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Green Giving and Shopping

Click here to return to the Sustainable Holiday Greening Guide.

The exchange of gifts and cards during the holidays has become an American tradition. About 2.65 billion holiday cards are sold in the United States each year—that’s enough to fill a football stadium 10 stories high. Excessive gift-giving not only takes its toll on our pocketbooks, it also harms the environment. Millions of tons of paper products and packaging are taken to the landfill during the holiday season. These tips will help you to reduce the environmental impact of your shopping and giving this year.


  • Instead of sending Holiday Cards via postal or campus mail to your colleagues, clients, friends, and family, consider sending electronic cards. You will save trees, save greenhouse gas emissions created during the transportation of the cards, save pollution from the printing process, and even save some money!
  • Make a phone call to wish someone a happy holiday instead of sending them a card. This is a better way to really connect with people!
  • If you send cards, choose cards that are printed with vegetable-based inks on paper with recycled content. Seltzer makes all of their products, including gift cards, envelopes, and gift wrap, from 100% post-consumer content paper.
  • If you choose to send cards, consider buying those that provide a donation to a favorite charity. One good option is the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital Holiday Project.
  • Reuse the front of greeting cards as colorful postcards or gift tags.


  • You might find the perfect pre-loved gift, such as a book, picture frame, or sweater while keeping usable goods out of the landfill by using Vandy FreeSwap, a website for Vanderbilt students, faculty and staff who are giving away (and getting) free, usable, unwanted items.
  • Consider gifts that support your local community and generate minimal waste. This includes things like theater or performance tickets, charitable donations, or gift certificates.
  • Give a gift that helps someone go green. Items such as energy-saving power strips, motion sensor lights, reusable stainless steel water bottles, and reusable cloth shopping bags are great sustainable gifts.
  • Give the gift of your time. Volunteer for a charitable organization in lieu of a gift. Offer your friends and family an evening of babysitting or a home-cooked meal.
  • Re-gift! Give a past present you didn’t need or want to someone you think might appreciate it.
  • Try to purchase items locally to help small merchants, drive less, and support the local economy. Antique and thrift stores are also great places to find unique gifts.
  • Give a colleague an electronic magazine subscription.
  • Give the gift of a membership to a local organization in which the recipient is interested. Plant a tree or donate a book to a local or school library in someone’s honor.
  • Support the military through monetary donations, Operation Phone Home, or Operation Care Package.
  • Instead of buying gifts for your colleagues, consider organizing a group to support a needy Vanderbilt family with gift cards through the Employee Assistance Program (936-1327) or adopt an Angel through the Susan Gray School (322-8200).
  • Purchase gifts that are fair-trade, locally made or grown, or organically grown, such as coffee or chocolate. Several great local places to shop for these items include:
  • If you plan to purchase electronics this holiday season, try looking for the most energy efficient models, which are generally designated with Energy Star labels from the U.S. EPA.
  • Great ideas for green gifts can also be found through Treehugger or The Daily Green.
  • Unsubscribe! Call or email catalog companies that send holiday catalogs to your office and home and ask to be removed from their mailing lists. To make it easy, Catalog Choice will allow you to cancel nearly all catalogs in one location.


  • Put gifts in reusable packaging, such as baskets, bags, or fabric wrappers.
  • Try packaging this year’s gifts in comics, newspaper, old maps, or brown paper decorated with sponge art or drawings instead of wrapping paper so your presents’ packaging can be recycled after the holidays. Recycled aluminum foil can also make for a fun and different approach to wrapping.
  • Natural fiber raffia works well as a substitute for ribbon and is recyclable too! Also look into twine or yarn made with recycled material.
  • If purchasing wrapping paper, find responsible gift wrap that is made with post-consumer recycled content. Visit Nashville Wraps, Seltzer, or Fish Lips Paper Designs for more information on eco-friendly wrapping paper. Look for paper printed with plant-based inks instead of harmful petroleum based products.
  • Reuse old boxes and packaging materials such as Styrofoam peanuts, or donate them to mail centers. Any UPS store will accept peanuts for reuse in any quantity and in any container. For free materials available for use, check out the Vandy FreeSwap packaging section.
  • Bring your own tote bags in which to carry your purchases when you go shopping.
  • Online shopping keeps you out of your car and off the roads, and may curb impulse buying. However, consider how far your purchases have to travel to reach you.
  • Plan ahead and consolidate your shopping trips to save time, gas, and hassle. Try to get all of your shopping done at several stores that are near each other.

Click here to return to the Sustainable Holiday Greening Guide.