Sustainable & Ethical Gift Guide 2020

Buying presents over Christmas time can be an absolute minefield for the average person and even more so if you’re trying to be conscious with your consumerism. The average British adult will spend £512.85 on gifts each Christmas, meaning nearly 27 billion is spent in the UK total at this time of year – imagine the positive impact this could have if it were spent purely ethically and sustainably, supporting small local businesses!

Here are some gift ideas – send this to family and friends if they’re unsure what to get you too. This post was written in collaboration with Hattie @hattie_eco – my research assistant and sustainability expert. Go and check out her Instagram!

Organic basics produces ethical and sustainable underwear and activewear

Clothes/Fashion/Accessories

  • Organic Basics – This underwear and activewear brand produces beautiful eco-friendly and ethically produced clothes in Europe. They use recycled and organic fabrics and regenerative agriculture to minimise environmental impact.
  • Lucy & Yak – Everyone’s favourite dungaree brand Lucy & Yak places supply chain transparency at the forefront of their production values. They publicly share information about their factories and commitment to people and planet. Oh, and their dungarees are awesome.
  • Made My Wardrobe – One of the most sustainable ways to have new clothes is to make them yourself. Gifting a pattern to sew your own dungarees costs only £12.50, or with fabric included it’s £63 and provides hours of meditative entertainment too.
  • Endless Wardrobe (second hand purchases) – The most sustainable item of clothing is the one you already have. This is the ethos of Endless Wardrobe, which loans out outfits for a fraction of the price they would cost new, to be worn and sent back – don’t worry, dry cleaning is included in the price! They also offer second-hand ex-rental clothes if you fall in love with something you’ve rented.
  • Amma Ski Lanka – This kickstarter provides employment and training for mothers through flexible, part time, fairly paid jobs within the textile industry. They also produce zero-waste ethical and sustainably manufactured garments. By pledging to this kickstarter you’ll be funding women in Sri Lanka to receive training, and you will be gifted various accessories in return, dependent on your donation.
  • Yala Jewellery – Black-owned B Corp accredited jewellery brand Yala produces stunning jewellery. A lot of gold jewellery is neither ethical nor sustainable, so Yala opts for brass and they are transparent about production methods.
  • We Are Meg – For the active but eco-conscious giftee, We Are Meg produces exercise accessories such as foam rollers and yoga blocks made from sustainably-sourced cork. They’re about about conscious recovery that’s good for both you and the environment.

Skincare/toiletries

  • Evolve Beauty UK – UK based organic skincare made in small batches. Their production studio is wind-powered and all their packaging is eco-friendly. All products are vegan and cruelty free.
  • Upcircle Beauty – Upcircle is a cruelty free and vegan skincare brand that upcycles waste such as coffee grounds into skincare. They were also winner of the 2020 Circular Economy Award, so you know you’re buying from a market-leading brand tackling some of the biggest issues facing the planet.
  • Narloa – Black-owned startup Narloa has been featured in the Evening Standard, Buzzfeed and Women’s Health, among others. Known for their beautiful face oils, as well as bath products, these are all, of course, vegan, nature-based and cruelty-free.
  • Bramblewood Soap – Homemade in Dorset, these soaps are the epitome of handmade luxury. And, as everyone is using a lot of soap at the moment, why not buy a few for friends and family?
  • Wild deodorant (subscription also available)  – Wild is an innovative deodorant brand fighting against our culture of waste. They provide refillable aluminium applicators and compostable packaging with a product that not only smells great, but actually works too! You can get 20% off from 3rd -5th December with the code FLORA.
  • With Love, Nature – If you’re looking for a beautifully packaged gift box, With Love, Nature is a great place to look. They offer luxury vegan and cruelty free products in eco-friendly packaging.
  • Shmood Candles – I wrote this post about my favourite vegan soy-based candles, but Schmood was launched more recently during lockdown. These sustainable candles smell delicious, and come with a spotify code for a playlist designed to match the scent. I recommend Chill Pill.

Online shops/marketplaces

  • Mosaik Education – Mosaic’s Christmas shop helps provide funding for refugees to access higher education. Just 3% of refugees access university, compared to 37% of global youth, and this NGO is looking to change that.
  • South Coast Makers Market – This Dorchester-based outdoor market provides a platform for independent businesses on the high street and handmade products. For anyone Dorset or Hampshire-based, they are hosting a 2 day market on 5-6th Dec and loyalty cards to provide discounts to local cafes, shops and restaurants, all of which are struggling in the current times.
  • Jamii – Jamii is a marketplace and discount card for Black-owned British brands, allowing shoppers to support a variety of small businesses, from face masks, to skincare, to art prints. They’ve been featured in Metro, Forbes and the BBC and are making quite the impression.
  • Know The Origin – This collective of ethical brands promotes transparency, sustainability and ethics, partnering only with brands that embody this ethos. You can buy a range of products here, in the knowledge that they are well made and ethically sourced.
  • Wearth London – Wearth is a great place to discover new sustainable products and brands, whether you’re looking for homeware, zero-waste accessories or even furniture. They really have something for everyone!

Make yourself

  • Bath bombs – self care is so important, especially at Christmas and especially this year. Bath bombs are easy to make, and homemade gifts show a little more care and thought has gone into them.
  • Vegan gingerbread men – Gingerbread lasts a surprisingly long time, and is perfect to gift at Christmas. It’s easy to make vegan – I have a recipe here!
  • Jam – Making jam at home allows you to get exactly the taste and texture you’re looking for. I personally find shop-bought too sweet, so love making my own. It’s also very relaxing.
  • Sloe/damson gin/whisky – not one for this year, but creating your own sloe or damson alcohol is both easy and charming – and who doesn’t love a bit of alcohol for Christmas! There are plenty of recipes online. Warning: they take time and by the time you’re done, you’ll probably want to keep a couple of bottles for yourself.

Subscriptions

  • Naked Sprout or Bumboo – Who knew loo paper would be such a luxury in 2020?! Getting a subscription service not only allows you to choose ethical and sustainable brands such as these, but also means you’re sorted in the event of another lockdown! These 2 UK brands provide bamboo-based loo paper that gives back – Naked Sprout provides water to school children in Kenya via Just A Drop, and Bumboo plants a tree for each box sold.
  • Leo’s Box – Certified B Corp Leo’s Box is run by 16 year old Lysander, but school studies haven’t stopped him creating a very well regarded eco subscription service that provides full-sized products form sustainable brands. They’re products you’ll undoubtedly need, so nothing is wasted, and it’s a great introduction to new brands at a reduced price.
  • Peirene Press – For the literature lover in your life, Peirene Press provides three books of world-class translated literature from around the world. Not only does this allow access to previously un-translated novels, it also supports various charities and gender equality work. The gift subscription also comes beautifully wrapped!
  • Oddbox – Food waste is a massive issue worldwide, with a third of food being chucked each year. Oddbox provides one solution to the huge amount of fresh produce that doesn’t fit supermarket standards for size or shape, paying farmers fair prices and shipping food across London and South-East England.

Food/consumables

  • Grind coffee compostable pods (also available as a subscription) – If you have a coffee machine, capsules can be problematic to recycle and wasteful. Grind provides Nespresso-compatible pods that can be thrown on your compost heap or out with the food waste. Everything is plastic-free and organic (and the packaging is beautiful).
  • Bird & Wild coffee – Coffee is often unsustainably and unethically produced, and without looking for certain accreditations, it can be hard to know what you’re buying. For the ground coffee lover, Bird & Wild is about as sustainable as you get for coffee.
  • Bax Botanics – For anyone looking to avoid the booze this year, Bax’s eco-friendly, fairtrade, zesty Verbena non-alcoholic spirit is the way to go. For more info on them and other favourites, see this post for the best alcohol-free spirits.
  • Tony’s Chocoloney – Aside from producing delicious, CHUNKY chocolate, Tony’s campaigns for ethically produced chocolate that does not use modern slavery or child labour – which unfortunately is more common than you might think. They have vegan and non-vegan options.
  • Doisy & Dam – Christmas can never have too much chocolate, so here’s another great brand. D&D sources their cocoa from sustainable farms, and as a B Corp, they are serious about transparency. They don’t use palm oil and are 100% vegan.

Charity initiatives/tree planting

  • Secret Santa Action for Children – For the person who has everything, make a gift to someone else in their name. Action for Children provides Secret Santa gifts for some of the 9 million children living in poverty in the UK. This allows them to have a hot meal, a place to sleep or a little gift this Christmas – you choose!
  • Treedom Trees – Gifts don’t have to be visible to make an impact. Treedom allows you to plant and name a tree around the world that will allow smallhold farmers to have an extra source of income or food source, all while soaking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. All trees are geotagged, so you can check in and see how your tree is doing! Use the code FLORA20 for 20% off whichever tree you buy.
  • Adopt an animal through WWF – This is the perfect present for a child or young relative that keep on giving through regular updates. This provides funding to keep that species safe, and you get a little welcome pack to show thanks.
Treedom supports smallholder farmers across the world and sequesters carbon too

If you enjoyed this post please do share and tag Hattie and me on Instagram! That way we can support more businesses and make more of a change. What are your favourite ethical and sustainable businesses – why not tag them on Instagram or Twitter to support them? Happy shopping!

Can wool be sustainable and ethical?

As someone who eats a plant-based diet, I might be considered the type of person who would avoid wool and other natural animal-based fibres from an ethical standpoint. However, as with almost everything in life, I find reality refuses to conform to the categories we attempt to put it in; veganism isn’t always more sustainable than a non-vegan diet, plastic isn’t always worse than glass and organic isn’t always better than non-organic. As with everything, I try to make my decisions based on the evidence in front of me – and as always, the evidence is rarely black and white, and always content dependent. 

Wool is one of the oldest textiles in human history, with clothing made from wool dating back 10,000 years from across the world. As with all products produced today, wool should be placed under heavy scrutiny to call into question its ethical and sustainable credentials, but as with all products, the answer often depends on a myriad of factors. 

How sustainable is wool?

One of the major benefits of natural fibres such as wool is that they are made from renewable resources, biodegradable and require minimal amounts of chemicals for processing. These are all issues that plague the majority of synthetic materials production, alongside the issue of microfibre release – where tiny pieces of plastic are released into our oceans eat time synthetic fabrics are washed. 

However, the majority of wool’s impact comes from the keeping of livestock on land that could otherwise be left wild, or cleared to feed the ever growing human population, rather than livestock (a notoriously inefficient method of feeding humans). The sustainability issues of wool come from the sheer quantity in which we want it, as this leads to large amounts of land clearing and environmental degradation, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. When combined with the eutrophication caused by large amount of animal faeces damaging local waterways, wool is on average one of the least sustainable materials when assessed pre-consumer

However, as with many fabrics, the method of cultivation makes a huge difference to its environmental footprint. Unfortunately the majority of tools used to assess the environmental impact of textiles, such as Higg Index, end pre-consumer, giving only a limited picture of real-world environmental impact. The consequence of this is that short-lived, low quality items are equated with better-made, durable products, simply because of the fibres used. With many fabrics, the majority of the difference in environmental footprint is dictated by the length of life of the garment and the number of times it is worn. This indicates that the consumer has a huge amount of power in altering their own environmental footprint, not only by choosing more sustainable fibres, but also by choosing to buy less overall, and keep what they own for a long time. Buying quality clothing is key to this, and as wool products tend to have long lifespans, the environmental footprint is considerably reduced over its lifespan. 

When you look post-gate at consumer use and end of life options, wool’s sustainability credentials start to improve. During its life, wool tends to need washing much less frequently than synthetic fibres, especially in sportswear as it has natural odour-resistant and antibacterial properties. After its longer than average lifespan, wool is also easily recycled unlike mixed-fibre synthetic garments, providing options for a second or third life. Aside from this, it also biodegrades both on land and in water, meaning that provided it is disposed of properly, it has extremely low impacts after its useful life. 

In conclusion, there are many ways in which wool’s sustainability credentials could be improved, from raising sheep through regenerative farming to methane gas mitigation. However, provided woollen items are worn for a number of years, environmental impacts could be minimal, and reduced further by 50% simply by wearing items more. 

How ethical is wool?

PETA claims that there is no such thing as ethical wool, and there are certainly ethical implications of raising animals for human use. In Australia and some other places around the world, there is a common but inhumane practise called mulesing, the practise of cutting away areas of skin on the buttocks, in order to prevent flystrike. This is often done without anaesthetic and can lead to death, or at least immense pain for the animal. Not only is this cruel, it is often also unsuccessful. The US has also been highlighted to carry out this procedure, through footage released by PETA.

New Zealand, on the other hand, has some of the best animal welfare standards globally, and the country’s Animal Welfare Act strictly prohibits mulesing. Choosing free-range, hand-shorn animals reduces lifetime stress and anxiety to the sheep. Similarly, it is also banned in the UK.

Because of the variation in animal welfare standards globally, it is important for brands to have transparency throughout the supply chain, all the way back to the farms their wool comes from. Without this, it is impossible to know how they are treated in order to choose brands wisely. To help with this, there are a number of globally recognised certifications and accreditations that provide third-party verification of humane and ethical wool production through regular audits. Examples of these include Responsible Wool Standard (RWS)Certified Organic WoolCertified Animal Welfare ApprovedCertified Humane® Label, the ZQ Merino StandardSoil Association Organic Standards and Climate Beneficial by Fibershed. Some of these also look at the environmental impact of the wool too, ensuring minimal environmental degradation in the raising of flocks too. 

On a side note, it is extremely important to understand what type of wool you are buying. Merino wool comes from Merino sheep, which are bred to have wrinkly skin to increase wool production. In hotter conditions, this can cause heat exhaustion and extreme discomfort, so ensure you buy your merino from sources accredited by ZQ Merino Standard or the Responsible Wool Standard. 

Angora ‘wool’ comes from rabbits, and if often harvested by plucking the animal, which can cause distress. In addition, 90% of the world’s angora comes from China, which does not have the same ethical standards as some other parts of the world. In 2013, many brands ceased angora product releases, after footage was released exposing the extreme animal cruelty existing in farms in China. Similar footage has been released from farms in France. Needless to say, while it is possible to collect naturally-moulted fur from rabbits for wool, it is hard to guarantee the ethical nature of this type of wool.

Cashmere (including Pashmina and Cashgora), made from goat’s hair,  has been linked to environmental degradation in Mongolia. In an effort to improve its sustainability credentials, brands such as Patagonia and Stella McCartney opt for recycled cashmere instead of virgin options. Cashmere’s environmental impact is roughly 100x that of wool.

TL;DR

  • Wool can be both sustainable and ethical, or neither, depending on where you buy it from, though of course your personal ethics will dictate in part what is deemed ethical. The bar has to be set very high to ensure both ethical and sustainable production.
  • As with most elements of consumerism, the sustainability issues of wool are derived from the quantities in which we consume it, not necessarily the wool itself.
  • Choosing brands that are transparent about their sources and can trace their wool to particular farms is the best option if you want to buy it – there are many places that do not produce ethical wool, and the practise of mulesing is still commonplace. If a brand does not specify no mulesing, do not buy from there.
  • Opt for wool that has been accredited and audited by a third-party certification, such as Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) or ZQ Merino Standard, to ensure its ethical and sustainable production as much as possible. 
  • Alternatively, buy recycled wool or second hand – this is always preferential when it comes to buying clothes.
  • Wool’s environmental impact is dictated for the most part by how many times it is worn. The longer the lifespan of a garment, the smaller its environmental footprint, and this is especially true of wool. 
  • Due to wool’s internal properties, it is both highly durable and needs washing less frequently than other fibres, improving its sustainability credentials. 
  • Wool has better end of life options than synthetic fibres, due to ease of recycling and being biodegradable. 

As with all things, there is no simple answer or perfect solution when it comes to sustainability. We should all be buying less overall and wearing for longer. With knowledge we can call for brands to do better, and choose great quality products that will last a lifetime and beyond.

What are your thoughts on wool? Would you buy it, secondhand or otherwise? Many thanks to Hattie (@hattie_eco) for helping research this topic! Go and check out her Instagram for more sustainability info.

The Ethical Implications of Black Friday

This year’s Black Friday takes place on the 27th November, between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, 30th Nov.

Despite growing concern over the ethical implications of Black Friday, 2019 saw transaction values increase by 16.5% and volume increase by 7.2% in the UK compared to 2018. In the US in 2019, Black Friday online sales beat all previous records, reaching $7.4bn, up from $6.2bn on Black Friday 2018, continuing the exponential upward trend of sales made on Black Friday, driven primarily by millennials

Black Friday is theoretically a great way to boost shop sales made each year – 30% of all retail sales occur in the month between Black Friday and Christmas, giving a much-needed boost both to online stores and in most years brick and mortar stores too. It also allows people to purchase goods they need and would otherwise not be able to afford, such as white goods and electronics. 

But what are the ethical implications of nearly 50% of items for sale being reduced each year for a weekend of mass shopping? How does this impact the supply chain and environment? Despite a slower increase in sales year on year in the UK vs. the US, there is significant harm caused by the surge of sales globally over the Black Friday weekend. 

Where does your money go?

One of the arguments for Black Friday is that is boosts the economy and benefits many brands and businesses. However, the companies most likely to benefit from Black Friday are those with the largest mark-ups on their items, who likely do not have great ethical credentials and who benefit from tax havens, thus not contributing to the economy as much as you might hope. According to ecommerce stats, shops with over $1bn annual sales see a 62% boost in sales over Black Friday, whereas smaller shops see only a 27% growth. In 2018, Amazon, Ebay, Apple, Sony, Currys and Missguided profited the most from Black Friday sales in the UK – these are hardly small brands struggling for profit. Amazon’s tax avoidance has been known about since 2012, as well as their operations which run through Luxembourg to avoid paying any tax in the UK, thus not actually benefitting the UK economy as much as expected.

Small, independent brands have to compete with low prices from mass corporations such as these year round, thus profit margins are miniscule even when paying full price. These companies cannot afford to cut prices further over Black Friday, and thus aren’t the ones benefitting from the increased spending. 

How can they cut prices so significantly?

When Missguided sells jumpers and dresses from as little as £5, it begs the question how much mark-up was on the products before, and how little the factory workers get when a dress sells for that little. In 2017 there were reports of UK garment factory workers being paid £3ph in Leicester – less than half the legal minimum wage at the time – in order to compete with clothing made in China and Bangladesh. Clothes made abroad often have even more significant problems, such as utilising child and/or slave labour. Worryingly, most brands these factories were producing for claimed to not even know that the factories were producing clothes for them, highlighting the need for transparency across the supply chain. 

If we are to have a truly sustainable economy, we need to accept that good quality, ethically made clothing cannot be bought for £5. Better quality clothing costs more and has lower profit margins, but also is likely to last longer and be cherished more. Cheap clothes encourage wasteful behaviour

Packaging problems

In recent years, shoppers have move from shopping primarily at brick and mortar stores to shopping online, raising the added issue of packaging. Many small items will be wrapped in mounds of non-biodegradable plastic packaging, often in a box inside a box. This mound of packaging will likely primarily end up in landfill.

Consumerist behaviour

This year, with most Black Friday shopping taking place online, stories of injuries and even deaths thanks to the commotion of Black Friday are likely to be limited. However, these are yearly examples of how consumerism brings out the worst in shoppers. We tend not to make good decisions when stressed – simple neurobiology – and so Black Friday is one of the worst days to make purchasing decisions. 21% of Brits purchased something on Black Friday that they later regretted, at an average of £83 per person. The pressure of Christmas looming, limited items for sale and other shoppers going wild means that it’s unlikely Black Friday will be spent purchasing goods we need, instead leading to panic-buying items we’ll never use.

Shop and factory workers

Nothing is free. However much you save on an item, there will always be a cost somewhere. Unfortunately, during busy times of year this is often passed onto the workers who create and package up items to be dispatched. Working overtime in factoriesdispatch centres and on the shop floor is gruelling, with reports of timed loo breaks or worse, nappies, as well as long days and unsafe working conditions. I personally received numerous messages when researching for this topic from retail workers who dread Black Friday yearly due to the horrendous behaviour of customers and stressful conditions in store. 

Returns

With the UK panic-buying millions of items that are not needed, the volume of returns in the month after Black Friday skyrockets. This costs the retailers considerable amounts of money, resulting in a dip in profits, which again harms smaller businesses considerably more than larger ones.

Reports have suggested that it can cost a retailer twice the price of delivery for a product to be returned to the supply chain. In addition, the environmental costs are huge. When a product comes back to the warehouse it has to reprocessed, cleaned, repaired, repackaged and made ready to be bought again. In total, it will pass through seven pairs of hands before it is back on sale again – at which point it may be reduced and further devalued, perhaps even ending up in landfill, with devastating environmental effects. All of the above, combined with the extra packaging and shipping emissions mean that returning items en masse is both bad for business, and bad for the environment.

Black Friday encourages us to buy things we don’t really need, getting caught up in the frenzy of deals ‘too good to turn down’. Even people who are aware of the above issues can get carried away with the aggressive marketing tactics used by many brands – if you’re online or in town, it’s impossible to ignore. Even Instagram’s replacement of the notifications button with the ‘shopping’ button (who even knew Instagram was somewhere to shop?) is an example of the lengths brands and businesses will go to, to encourage consumers to consume more than ever before. 

My Black Friday rules are to avoid all ‘big deals’ and instead support small brands and independent businesses to buy Christmas presents – it scratches the shopping itch while simultaneously benefitting businesses that otherwise lose out at this time of year to bigger brands. If I need something big (furniture, white goods etc.) I’m likely to wait for Black Friday (this year I’m moving house and will certainly be looking for goods I need in the sales), but otherwise I avoid the day altogether. 

What are your thoughts on Black Friday? Are you a fan? Do you partake or avoid it? If you enjoyed this article, please consider making a small contribution

8 Instagram accounts to cheer up your day

We all need a little good news right now. The world is a terrifying place, compounded by a barrage of 24/7 news via social media. Even if you choose to switch off from the news, it’ll probably find a way to find you.

I have spent some time curating my Instagram feed to be a mix of educational, funny and heartwarming – I have no room for negativity or accounts that will make me feel bad about myself. There’s no point knowing everything going on in the world if it incapacitates you!

I’m just going to caveat this with: we all know social media is bad for our mental health. By all means, follow these people! But don’t forget to wash your face in the morning, make your bed, eat good food and get outside too – your body and mind will thank you.

The Happy Broadcast

Most news is negative. But not here! The Happy Broadcast shares near-daily posts designed to lift your mood and balance the bad. They have a book too! Good Christmas present idea for the anxious scroller?

Round Boys

There is no way of describing this account better than its IG handle. This is a page for round animals. One for sending to friends.

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I want to hold him

A post shared by Round Animals (@round.boys) on

Good News Movement

Journalists run this page of positive news. Sadly, it seems that the more shocking and negative the news story, the more clicks it gets. This page isn’t doing badly on 1.8m followers though!

Upworthy

Somewhere between cringey clickbait and the best news ever. If you’re feeling sensitive, expect to shed a tear.

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@kumailn @theconsciouskid

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Edith Cartoonist

Highly amusing and talented cartoonist for Tortoise, Edith produces very on the nose cartoons about modern living. I ADORE her work and think everyone should give her a follow.

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Sieve brain ~ yesterday for @tortoise

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Ecobasedd

If you’re into caring about the environment (yes, I do care about not killing the only place we have to live), this is the account for you. A lot of environmental news is not good news, but the account puts together some positivity for its 22.2k followers.

Cats of Instagram

Everyone loves watching cats being dicks. Evidenced by the fact this account has 1.7 million followers and counting. Would recommend.

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Feed me. (Credit: Unknown)

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The Dodo

If you find me staring at my phone and crying, it’s probably because I’m watching another Dodo video. Crying may not be within the remit of what you want from a ‘positive IG account’, but trust me, they’re happy tears.

I hope these accounts help you get through these next few months. I’d love to hear your favourite accounts to follow! Comment down below. Don’t forget to share this post if it made you smile!

If you found this blog post helpful, please do share with anyone who might find it useful or share and tag me on Instagram! If you enjoy my posts regularly, please consider contributing so I can keep this page up and running.