Fun and Eco-Friendly Present Ideas for your Gift Exchange at Work

by - Wednesday, November 28, 2018

minimalist gift with a tie

This is the time of year where offices all over the world throw a holiday party and (in some cases) a gift exchange. They are usually a white elephant. They are also usually terrible.

In most cases, the gifts looks about the same; some alcohol, a few kitchen or office items, and some weird nonsense that is supposed to be funny.

I hate ironic gifts. I used to consume things (bad movies, bad stuff,etc) with humor and irony. Now I see that if you eat crap ironically, you are still eating crap. So stop making purchases that you don't think are useful or are just for a momentary laugh. You can figure out another way to make the joke.

Instead, this can be an opportunity to do a little bit of good without becoming an office pariah.

We know that we all are consuming too much stuff, and that this overconsumption is a key factor in Climate Change.

Let's put it this way. Every choice and every purchase we make is either a step toward the world we want (one that is sustainable, not total destruction, etc) or away from it. This may seem like an inconsequential decision, but it is just another place where you can make a good step. If writing this blog has taught me anything, it is that even the tiniest positive decision can make positive ripples. You never know who you are inspiring! So here are our basic guidelines for green gifting (even when you don't know who you are buying for):

1. Buy Less Stuff- Stick to your limit and don't worry about being judged. One great gift is better than one terrible one. Equally important, if you don't have to buy an object, just don't- experience gifts and gift cards are more fun and less waste.

2. Buy Used- Want to buy decorations? How about kitchen stuff? Start at a secondhand shop. You can save tons of money and keep things out of landfills.

3. Buy Local/ Buy Ethical/ Buy Recycled- If you do buy brand new, think about companies that still manufacture in the US or who use fair trade labor. Respect your own work by respecting others' as well, and only buy from companies who treat their employees fairly. Most of the companies who still take care of their workers are more likely to still care about the environment as well. Skip fresh plastic- you might as well be handing over a chunk of asbestos, and no one wants to be the asbestos person.

This blog uses Etsy and Amazon links. That said, you do more good for the environment by shopping local to you, so check those locally-owned shops you have always meant to visit. 

So, let's come up with the most popular office gift you will ever give.

1. Movie Tickets

So simple, and who doesn't want to go to a movie now and again? Throw in enough for a popcorn, and that is a pretty good gift. Bonus points if you pick a unique theater near you.

2. Unsponges and a Brush

Ok, I know I promised fun, and nothing is as fun as doing dishes! Maybe not, but these inifinitely reusable sponges from Marley's Monsters and dish brushes from Redecker  are super practical, and your coworker can reuse the heck out of them. Plus, they are a little bit cuter with the designs and face and such.

lunch sack work exchange gift
from WAAMIndustries

3. A New Lunch Sack

Some of us bring our lunch with us to work, and it can be a great way to help the environment (or kick off that New Year diet). There are tons of great ones out there, but my favorite are these from WAAM Industries.

potted plant for your office white elephant exchange

4. A Plant or Succulent

We know that plants make you feel happier and breathe better. It can even increase your productivity! Give a co-worker the gift of a more positive space by gifting a potted plant (or a succulent if you think a regular plant is too much to handle).

knife sharpener for your office gift exchange
from Rada Cutlery

5. A Knife and Sharpener

This year, the Boy is DEFINITELY NOT gifting a Rada Cutlery knife and sharpener to his coworkers. Which I think shows a lot of faith in their decency. If he was doing that, but he definitely isn't. Because I know the good employees on his team are avid readers of his wife's blog. Don't get excited, friends, you are definitely not getting a knife.

But really, a good American-made knife could be a real treat, especially for younger people who are just getting their home going.

field notes notebooks for your office gift exchange
from Field Notes

6. Little Notebooks

Getting office supplies may seem pointless, but a little notebook to write ideas or notes in can be a life-changer. The uses are basically endless, and as there are cooler options than you think. Decomposition Books are the perfect notebook, made from recycled paper and soy ink in the US. I love them, and they fit perfectly in my bag. If you need something with almost excessive cool, Field Notes has notebook sets as well. They are extremely cool, and they are still made in the US.

7. Restaurant Gift Card

People have to eat. Bonus points if it is a little bit funny or out of the ordinary. In general, picking something local does way more good than suppporting a big chain.

cast iron pan for your office gift exchange.
from Amazon

8. A Lodge Cast Iron Pan

My husband took a 10" cast iron pan as his white elephant last year, and it was a huge hit! Everyone fought over it! Lodge pans are an American treasure- they are still made here and are genuinely awesome. Cult-following levels.

9. A Lasagna

Or a Casserole, or a few freezer meals worth of soup. If you can cook (especially if you can REALLY cook) help somebody out who doesn't have the time or talent. It may get you funny looks the first year. By three years in, everyone will fight for it.

10. Reusable Straws and Cutlery

Depending on your workplace culture, there may be a lot of take out involved. That's a lot of throwaway containers and cutlery. The RepEat bamboo takeout set is pretty genius. To-Go Ware makes a similar set too! It's a simple gift, but it could save a lot of waste if used by the right person. 

11. Reusable Coffee Cups

Any reusable cup is excellent, because whoever picks the gift has probably been meaning to bring a reusable cup more often. There are ones that are a little better for the environment, and I would always caution you away from plastic, but you really can't go wrong here! I love this glass one from Joco which is a really pretty keep cup. I am not an expert at this, but here are a few Etsy cups I thought seemed really special

12. Uber Gift Cards

Yes, this is totally a thing. If you work with a younger crowd (or a crowd that tends to stay out), this can be the perfect way to gift them a safe ride home. I know our babysitter sometimes takes an Uber, so I think we might do this for her too.

13. A Donation on their Behalf

This may seem crazy, but what gift would you rather have than 3 new trees making oxygen or a welcome basket given to a refugee family? Our money can do wonderful things when we re-distribute it away from stuff. I bet someone else in the room will love that gift, because they will get to feel like they helped someone this time of year (and they don't have to take something pointless home).

14. Cookies

No one can get that mad if they end up with a giant pile of cookies. That is a good day.

michael scott gift exchange meme

You don't have to go crazy and buy an iPod to rock this gift! Go out on a limb and be pleasantly surprised!

 Fun and Eco-Friendly Gift Ideas for your Office Gift Exchange

Want more gift ideas? We have thousands! Check out the Green and Easy Gifts Page for sustainable gift ideas for everyone on your list. If you want more holiday ideas, check out the Green Family page.

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