to shop, see if you can find a local wood worker who makes and sells solid wood toys. If you can't find anyone, then shop online at stores such as Nova Natural, A Child's Dream, or Bella Luna Toys.

Non-Toxic natural art supplies such as Beeswax Block Crayons, Gluten-Free Aromatic Play Dough, Hemp Sketch Pads, Unlacquered Colored Pencils, Natural Glue, and Hemp Fabric for sewing projects.


Hand-Painted Silk Scarf from Siren Silks on

Shop on Your money goes directly to the person who made the toy, clothing item, house decor, or jewelry. I am amazed at all of the beautiful creative works of art you can find on this site. Everything from upcycled wool clothes to wooden blocks. This felt play food makes a great addition to your child's wooden play kitchen.

Fair Trade Stores are also a good place to shop for unique gift ideas. The communities and people who make these products are not exploited and the materials used often are sustainable or recycled.

Stainless steel lunch containers such as Lunch Bots, Kids Konserve, or an 8-ounce Stainless Steel Thermos for soups and other hot food.


About the Author

Ali Segersten

Alissa Segersten holds a Bachelor's of Science in Nutrition from Bastyr University and a Master’s of Science in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine from the University of Western States. She is a Functional Nutritionist, the mother of five children, a whole foods cooking instructor, professional recipe developer, and cookbook author. She is passionate about helping others find a diet that will truly nourish them. Alissa is the author of two very popular gluten-free, whole foods cookbooks and guidebooks: The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook and Nourishing Meals. She is also the co-author of The Elimination Diet book. Alissa is the founder and owner of Nourishing Meals®.

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Thank you all for sharing the links and ideas, it is really great to spread the word on these types of gifts! Happy Holidays! :)

Hi Ali,

Thanks for all the ideas. I would like to mention the wonderful organziation, Oxfam at which has numerous gifts that are distributed worldwide including items such as bees or worms for $18 ea. plus goats, sheep, vegetable gardens, art supplies for kids, tools, and so much more. The recipient can receive an immediate personalized e-card or a PDF card can be printed and sent quickly as well. (No shipping charges)

Happy Holidays to you, Tom & family.

Excellent, excellent post. Although I have no children, I appreciate everything you suggested. I look forward to more environmentally conscious posts in the future. :)

Another good site for making donations to nonprofits around the world is global giving were you can search by catagory, country ect. Love all the ideas! Merry Christmas!

Thank you so much for this post. I feel ignorant that I haven't taken the time to explore and research healthy/safe toys/gift options for my family, even though I have been so diligent about feeding them healthy. I have been researching a little more and came upon the website and I'm astonished by all the Melissa & Doug toys that we have that contain toxic levels of lead, bromine, arsenic, etc.. Not to mention that they are made in China! Your post has empowered me to become more aware and discerning about what toys I will allow in my home and more intentional gifts that really define the season.

Ali, I love this post! While raising our 3 daughters we tried to instill in them to be concious of their enviroment... of their surroundings. We did much hands on with them, from helping nurture many hands on projects...having their own garden next to our garden to working with and raising 4-H animals. The word "bored" was not a word ever used in our home. Now they are grown and out on their own. They are very enviromentally concious, they live green. These last 3 years together as a family, we decided our gifts for Christmas had to be homemade. All have been so creative, from painted pictures, face scrubs, canned foods to simple woodworking. Each gift holds a deep appreciation for ones love that went into their much more meaningful. My husband and I have sponsored a young girl through World Vision the last 3 years. Its heartwarming to receive a letter to tell us we are not only helping our child, but her community. Such joy.

I love putting together a dress up box for a boy or a girl using repurposed clothing from the family or thrift store. Add some sparkly clunky jewelry (for a girl).

You can theme them; find a medical friend and ask for an older stethascope (the real ones are a hit) or a construction worker with an old get the idea.

Put together "kits" with everything the child needs to make a project and instructions. Moms like these!

Buy a book and record it on tape/cd with a sound (like a bell) that tells the child when to turn the page. The wonderful thing is that you can personal this by introducing the book (on the recording) with all the reasons why you picked that book especially for the child.

Jill Farris (mom of 8)

Thanks so much for this great post!
I have tied to make it a goal of mine to not only shop with an environmental consciousness but to buy local in my neighborhood- stimulate the local economy.
I live 3 blocks off of a main shopping area so I'm able to walk most places. I realize not everyone can do that.
Having said that I'm also an etsy seller and have bought a few gifts on line to support my fellow etsians.... you do what you can, right!
Also I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your blog. It's been great for my teen daughter who is vegan at the moment but also has done the gluten free diet.

Keep up the good work!
Merry Christmas

Great ideas in a comprehensive list! One great resource for many different types of fair trade and sustainable gifts is at The Hunger Site ( I also love the idea of conservation gifts that The Nature Conservancy offers ( You can give a gift membership that provides for adoption of a coral reef, the planting of trees in Brazil, or protection of an endangered animal.

Great list Ali! I'm big on doing consumables as gifts.

Question on candles - you mentioned beeswax. I'm not big on candles myself, but have a couple of family members who love them, so I do that gift sometimes. What are your thoughts on soy candles? I see many of them touted as eco-friendly and clean burning with essential oils, but haven't done a ton of candle research. My stepmom doesn't really like the beeswax ones, so I was wondering about trialing the soy.

My favorite gift I'm giving this year (to teachers, friends and family) is a nice bottle of balsamic vinegar with a beautiful recipe card template that I typed my favorite recipe on and printed out. I had them laminated so they can be saved and used for years to come (probably not that environmentally friendly to have it laminated but I thought it would last so much longer that way).It's a delicious beet and kale salad. So far everyone seems to love it!

Great ideas. We contributed to World Vision in honor of our sons' teachers instead of conventional gifts. They loved it! We're also a big fan of Lunch Bots!!!

Great ideas Ali!!

I recently posted about some felt play food that I made Sophie for Christmas :) so easy to do, too!

We also love The Stubby Pencil Studio ( for ecofriendly art supplies and crafts.

And Sarah's silks makes nontoxic silk dress-up and imagination-inspiring toys for kids. We love their products! (

Thank you SO much for posting about this. It is so very important.

We have family that live far away and they want to buy gifts for Sophie so we create a wish list for Christmas and her birthday.. This has helped a lot, because they mostly follow it and purchase what we suggest.

When we do get packages in the mail, though, my husband and I sort through them first... Because they still send other gifts that they don't realize are toxic. :( it is all about building awareness!

Happy holidays to you and your family!!

Wonderful post! What great advice!

One year I made a gift of recycling bins for my curmudgeonly parents who didn't "get why I cared so much". A year later and they are recycling fanatics!

I also agree that consumables are a great gift.

I love this post, Ali. You have great links and ideas here. I enjoyed following them all.

I would like to add Compassion International to your list. As you wrote, sponsoring a child, or buying an animal, etc. in someone's honor is a precious gift. I love this.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas.

You have forgotten the obvious! Consumable gifts. Any wonderful yummy gift from your kitchen particularly anything made from one of YOUR recipes can change the thinking and convince others that healthy eating can be delicious! Other gifts from the kitchen include things like the home-made vanilla extract all the teachers in our school received from us this season. Several of your recipes are making it to our holiday table and also to our gift giving list this year.
P.S. And how could I forget - one of your cookbooks, maybe?

Good ideas =)

I am in all favor for giving meaningful and giving gifts- gifts that keep giving. We don't need all the junk these days...

The two gifts that will mean a lot for me to give this year is a goat gift, like the one you mentioned with World Vision and to feed a child for a year, only $40! (Advent Conspiracy)

I don't have kids so I get to choose who I give gifts to and it is more rewarding to give than to receive... and to give sustainable gifts.

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