How to have a greener holiday

Last Updated August 2020

Gifts are a fundamental part of the holiday season. They show the people in your life that you appreciate and value them, and they’re a way to connect with loved ones through thoughtful intentionality. 

Online shopping has removed a lot of the stress that used to hang over the holidays, allowing us to purchase perfect personal gifts for friends and family without having to check different stores around town or fight holiday traffic. Being able to order gifts online frees up more time to spend with loved ones and participate in community events.

Those who plan on doing their shopping online are automatically cutting down on personal fuel consumption by cutting down on time spent driving to stores and idling in traffic. However, there is more you can do to be a conscious consumer; here’s our guide on how to make this holiday a green one.

There are simple steps you can take to lessening your environmental impact around the holidays.

What does it mean to shop green?

There are many ways to shop sustainably, from the way you buy to the types of products you choose. 

In general, buying “green” means: 

  • Reducing your environmental impact by limiting your contributions to landfills and consumer waste (by purchasing durable, high-quality products).

  • Cutting down on fuel usage (by spending less time in your car driving from store to store or by strategizing your online purchases to cut down on shipping and returns).

  • Choosing products that are made sustainably (either with recycled or renewable materials or via a production method that’s environmentally friendly).

  • Generally consuming in a conscientious way. 


When done right, shopping online can be greener than shopping in stores.

But sustainable online shopping requires planning. If you tend to wait until the last minute when buying holiday gifts, consider getting a head start this year in order to reduce your stress as well as your environmental impact.

Do your research

Before you even think about adding anything to your virtual shopping cart, put in time researching to make sure you’re getting the best model for the recipient. This thoughtfulness will not only be meaningful to those who receive the gifts, but it will also diminish your environmental impact by reducing unnecessary waste because they won’t throw it out or send it back.

First, inform yourself about the key features and accessories for whatever item you’re considering. Think about your recipient. How will they use this product? What components or additions might be important to them? The goal with any present is to get something the other person will actually use, as well as to pick something that is well-made, durable, and suited to its intended use. 

Next, take a look at the various brands available for any given item, taking your budget into account. Compare customer reviews as well as different features and specs on individual models. This will help you narrow down your options and hone in on the right pick.

Being an informed consumer is eco-friendly because it reduces waste in two ways: it cuts down on returns and it helps you purchase higher-quality, longer-lasting products. Shipping items has a significant impact, and even though returning online purchases is often free, there is an unseen environmental cost due to the impact of shipping emissions. That’s why it’s best to minimize your shipping by doing your research before you buy. 

It’s also important to choose durable products to ensure that they won’t have to be replaced regularly, as this adds to waste and consumption — plus it isn’t economically sustainable in the long run. 

Optimize your order

Before you click purchase, make sure you have everything you want in your shopping cart. The fewer separate orders you make, the more you cut down on shipping and packaging — two of the most significant environmental impacts when it comes to online shopping. 

Like researching products before you buy, this also requires forethought. You want to make sure you know which gifts you want to purchase — as well as any accessories — and have everything in your cart so you can get it all in one order without having to make any last-minute additional purchases. The earlier you get started on this, the longer you have to brainstorm, research, and get everything ready to order.

Make sure you set your large order to come all at once. If you’re buying through Amazon, for example, this is possible if all of your items are fulfilled by Amazon itself rather than third-party sellers. The most eco-friendly way to order on Amazon is to opt for No-Rush Shipping, because more time leaves more opportunity for efficiency when it comes to packing and shipping, overall cutting down on waste. Choosing no-rush shipping also often comes with a digital credit to your account, which you can use for Kindle downloads and other digital content.

If you’re putting in a big order and you want to make sure you’re home to receive it, select an Amazon Day rather than Prime 2-Day Delivery. By selecting your Amazon Day, which is the day of the week you want all of your items to come, you can allow more than two days for your shipment while also knowing exactly when to expect your package.

Reuse and recycle

No matter how careful you are with your online order and no matter how perfectly you get everything into one delivery, you’ll receive at least one cardboard box and likely a lot of packing materials. It’s important to take this into account when planning for a green holiday season. 

Fortunately, there are easy ways — especially around the holidays — to reuse and recycle these materials.

The first option is to repurpose those cardboard boxes into gift boxes. You can wrap items in their own boxes (if they have them) or use shipping boxes to contain gifts. At the end of the holidays, when all gifts have been exchanged, you can break down and save boxes (if you have the space) and use them next year. Otherwise, these are easy to recycle or to donate to any local nonprofits that might need boxes to help with moving supplies. 

When it comes to the packing materials, talk to your local shipping store. Anything that can’t be easily recycled with other plastics can likely be donated to UPS, FedEx, or another shipping service that might need it.

Making responsible choices around the holidays will make you feel good in the long run.

Choosing sustainable products

If you want to go one step above sustainable ordering this holiday season, you can also pick out sustainably made products to give as gifts. This includes items made with eco-friendly components or practices, fair trade or hand made goods, energy-efficient appliances, and long-lasting items that won’t need to be frequently replaced. 

You can also practice green gifting by giving items to replace disposable or consumable products. For example, giving an e-reader will allow a bookworm to download as many ebooks as they want while cutting down on paper consumption. 

What to look for

When possible, opt for products made from natural materials, like cotton or bamboo, rather than things made of plastics or synthetics. If you have the option for something made from recycled materials or fabrics, choose that. 

When you’re shopping for electronics, look for energy-efficient or smart options that cut down on energy consumption in the long run. This might include products that combine the use of electricity with other sources of energy (like solar), products that have an auto shut-off mode, or products that increase the energy efficiency of your home overall. 

Some brands label themselves as Fair Trade, organic, carbon-neutral, eco, or sustainable. It’s always a good idea to do your research to confirm that the production methods used by these companies are as green as they advertise, but in general, these labels indicate an environmentally friendly option.

One of the best things you can do as a consumer is to pick products that will last. Rather than purchasing bargain items — cheaper, lower-quality products that have a short shelf life and will eventually have to be thrown out and replaced with minimal use, invest in well-made, long-lasting products. This is kind to the environment as well as a kind gesture to the recipient of the gift.