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Holiday shopping can also create a healthier, more abundant natural environment

As thoughts turn to paper, packages and bows, Dodd Galbreath shares ideas for a more environmentally friendly approach to holiday shopping

Kim Chaudoin  | 

Two people shopping

As the nation heads into what is likely to be one of the most unusual holiday shopping seasons in history due to the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are beginning to turn their thoughts to finding just the right gift for friends and family. 

“Now is a great time to give gifts to loved ones that give back to all life, all year long, with the added bonus of giving to future generations.” said Dodd Galbreath, founder of Lipscomb’s Institute for Sustainable Practice. 

Galbreath recently shared these tips for sustainable shopping during the holiday season:

Gift affordable living and become a solar angel. According to Nashville Electric Service, “by making a tax deductible donation to The Community Foundation, your contribution will be used to purchase solar angel panels through the Music City Solar program. All proceeds from the output of those solar panels will go to assist low-income customers through energy-efficiency and weatherization programs or as a solar energy credit on their monthly bill.” Learn more.

Person planting trees

Give the gift of native trees and plants. Looking for a gift for the person who has everything? Give the gift of trees and plants and pay someone to plant them at the direction of your loved one. Choose native trees that produce oxygen for us and fruit, acorns or nuts to increase your gift output over time in song birds and biodiversity. Get more bang for your buck with bare root trees that often outgrow balled-and-burlapped trees and that have the greatest chances of survival. Or, do an internet search for your local native plant nursery and visit this Tennessee State Parks guide for selections to fit any site condition.

Buy for “life.”This is two-fold. First, consider purchasing durable items that last longer rather than cheaper quality or disposable products. Look for high quality, all metal and wooden items and shunn all plastic and plastic parts that can rarely be recycled. The old adage of “you get what you pay for” contains much wisdom! Second, ask yourself: “If this product were to wear out, could I theoretically toss it in my yard and watch it eventually turn to dust? If the answer is no, then don’t buy it or it’ll be a burden to some future generation. 

Buy from brands that think like you. Many companies are known for their commitment to employing people and healthy, just, fair, and nature replenishing business practices that you can reward with your purchases. Turn your holiday shopping into an especially meaningful experience for you. 

Shop local. Shopping local and particularly for locally made products is a good way of guaranteeing that your money will stay in this community and encourage local and sustainable resource use. Specialty foods, art, clothing and other made-to-order items are the easiest local gifts to find and often of the highest in quality and most recently produced.

Handmade card items

Give the gift of time. “This is the gift my late mother always asked of me each year. Often she would say: I don’t want something I have to dust. Give me your time and something to enjoy in the moment.” Galbreath said. Time is one of our most valuable and meaningful gestures. Give a hand crafted card for non-routine activity such as Zoom call to discuss family histories and stories. Prepare a never before seen family photo slideshow or plan a physically distanced walk in the country or park.

Buy for retention and longevity. Ask yourself these questions before you purchase an item for yourself or others: Do I (or the person I’m buying this for) really need this? How many times will I/they wear or use this? They’ll know you put more thought into the gift and they’ll remember your thoughtfulness longer.

Choose unique, special, second-hand or used items and stretch your budget! By purchasing a special, second-hand item that is unique to your giftee, you can rest assured that no new non-renewable resources have been lost to create it. You’ll also save yourself money, too. When you need a product like tools or cars, consider buying used. Clean them up before you give them. Oftentimes used items are in great condition with a little elbow grease and will last for years. The added bonus is that used products are often cheaper than new, and will save you money. Also, don’t forget to pay it forward AND free up space in your home by donating or consigning your unwanted items.

Look for items with little or no packaging and give them in a reusable shopping bag. Reward companies who offer unpackaged items whenever possible.

Consider NOT buying a gift but offering to pay to repair an item. Instead of purchasing a new item, consider repairing, not replacing, an item that may not work anymore when possible. Use your unique skills to share your talents with others. Often there is sentimental or historical value that can be preserved due to your thoughtful gift.

Dodd Galbreath

Dodd Galbreath

Donate money to creation care organizations. “Many non-governmental organizations are struggling now and routinely make up much of their annual budgets through annual giving at the end of the calendar year.” Galbreath noted. Give in the name of your loved one to the many nature organizations in Nashville who work during the holidays, since this is the most ideal time to repair streams, plant trees ahead of summer heat, create rain gardens ahead of spring rains and add beauty and value to our community. Find the creation care organization whose work you admire and give generously.

Lipscomb’s Institute for Sustainable Practice, housed in the College of Leadership & Public Service at Lipscomb University offers undergraduate and graduate programs to teach students the science of sustainability. Graduates are equipped to help both businesses and people transform careless behaviors into mindful habits that focus on the quadruple bottom line: people, profit, planet and providence. Taught by pioneering entrepreneurs, innovative scientists, creative engineers, visionary policy makers and other sustainable leaders, students learn how to make a difference in their communities and the world. For more information visit