It’s the gift giving time of year again. We like to think that we’re focused on the many reasons we all have to be grateful, the truth is we are also often half thinking about the many, many items we will need to purchase, consume, give as gifts, and, at some point probably, throw away. As Annie Leonard’s 2009 seminal documentary, “The Story of Stuff,” so graphically demonstrated, the “buy-consume-dispose” paradigm is simply not viable on a planet of finite resources. And the relentless flow of consumable, disposable stuff through our lives will become a virtual torrent over the next six weeks.

But excessive consumption and waste is not only unsustainable, it’s also unnecessary. Yes, we all want to participate in the seasonal traditions of giving to those we love. Now there are some ways to do that, without also participating in and supporting hyper consumerism.  Today, we’re highlighting just a couple of examples.

Patagonia: thriving by “doing the opposite”

Back in 2011, Patagonia took the then-unheard of approach to holiday shopping by publishing a full-page ad in the New York Times on Black Friday, proclaiming “Don’t Buy This Jacket” Is that counterintuitive for a consumer good company? Hardly. Patagonia explained its approach:

Because Patagonia wants to be in business for a good long time – and leave a world inhabitable for our kids – we want to do the opposite of every other business today. We ask you to buy less and to reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else.

Patagonia’s ground-breaking move made consumers everywhere take notice, and begin to think differently about how – and why – we purchase products and goods. “There is much to be done and plenty for us all to do. Don’t buy what you don’t need. Think twice before you buy. Go to the Common Threads Initiative pledge and join us to reimagine a world where we take only what nature can replace.”

Today Patagonia continues to thrive, confirming that it is truly onto something important.

The Buy Nothing Project: Give. Share. Build community.

Here’s a truly innovative approach to giving that can help us to think about a use-share-reuse (rather than consuming) approach to goods and services in the new sharing economy.

The “Buy Nothing Project” offers a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of connected local groups. Its mission particularly resonates in this season of gifting and consuming.  Launched in Bainbridge Island, Washington in 2013, Buy Nothing has grown to include more than 600 local groups across the country (and eleven other countries as well) and 110,000 members.

The Buy Nothing Project leverages the power of social media to connect people living near one another so that they can share goods and services on an as-needed basis. Groups form using Facebook, usually organized around a single zip code (“give where you live”).  The rules for posting are kept straightforward:

Post anything you’d like to give away, lend, or share amongst neighbors. Ask for anything you’d like to receive for free or borrow. Keep it legal. Keep it civil. No buying or selling, no trades or bartering. We’re an adult-only, hyper-local gift economy. We are not a charity or community bulletin board.

No cash ever changes hands, and there is no expectation of payment for transactions. Instead, members understand that the benefits that flow from sharing ultimately benefit all of them, individually and well as collectively.  Far beyond just preventing waste, Buy Nothing’s members often speak of the community-building value of participating in as local project. See if there’s already a group organized where you live. If not, consider starting one!

Over the next month (and beyond), why not try a different approach to gift giving? Instead of racing to an overcrowded mall, or frantically clicking online, consider an approach to giving that doesn’t involve buying yet more stuff.  An approach that can make us more mindful of, and grateful for all that we already have. And happy to share our bounty with others, and build a community at the same time. What could be more in the true spirit of the holidays?  

Happy Thanksgiving! Please also read our related holiday article:
The Ripple Effect of REI’s #OptOutside Campaign 

Small Business Saturday: The business case for local holiday shopping