With no end in sight to the pandemic and its many ripple effects, we can all use a little bit of brightness in our lives! So, here are some of the many companies, platforms and products aligned with a more intentional approach to consumption, that we’d be happy to support anytime.
“A good half of the art of living is resilience.” — Alain de Botton
Ahh, 2021 … Not quite the dumpster fire that was 2020, but it definitely hasn’t been smooth sailing (just ask the shipping industry! Ba dump bump) as the pandemic and its many ripple effects continue to test our resilience. With the global chip shortage and ongoing shipping snafu still miring millions of products just out of reach of ports > retailers > consumers, who knows whether we’ll be able to find or receive much of anything this holiday season (but, hey — even more reason to shop locally as much as possible!).
But the holiday season still represents a welcome time to decompress and be thankful for our blessings and continued resilience — and to doing our part to support the resilience of others. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of some of the many companies, platforms and products aligned with a more intentional approach to consumption, that we’d be happy to support anytime.
First, how to buy stuff
We know the convenience of one-stop shopping is undeniable, but more thoughtful purchasing habits benefit local communities; so first, do what you can to shop locally. Once you’ve exhausted those options, check out purpose-driven online platforms such as Buy Native, Goodee, Made Trade and The Verticale — dedicated to supporting BIPOC- and women-owned businesses; Fair Trade-certified labor practices; circular, inclusive, waste-saving, vegan and other categories of ethically made apparel, personal care and home goods.
If big-box stores are more accessible for you, Target is an almost one-stop shop that is taking impressive measures to rein in its carbon footprint, and support Black-owned businesses and sustainable products; IKEA has tons of lovely housewares and gift ideas, many of them recycled or otherwise sustainably made; and Etsy features millions of unique, often-handmade products — and carbon-neutral shipping. And when all else fails, Amazon is also doing its part to promote sustainable products and eliminate its shipping footprint.
Whatever you shop for, make sure the items are made to last — for clothes, support the growing number of clothing brands that repair, recycle and resell garments and accessories — such as Amour Vert, Barbour, Eileen Fisher, H&M, Levi Strauss, Madewell, New Balance, The North Face, Patagonia, Rapanui and tonlé to name a few (and for bags and luggage, you can’t go wrong with Timbuk2). Secondhand apparel marketplaces such as thredUP, Poshmark or Vestiaire Collective are always a good bet; or peruse the curated collection of apparel and home goods at Buy Me Once, already vetted for longevity.
And to encourage more conscious shopping habits with loved ones, recommend getting groceries, personal care products and household supplies from the zero-waste Loop platform (coming soon to Walgreens, Kroger, Fred Meyer and Duane Reade in the US; Tesco in the UK; and other brick-and-mortar retailers worldwide); or gift a membership to Thrive Market — the largest B Corp-certified retailer, with products that are certified regenerative, fair-trade, non-GMO and biodynamic; often at lower prices than other ecommerce sites.
Food & beverages
Image credit: Colive
Looking for holiday sweets for your sweeties with more lasting impacts than a sugar and endorphin rush? Better-made brands including Alter Eco, Theo Chocolate and Tony’s Chocolonely are working hard to secure stable livelihoods for cocoa farmers around the world. Bedré Chocolate — an Oklahoma-based chocolatier owned by the Chickasaw Nation — uses recipes it says “reflect the time-honored tradition of the Native American peoples who first cultivated this divine delicacy”; and Greyston Bakery’s brownies and blondies, packed with purpose, make perfect stocking stuffers.
Birch Bark Coffee is an Ojibwe-owned, organic, fair-trade, Canadian coffee brand that aims to get clean drinking water to every Indigenous home in the country. In the UK, Fair Trade- and Gold Standard-certified Cafédirect has been working to improve farmer livelihoods and sustainability for 30 years. Here in the US, POC-owned brands such as BLK+Bold, Made by DWC (which also offers apparel and home goods) and Red Bay Coffee are not only working to ensure coffee production is high quality and sustainable; they’ve created a vehicle for diversity, inclusion, social and economic restoration, entrepreneurship, and environmental sustainability domestically, as well.
A delicious peace offering
After the division between northern and southern Cyprus in 1974 following civil unrest, war and displacement, families and friends have been separated on the island, unable to cross the border. Colive is the first company to operate across the conflict zone divide in more than 50 years, and is the only Cypriot olive oil brand available in the US at retail (now at Whole Foods nationwide, with additional retail locations in 2022). The one-of-a-kind Cypriot olives that go into each bottle of Colive are collected from 15 family farms on both sides of the conflict zone and combined into an EVOO that offers not only a unique taste, but also an admirable, dual mission: In addition to educating farmers on organic, regenerative farming practices, the company donates 10 percent of profits from each bottle sold to organizations dedicated to peace education and social entrepreneurship in the country, to foster help peace and a united Cyprus.
Waste-saving food and brews
Many experts say that mitigating food waste would be one of our most powerful weapons against climate change — so, with these snacks and beverages, you can tipple and nibble guilt-free, as the environmental warrior you are:
Air Co’s products, including its Air Vodka, literally suck carbon dioxide out of the air — cheers to climate action!
San Diego-based Rebru has ‘re-crafted’ a line of delicious, small-batch spirits from beer that has passed its prime and would otherwise go to waste.
Sweden’s Gotland Spirits, the UK’s Black Cow Vodka, and California’s Alchemy Distillery and Misadventure Vodka are just a few of the growing number of booze brands made from food waste.
Pasta lovers, nosh on Semolina Artisanal Pasta’s new, upcycled strozzapreti — fortified with ReGrained’s SuperGrain+, made from spent brewer’s grain.
Agricycle Global's upcycled dried fruit and flour brands are not only turning food waste into value-added products, they are providing living incomes and educational opportunities for 7,000 women-led cooperatives in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean.
For the bakers in your life, think about upcycled cookie and brownie mixes and baking flours from Renewal Mill; and keto, vegan and upcycled cookies from their partner, Fancypants Baking Co.
Turn your pets into climate heroes with nutritious, upcycled pet treats from Farm to Fluffy or Shameless Pets.
Wear it well
Image credit: LEZÉ the Label
Here are just a few of the companies, products and platforms helping the fashion industry make a dent in its wasteful, wasteful ways …
Slower, more intentional fashion
Founded by the Anishinaabe artist, designer and model of the same name, Lesley Hampton is a size-inclusive evening wear, athleisure and accessories brand aimed at decolonizing “euro-centric standards in the fashion industry.” The brand epitomizes slow fashion — all items are made to order or in small batches.
Paris-based Sézane started online as a way to cut out the middleman, with a goal of zero-waste apparel production. The brand’s conscious approach extends to its use of materials, packaging and energy; and a commitment to fair labor conditions. In 2017, the certified B Corp created a philanthropic initiative, Demain, to help children access education and equal opportunities.
LA-based, carbon-neutral lifestyle brand Whimsy + Row’s limited-run, locally handmade line of womenswear is made from locally sourced, upcycled and low-impact materials — with a commitment to fair wages and ethical working conditions. The brand is also committed to longevity — every piece is designed to retain shape, hold seam integrity, and become even more comfortable with each wear.
New, direct-to-consumer brand YesAnd is the latest in ethical fashion powerhouse Marci Zaroff's growing stable of brands. As she told us earlier this year, the idea behind the brand is: "Yes, it’s about style, quality, fit, color, comfort, price — everything you want. And by the way, ethically made, socially responsible, fair trade, certified organic, regenerative, circular, recycled, biodegradable, low-impact dyed — all the yummy stuff."
Rental and subscription services
For fashionistas who love frequently freshening up their look without the waste of fast fashion, gift a subscription to a clothing rental platform such as Haverdash or Nuuly. Sites with more specialized, occasion-specific offerings include Armoire (includes high-end maternity clothes); Gwynnie Bee (inclusive sizing), Rent the Runway and Style Lend (special occasion wear) — and, thanks to platforms such as Taelor and Borobabi, men and little ones can now join the fun, too.
From the founders of Timberland come a ‘new standard in sustainable hiking boots’ — the ‘biocircular’ Erem boots are made from materials including regeneratively farmed leather, Tencel™ fibers from sustainably managed forests, recycled rubber and a proprietary biodegradability accelerator that enables biodegradation in 7 years or less. The company will also take back your old boots, to reuse the materials for new.
Meanwhile, startups from around the world continue to expand our choices for sustainable style:
Proceeds from New York-based regenerative athleisure brand Able Made’s sustainable clothing and accessories — made from upcycled fabrics including fruit leather and recycled nylon — benefit inner city youth.
California-based Dragon Alliance offers a line of upcycled and plant-based sunglass frames and snow goggles.
Taipei-based startup Koup has created a line of moisture-wicking, quick-drying activewear shirts and masks made from recycled plastic — with chemical-free, cinnamon-based odor protection technology.
Vancouver, BC’s LEZÉ the Label continues to churn out comfy-as-pajamas, moisture-wicking, anti-wrinkle, business casualwear made from upcycled coffee grounds and plastic bottles — Oprah's even included them in her list of favorite things this year.
Mon Coeur makes circular kids’ clothes from fabrics reclaimed from throughout its pan-European supply chain; the company also collects used children’s clothes for repurposing into new.
LA-based Swiminista — a new venture from Rock and Republic creator Andréa Bernholtz — features sustainable, ultra-supportive swimwear made from recycled fabrics.
With UpWest x ReCircled, apparel recycler ReCircled converted end-of-life sweaters from eco-fashion brand UpWest into cozy winter blankets and dog sweaters — and mittens that will be donated to unhoused people in Chicago this winter.
Image credit: Valley Rose
thinksound’s new, over-ear headphones wrap the company’s high-quality sound in Eastman’s Trēva™ engineering bioplastic — which contains more than 40 percent biobased content derived from sustainably harvested trees.
For loved ones just dying for a new Macbook, iPhone or tablet, opt for a certified refurbished one from Back Market. The site is chock-full of Apple-refurbished devices (at about half the price of new) that come complete with an AppleCare warranty — and you can derive extra satisfaction knowing you’re helping to mitigate e-waste!
Those looking for a bit of benign bling should check out sustainable fine jewelry brand Valley Rose, which touts not 4 Cs, but 5 — cut, color, clarity, carat and climate neutrality. The company’s jewelry is made from fair mined or recycled gold; ethically sourced, traced & certified natural gems; and sustainably grown diamonds. Valley Rose recently became among the first to be accredited to sell Certified Sustainability Rated Diamonds through the SCS-007 Standard — the first comprehensive, multi-stakeholder sustainability standard developed for the diamond sector.
The gift of experience
Image credit: Tinggly
Whether it’s wine tasting in Italy, absorbing the splendor of national parks in Utah or hiking across glaciers in Argentina, experiences make invaluable gifts. Global experience-gifting company Tinggly specializes in gift boxes of worldwide adventures. Each package, designed specifically around a theme, entitles your chosen recipient to one travel experience in a destination of their choice. And they have five years to decide when and how they’d like to use the voucher (an excellent fail-safe, since our travel plans should probably remain flexible for the foreseeable future). Plus, Tinggly says it offsets carbon emissions and removes 11lbs (5kg) of plastic from the planet’s rivers, lakes and oceans for every gift experience purchased.
For less intrepid loved ones not quite ready to return to travel, local experiences such as wine tastings; walking tours; scavenger hunts (Let’s Roam offers indoor and outdoor options); or arts, crafts, language, fitness, music and cooking classes — either online or in-person — are just a few gift ideas that can help enrich recipients’ lives without adding more ‘stuff.’ Airbnb, Masterclass and Uncommon Goods all have a great selection of classes to choose from.
Image credit: Micro Kickboard
Micro Kickboard’s Deluxe ECO Scooters — made from recycled fishnets and other marine plastic — come in both Mini (ages 2-5) and Maxi (ages 5-12), so younguns of many ages can enjoy. Look to Bureo for other games and gear made from recycled fishnets — including frisbees, skateboards, sunglasses and their own “Jenga Ocean.”
For budding little gardeners, Etsy shop MyGardenProvisions offers indoor herb garden grow kits (both regular and dinosaur-themed); Back to the Roots continues to expand its ever-popular line of kid-friendly grow-your-own herb and veggie kits; and kids can help tend gardens with Green Toys’ Kids Watering Can, made from recycled milk jugs.
For creative kiddos, eco-kids’ All the Coloring Busy Box is full of non-toxic art supplies including finger paints, hopscotch chalk and colored pencils; and both LEGO and BiOBUDDi offer colorful building blocks made from sugarcane plastic.
And the grandaddy of kids’ entertainment, Mattel, has dramatically upped its sustainability game — the company now boasts a toy take-back and recycle program, Barbies made from ocean plastic, carbon-neutral Matchbox cars, recyclable UNO cards and more.
Books that benefit
Try and source new and used books from local stores or sites such as Bookshop.org — which pulls inventory from local bookshops around the US; or buy from or donate to organizations such as Better World Books — which matches every purchase with a book donation to someone in need and funds literacy initiatives worldwide; or First Book, which is working to build a path out of poverty through educational equity.
Cosmetics with a cause
Image credit: Cheekbone Beauty
Here are a few cosmetic and personal care brands whose impacts go more than skin deep:
Appalachian Botanical — purveyor of organically farmed essential oils, honey and personal care products — is bringing economic opportunity and growth to former coal country in West Virginia by growing lavender on reclaimed coal mine land and providing second-chance employment.
Cheekbone Beauty is a Canadian, Indigenous-owned, sustainable make-up brand that has “promised to forge the path to true sustainability, in line with the teachings in our Indigenous roots, creating a perfect circular economy in the cosmetics space.” The company is also dedicated to increasing both visibility and opportunity for Indigenous youth.
New Zealand’s Emma Lewisham claims to be the first carbon-positive, circular beauty brand — the company touts scientifically active products free from fillers and artificial colors, fragrances and preservatives; driven by the principles of “refilling, recycling and regeneration.”
Launched earlier this year, Izzy is the world’s first fully reusable, sustainable, direct-to-consumer beauty brand. Its first product launch: the world’s first zero-waste, CarbonNeutral®-certified mascara.
Jill Turnbull Beauty is a “blue” beauty brand offering 100 percent plant-based, ocean-safe haircare, makeup and skincare.
Ornami Skincare is a Black-owned, toxin-free skin care brand dedicated to highlighting the importance of self care.
Prose is a B Corp- and Climate Neutral-certified purveyor of customized haircare products and solutions.
Thrive Causemetics — a luxury cosmetics & skincare brand that donates to women’s health and empowerment initiatives with every product purchased. The brand’s vegan and paraben-, sulfate- and cruelty-free formulas are safe for users with compromised immune systems.
Image credit: Enkay
Here are a few consciously crafted items to help warm your place up this winter:
Enkay’s hand-crafted wool and jute rugs, made by skilled artisans all over the world, make a beautiful addition to any room — and its direct-to-consumer model enables the company to pay its makers a fair wage.
The brother and sister team of Eva Eckerblad and David Bronkie launched Siblings in an effort to tackle throwaway culture, starting with candles — conventional candles are designed to burn quickly, leaving behind glass containers that are rarely recycled. The siblings’ long-lasting, lovely-scented candles buck the wasteful trend with their plant-based packaging and natural coconut-blend wax.
For those in warmer winter climes or thinking ahead to next summer, Agricycle’s Tropicoal Ignition is a 100 percent natural charcoal made from three upcycled ingredients: coconut shells, palm kernel shells and cassava root; the brand is aiming to revolutionize the grilling industry by replacing wood-burning charcoal to fight deforestation.
Giving back and paying forward
Image credit: Hippy Feet
More and more companies are working support for displaced communities into their business model:
Refugees — check out Tent.org’s list of participating brands and The Good Trade’s list of gift ideas for companies supporting refugees through education, employment and apprenticeships.
Unhoused — Unilever's The Right to Shower donates 30 percent of profits from its line of head-to-toe cleansers to support hygiene services for people experiencing homelessness across the US. Every garment or pair of socks sold helps Minneapolis-based Benefit Corporation Hippy Feet provide transitional employment to young people ages 16-24 who are experiencing homelessness.
Wrap it right
Image credit: Wrapp'r
Once you’ve put extra consideration into buying ethical gifts, it doesn’t make sense to then wrap them in materials that will further clog landfills — most conventional wrapping paper not only isn’t recyclable or biodegradable, the glittery stuff can end up polluting waterways and poisoning marine life. Don’t add to the millions of tons of additional paper waste generated during the holiday season — get a little creative with alternative materials (newspaper, magazines, maps, inside-out chip bags) and reusable materials such as furoshiki wraps, based on the Japanese tradition of wrapping items in a single cloth — Wrapp’r and Etsy have a ton of beautiful options.
For even more better-gift ideas, check out Good Carbon Gifts; and see some of our previous gift guides …
Main image credits, starting top left: AirCo; Ornami Skincare; Birch Bark Coffee; thinksound; BiOBUDDi; Siblings. Bottom row, L-R: First Book; Amour Vert; Rebru; Koup; Shameless Pets; Emma Lewisham; Dragon Alliance.