Ethical Christmas Gift Guide

Shopping ethically can be tough at the best times, never mind with the pressure and rush around Christmas. The gift ideas below will make your task that little bit easier, saving you time, money and helping the environment.

Buying books for Christmas

Books are a real favourite at Christmas, but the market is in peril. Independent bookshops have been struggling for the past decade, notably since Amazon sprung up as the  'Earth's biggest bookstore', but clever campaigns such as 'Books are my Bag' have helped to keep them afloat. Though we see new entrants popping up, we're losing old favourites and industry professionals.

The situation has worsened due to Covid-19 and resulting lock downs. Now we're seeing cult-favourites close their doors, such as Manchester's iconic Magma Bookstore.

Thankfully, a 'rebel alliance' is here to save the day from Amazon's cruel reign. Since its appearance in the UK, demand has gone wild for Bookshop.org, a seller that financially supports local and independent booksellers.

Buying a book from Bookshop.org means that either the full profits from your order will go to a local bookshop of your choice, or that your order will contribute to an earnings pool that will be evenly distributed among independent bookshops.

One independent bookshop is Lighthouse, a radical stockist in Edinburgh that is queer-owned and women-led.

Other preferable options are to buy second-hand and digital books, which save you money, and the planet trees.

Our booksellers guide also recommends that you use World of Books or Ebooks.com.

World of Books both sell second-hand books, but Ebooks.com also does what it says on the tin and sells E-books if you know someone that enjoys reading without a physical copy.

bookshop

Wherever you decide to buy your books, just think to avoid Amazon. Unfortunately the global conglomerate owns the popular booksellers AbeBooks, Audible and the Book Depository.

Find out more in our guide to bookshops, a guide which is freely open to everyone.

Ethical Consumer has been campaigning to boycott Amazon since 2012, in part due to their 'aggressive tax avoidance policies'.

Ethical perfumes and aftershaves for Christmas

Perfumes often make good Christmas gifts but they come with a host of ethical issues. Perfumers are legally allowed to keep their ingredients list a secret which means it's often hard to work out whether a perfume contains animal ingredients or dodgy toxic chemicals.

However, our Best Buy brands are vegan, which ensures that they contain no animal ingredients. Plus they also don’t contain parabens. Read our toxic beauty’ feature to find out why chemicals such as parabens are harmful.

DIY perfume

Our Best Buys for perfume and aftershave are Dolma, Flaya, Neal’s Yard Remedies, and Kings aftershave.

Each of these companies offer vegan products and are cruelty-free organisations that don't test on animals. Plus they are all palm oil free.

Buying ethical clothes at Christmas

There is plenty of choice when it comes to sustainable fashion brands. 

Image: Know the Origin label
Credit: Know the Origin

We recommend Know the Origin, Brothers We Stand, and People Tree*. There are also plenty more in our newly updated shopping guide for ethical clothes shops.

We also suggest reading up on the ethical issues in the fashion industry, and finding out which clothing materials are sustainable.

Ethical chocolates at Christmas

Treating friends or family to some delicious chocolates is a popular option at Christmas time.

Image: chocolate

Best buys in our guide include the brands which go beyond fair trade -  Divine, Pacari, Beyond Good, MIA, Fairafric and Chocolat Madagascar.

If you are looking to avoid palm oil this Christmas, check our list of palm oil free chocolates to see where you can get them. 

Ethical presents for pets

Pets are a huge part of many people's lives, but there are many conscious consumers that don't extend their environmental efforts into the purchasing decisions that involve their animals.

Cats are obligate carnivores, and the question of whether dogs can be vegetarian or not is still out for debate, meaning that if you're a vegetarian that owns a pet, your carbon footprint could be significantly greater than that of a non-pet-owning vegetarian.

image: pet lovers dog cat gift

So how to help out your pet-loving friend?

Your companion may not have had the time or money to look into eco-friendly pet-care products, and these can be the ones that really last. They could also really improve the quality of life for our furry friends.

If you're buying for a cat or don't want to get a vegetarian feed, you can still buy pet food from an ethical brand. Check out our guides  for more information.

Cat and dog toys are often made of plastic, so you could go for an alternative made out of a material that's better for the planet, such as recycled rubber, cardboard or wood (reclaimed or sustainably sourced wood  would be best).

Other helpful ideas include biodegradable dog poo bags, fabric leads, rope toys and 'indestructible' chew toys such as root chews.

Alternatively if you have the time and the wit about you, you could make something for someone's pet. Sew their cat or dog a little toy or crochet them a bed.

A self-care package - eco-friendly toiletries

High price tags on ethical and reusable products sometimes make things difficult for conscious consumers and act as a barrier to ditching disposables that they know and like.

Lush bath bombs
A selection of bath bombs in a Lush UK store. Lush is an ethical favourite for many all over the world.

This is definitely the case with self-care products, which is likely because no two bodies are the same! Why would you risk the cost of something that just doesn't work for you?

However, switching to an ethical product can be life changing, which is why eco-friendly toiletries can make great presents.

You could gift a couple of thoughtful items such as a shampoo bar, some handmade soap, a leave-in conditioner, biodegradable floss, a couple of Lush products or some solid toothpaste tabs?

Or why not help them help themselves with the ingredients for a make-your-own present... We suggest encouraging them to start with something simple and easy to make, such as DIY-deodorant.

See the following guides for more on this: 

Gifts and hampers for food lovers

If your loved one is a massive foodie, why not put together a hamper full of ethical goodies. Make your own jam or buy some palm-oil free biscuits. See below for a few more ideas.

You could also make a  hamper vegan with vegan chocolate, tofu, peanut butter, coconut oil, baked goods and dates!

christmas hamper
Credit: Riverford

Kitting out an ethical kitchen

Following on from that, if you've got loved ones who love to spend their time cooking or baking, they might appreciate some gifts for the kitchen.

Ideas for utensils include a reusable piping bag, and coconut or bamboo wood spoons and spatulas.

Alternatively for keeping food fresh without plastic you could gift some reusable beeswax wraps or a lunch box made out of steel, bamboo or wheat straw.

image: silicon piping bag ethical kitchen christmas cooking
This piping bag is made out of silicon which means it is reusable and more environmentally friendly than plastic in kitchen applications.

Although all sorts of people love cooking, reading, etc. a couple of the suggestions in this article feature in our guide to mother's day gifts, so if you're shopping for somebody's mum take a look below for some more specific examples of what you could buy.

For the electronics lover

Buying a new phone or laptop is often a bit of an ethical minefield and we therefore recommend that you buy second-hand or refurbished equipment wherever possible. See our guide to buying second hand tech.

image: fairphone 3+ christmas technology
The Fairphone 3+ is the latest model of mobile phone released earlier this year.

If you do want to buy new, we recommend:

And finally... Bikes

If you're able to splurge a little bit more, a bike is the perfect environmentally-friendly gift, because they're convenient, they don't pollute, and they're often available in good condition second hand! You might find some luck at a local DIY bike project. 

Or to go one further, electric bikes are worth thinking about. Have a look for a second hand model if you aren't quite sold on a new one.

Our ethical shopping guides offer a range of bikes from cargo to electric to help you find the perfect fit.

Image: bike

If you want to buy new, we recommend going to a local independent bike store and seeking out a steel bicycle. 

See our Best Buy picks in the following guides: 

Places to Buy

There are lots of ethical online retailers such as Wearth, Ethical Shop and Veo.world. Ethical Consumer subscribers qualify for a discount at the Ethical Shop. Sign in and visit the My account area for the discount code. 

Also look out for our 'Places to Buy' sections on the right hand column at the top of each of our guides.