Christmas with a Conscience – A guide to socially conscious holiday shopping

While the holiday season can be the most wonderful time of the year, it’s also a time of the year marked by rampant consumerism and overspending.

Christmas is a multi-billion-dollar industry, and all that shopping is not good for the environment – it generates mountains of waste and involves thousands of kilometres by air and road to transport goods, resulting in hundreds of kilograms in greenhouse gas emissions.

But there are ways to make your holiday shopping experience more environmentally and socially responsible.

Here are a few tips for how to be a more socially conscious shopper this holiday season.

Shop local

With endless options online, it can be easy to finish your holiday shopping in just a few clicks. And while online shopping is a convenient and safe option given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, purchasing gifts from local businesses over big box stores means you’ll be helping the local economy in your city, town or neighbourhood.

Luckily, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, many small businesses now have online stores and offer local delivery or curbside pickup options for people who aren’t comfortable with in-store shopping.

When you shop at a local business, you’re essentially investing money into the community. Small businesses not only provide employment opportunities in the neighbourhood, which helps the economy, but small business owners and employees are more likely to use their hard-earned dollars to purchase goods and services locally as well.

Shopping locally is also better for the environment. Online purchases that are delivered to your home often come with a lot more packaging. A 2020 study that appeared in Environmental Science & Technology found that shopping at brick-and-mortar stores often results in less greenhouse gas emissions than ordering from a company that only sells products online.

The best ways to find local businesses near you, other than going for a stroll through your neighbourhood commercial area, include:

  • Yelp – online or on your phone (the app is available for both Android and iOS) can help you discover local businesses in your neighbourhood.
  • Trip Advisor – not just for tourists, with you can find local businesses in your area, including how a business ranks against others in the same city and price point (the app is available for both Android and iOS)
  • Yahoo Local – Yahoo, the well-known search engine website, has partnered with YellowPages, to make finding things in your area easier. With Yahoo Local, just type what you’re looking for and where into the search bar and you’ll be provided with a list of businesses that match that description (the app is available for both Android and iOS).
  • Google Maps – the website, and app, that helps you get from point A to B, can also help you explore your neighbourhood and find new businesses. Instead of putting in an address in the search bar, try typing what kind of business you’re looking for and Google Maps will give you a list of businesses and their locations (the app is available for both Android and iOS).

Shop second-hand

The three Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – have been a tenant of the environmental movement for decades. Buying things from second-hand shops not only helps save money compared to buying the same items new, but it also encourages reusing, which is a more sustainable option for the environment.

And as an added bonus, some thrift stores and second-hand shops donate some, or all, of the profits from purchases to non-profit organizations.

Looking for a unique piece of art or housewares? Try a local antique store.

On the hunt for a one-of-a-kind item for the fashionista on your list? Check out the vintage stores in your area for clothing and accessories.

Buying for a bookworm? Shop at a used bookstore to find their next great (gently used) read.

Make a donation

Not sure what to get that friend or family member who seems to have everything? Think about making a charitable donation in their name. has an online gift guide to help holiday shoppers find donation gifts based on budget and cause – there are gifts that can help save and protect animals, feed the hungry, make a difference globally and improve people’s lives.

When making a donation, most organizations include an option allowing you to donate in someone else’s name.

Make the gift extra special by focusing on a charity that supports something meaningful to the recipient. And include a card that highlights the work the charity is doing, how the donation will be used and why you choose this particular charity for them.

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