It’s that time of year again. That time when, unless you want to be labeled the office Scrooge, you will have to participate in your office, workplace or social circle’s Secret Santa activity. Perhaps you love the holidays and you immediately get excited about the opportunity to play Secret Santa to somebody. Perhaps, like most Americans, in many of these situations you secretly dread having to buy a gift for somebody you barely know at all. Either way, Secret Santa activities in general tend to feed the consumer machine and the idea of “stuff, stuff, stuff.” In short, they’re generally not very eco-friendly. So we took some “team time” in our office today to brainstorm five eco-friendly alternatives that will fulfill your Secret Santa obligation with minimal reindeer carbon footprint to the planet.

A Quick Note on the Benefits of Secret Santa

We just want to say that when we sound vaguely negative about Secret Santa activities we’re being a little bit specific to office and workplace ones. In family and social circles, where gift exchanging would be happening anyway, we actually think there’s a huge benefit to Secret Santa set-ups. Instead of buying for everyone in a group of people, which often leads to “stuff” and not even well thought-out stuff, you’re limiting the stuff buying to one per person and generally thinking about it more so that it’s more likely to have value. We’re pro that! But even with all that said, it doesn’t hurt to think about the eco- and consumer impact of your Secret Santa gift choices.

So, let’s get on to the eco-friendly ideas!

Idea Number One: Food. It’s By Nature Organic, Even When It’s Not Organic

We advocate food as a gift often at Postconsumers, and it’s not just because we personally love food so very passionately. But also there isn’t much that will generate less waste than food and is more essential to living! Now, there are still ways that you can choose food gifts that will be more or less eco-friendly. Essentially, when it comes to a food gift, you will have two choices. You can gift actual food, or you can gift a gift-certificate to a restaurant. If you’re doing the former, try to purchase food that is organic and ethically sourced. There are literally hundreds of options both at your local store and online. If you’re doing the latter, try to find places that operate with local and sustainable food rather than large chain restaurants.  Are you surprised that our top pick for this list was food related? Probably not!

Idea Number Two: It’s Dollar, Dollar Bills Ya’ll

Is it tacky to give actual money as a Secret Santa gift? Um, maybe. But here is another reality. The truth of the matter is that there is absolutely, one thousand percent, nothing that your Secret Santa recipient would rather get the actual cash money dollars that would allow him or her to get something that he or she actually wants. We’ve fearlessly analyzed in disturbingly great detail whether giving money as a gift is an anti-consumer or pro-consumer gift and the verdict is mostly pro for money gifts. What we can say for sure is that in a Secret Santa set-up you’ll be the most popular Santa in the bunch if you just hand over cash. Yes, the party organizer is going to glare you down for not “playing along,” but your recipient will love you.

Idea Number Three: Movie Tickets!

We always say that “experience gifts” are the best kind of gifts. Yes, even participating in an experience will leave a carbon footprint of some kind, but it’s not the same as a plastic “doo-dad” that gets stuffed in a garage for a decade. The downside of experience gifts is that most of them are going to be outside of the average twenty-five to fifty dollar range of a Secret Santa gift exchange. But even in this day and age, you can usually get a pair of movie tickets for close to that range – or a gift certificate to a movie theater that will cover the majority of the cost of two tickets.  Of course, movies don’t have to be your only option. Any activity or experience gift is great here. Passes to the zoo or the botanical gardens are also cool. The Secret Santa spend limit is often what drives your limitations here.

Idea Number Four: Be Charitable

We’re not going to lie to you. You may not be the most popular person in the office if your Secret Santa is a charitable donation in your recipient’s name – UNLESS you do your research first! Is your Secret Santa recipient an animal lover? Then he or she may truly be joyful if you make a donation to your local animal shelter in his or her name. Do they love a sports team? Most professional sports teams also have a charitable organization that accepts donations and does work in the community. Charitable donations don’t have to be de-facto impersonal. Find out some information about your recipient and make a donation that he or she will truly care about. You may go from being the least popular Secret Santa to the most because you actually thought about what your recipient would care for.

Idea Number Five: Get To Know a Co-Worker!

Write a note that says, “For your Secret Santa gift I’m taking you out for cocktails. You name the time. Let’s not just make this about stuff. Let’s use Secret Santa as a way to really get to know each other!” Then make sure you follow up on it!

Secret Santa doesn’t have to be awful, and it doesn’t have to be about “stuff.” It can be fun, creative and joyful. Yes, even if it’s at an office party!

Did we just miss an idea for an eco-friendly Secret Santa gift? Tell us about it on the social media channels below.

Facebook Twitter Instagram Tumblr Pinterest Google+ | Medium