Q: How do I help my family embrace sustainable gift-giving this holiday season? Everywhere I look, I see nothing but pre-packaged, mass-market junk parading as holiday must-haves.


A: If you have ever had to purchase a last-minute secret Santa gift for someone you barely know, then you understand the purpose of those pre-packaged gift sets. Unfortunately, convenience comes with hidden costs such as wasted fossil fuel, unnecessary packaging and a litany of chemical ingredients. That’s why I share your desire to take the road less traveled. Here are a few tips to help your family focus on green giving this holiday season.


Do it yourself

Create lasting holiday memories while you work together on DIY gifts from the family. No one will turn down a batch of homemade cookies or mini versions of your family’s favorite treat, complete with a handwritten copy of the recipe. This fall, I was inspired by a New York Times story about preserving fruit with alcohol. Nicknamed “boozy fruit,” these simple preparations turn Mason jars into colorful works of art. Start now, and a jar of boozy cranberries, adorned with a lovely green bow, will be appropriately tipsy by Christmas. 


Framed family photos also make sweet, simple gifts from the heart. I have about 2,000 photos of my 1-year-old nephew. A couple of them are even worthy of matting and framing for family members. If you are still stumped on ideas, Mother Nature Network created how-to guides for everything from homemade wine to DIY body lotion. Whether you prepare cheese straws or tea tree shower gel, simple packaging can transform your homemade gifts into something truly special. Visit the arts and crafts store for unique yet inexpensive ideas.


Shop with purpose

In a previous column, I mentioned ways to give back to your favorite charity through online shopping sites like iGive.com, which donate a percentage of your purchase to various nonprofits. Consider helping families in developing countries by shopping with companies that embrace fair trade principles. Ten Thousand Villages is a fair trade retailer that guarantees fair wages for artisans who create jewelry, home décor and other cool items on the site. Overstock.com also features a selection of handcrafted items in its “Worldstock” boutique. For more fair trade retailers, search your city or state on the Fair Trade Federation site.


Shopping with a conscience is perhaps the best way to ensure that your gifts keep on giving this holiday season. Mashable.com made my week when it posted a list of 10 “Buy One Give One” projects around the globe. My nephew is too big, but someone’s little toddler will get an impossibly cute and colorful onesie from Baby Teresa. The company’s “Buy Once, Share Twice” program ensures that the second outfit goes to a toddler in need.


Keep it local

Shopping green also means focusing on locally produced goods and services. I love buying necklaces or artwork from local artists because it’s truly one of a kind. Whether it’s a custom dog collar or jar of spicy barbecue sauce from your favorite spot, get creative when shopping your list of go-to spots.


There’s no shame in treating friends and family to a gift certificate from your favorite mom-and-pop boutique, cheese shop or home goods store. I’m also a big fan of treating friends to dinner at a favorite restaurant. Now that’s a gift that truly keeps on giving — and I don’t even have to hunt around for a used gift bag. 


Happy Holidays!


— Morieka Johnson


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How do I help my family embrace sustainable gift-giving this holiday season?
Morieka Johnson can help you set a good example by giving thoughtful, cute gifts that are sure to please even the most materialistic of friends.