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A guide to greener gifts

ASU students release 2022 Sustainable Holiday Gift Guide

Person seated with wrapped gifts in their lap.
December 15, 2022

From purely materialistic to positively meaningful. 

That’s the shift that holiday gift-giving can take with help from a guide created by Arizona State University students. The 2022 Sustainable Holiday Gift Guide was put together by ASU’s School of Life Sciences Graduate Sustainability Committee and released last week. 

“It’s easy to get swept away into the holiday mentality of 'buy, buy, buy,' and the guide is a reminder that it is important to pause to think about the consequences of this mentality,” said Leah Gerber, faculty advisor for the committee and professor in the School of Life Sciences.

“The guide provides clear guidance on ways to give gifts that are not only unique and thoughtful but also healthy for our planet,” Gerber said.

Gift guide helps make holidays healthier.

An abundance of ideas

Sustainable gift-giving does not have to mean a scarcity of ideas, however. In fact, the guide takes the head scratching out of gift-giving with suggestions.

One idea is to give an experience. For example, getting tickets to an event can provide a shared experience and memories that can be recycled each year. 

“Everyone is always stressed during the holidays,” said Olivia Davis, doctoral candidate in the School of Life Sciences, who helped with the guide. “There is a lot going on. It’s always good to give someone an experience instead of something material. It gives people a chance to step back and really get away.”

Another option is a gift that keeps on giving — and growing — such as trees, produce plants or packets of herb seeds.

The guide also suggests purchasing from nonprofit organizations that often have great gift shops and support conservation. Finding gifts that need a second home for the holidays is also a great option. The guide recommends secondhand shops and thrift stores like Goodwill, White Dove Thrift Shoppe, Buffalo Exchange, Bookmans Entertainment Exchange and the online retailer thredUP.

How it came together

The gift guide is now in its third year, and has grown larger and more popular over time. This year, the students added a section for pets, directing dog, cat and other animal lovers to companies such as Keep Nature Wild and The Kind Pet for sustainably-made supplies and accessories.

It first started in 2020, when the School of Life Sciences Graduate Sustainability Committee decided that a gift guide was the perfect way to not only reduce waste, but help businesses that were being sustainable and that may be struggling during the pandemic.

The committee meets regularly throughout the year. It is composed of graduate students who want to share and demonstrate their commitment to sustainability practices through an on-campus sustainability initiative. The committee is open to anyone in the School of Life Sciences who is interested in sustainability. (Those interested in joining can email graduate teaching assistant Madeline Buhman for information.)

“I think (the group) is so great,” Davis said. “It’s one of the biggest things that I’ve loved about being at ASU — finding people who are so passionate about the same things that I am passionate about.

“If we are not the ones being sustainable, then how are we going to expect ASU to be sustainable?"

Davis said that when the group shares their knowledge of sustainable practices through vehicles like the gift guide it shows that “it's not so hard to do — it’s feasible.”

Erin Murphy was the president of the committee when the gift guide was first developed. 

“Sustainability is central to our mission at ASU,” said Murphy, a doctoral candidate in the School of Life Sciences. “I felt that we should be doing a better job of integrating sustainability into our institutional practices and our own behaviors.” 

The holiday season was a perfect time to do that.

“The holidays are so important for bringing people together and expressing our gratitude for them. … However, we believe that gifts do not have to contribute to the sustainability challenges we face,” she said.

“Often people want to achieve more sustainable practices but don't know how. Our hope is that this guide would help people integrate these practices into gift-giving.”

Top photo by Liza Summer/Pexels

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