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Green Practice: Give the earth a break

Every Issue

Cite as: December 2011 85(12) LIJ, p.77

Choosing festive season gifts wisely can have lasting benefits.

Gift-giving in the workplace is an important element of the operation of your firm or business. Many organisations will use gifts to encourage staff, thank colleagues, or to acknowledge clients and vendors. Not only can this be done in a way that is interesting and appropriate, but also environmentally sustainable.

As we approach the holiday season, many employers will be planning to give a token to their staff – a thank you for dedicated service throughout the year. Some may have already planned and ordered these gifts while other workplaces might be looking for last-minute ideas. Here are some key tips to keep in mind, and some gift ideas that will not cost the earth.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

This motto is a good tool to help with remembering the hierarchy of product use and disposal. Make your workplace more sustainable this holiday season by reducing, reusing and recycling your gift-giving, wrapping paper and greeting cards.


The first step in limiting our impact on the environment is to reduce: to buy less. Aim to purchase gifts that do not create (or quickly turn into) waste, particularly by avoiding items that will be discarded within a short time.

Some workplaces give money or gift vouchers to staff, which is an effective way to reduce waste and maximise efficiency. However, that approach is not for every business, and there are other options to increase the sustainability of your corporate gift-giving. There are plenty of businesses that specialise in environmentally sustainable corporate gift ideas,1 which can help you to reduce your impact on the environment. If you are looking for something unique, why not consider giving an experience rather than a product, and create memories for your staff or colleagues, for example by giving tickets to an art exhibition, show or sports event.

Purchasing locally made and sourced products is another good way to reduce the impact that a gift will have on the environment, by decreasing the distance it has travelled. Seasonal hampers that include homemade or locally made goodies are available from a variety of sources,2 but do not forget to ensure that the recipient is not allergic to its contents.


Another way to limit the impact of gifts on the environment is to reuse: to buy gifts that can be used over and over,3 or that have already been used themselves. This can be more classy and exciting than it sounds.

There is a growing movement in support of up-cycling – purchasing products such as clothing, accessories and exhausted technology that have reached their use-by date and have been altered or re-assembled to create an entirely new product — trendy, exciting and very environmentally friendly. Reusing pre-loved items is a great way to reduce the raw materials going into a workplace gift. You can find some very interesting and beautiful up-cycled gift ideas online:4 products as diverse as circuit board cufflinks, a chopstick fruit bowl and a clock made from a bicycle wheel.


You might also consider the benefits of giving recycled gifts, things that are homemade and/or made from recycled materials.

Recycled cards and gift wrap are particularly accessible, being readily available from a wide variety of paper retailers and online. For something unusual, Scrub Australia5 sells 100 per cent recycled, handmade cards that have seeds embedded in them so that the recipient can plant your card after they have read it – the ultimate in recycling.

Sourcing gifts for the workplace is an ongoing consideration for firms and businesses. This year, why not start a new tradition of gift-giving that not only recognises the contribution of your staff and colleagues, but also shows that you are thinking of the bigger picture – give a gift that contributes to the environment and sets the standard for sustainability in your workplace for the coming year.

Happy holidays.

PHILLIPA McCORMACK is a member of the Green Practice Project. See

1. See, for example,, and; or search for gifts using a sustainable living guide like

2. See, for example,

3. Keep cups are a brilliant example and a very handy item for the coffee-crazed lawyer. See for the wide variety of colours and sizes available.

4. See, for example,,,, and



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