Sustainable Shopping Holiday Challenge

Do you know what bums me out? Gift guides. Having been a blogger for almost a decade, I’ve seen many years of elaborate, in-depth, creative gift guides published around the web from some of the best internet-diggers around, each post loaded with approximately six thousand awesome ideas, all organized and compartmentalized in occasionally-accurate, stereotype-based categories… and each time I consider participating for all of two seconds before feeling conflicted and ethically concerned.

Every year, earlier and earlier, people are encouraged to spend and spend and spend. The upcoming holiday season has earned a shadow of sadness by becoming a symbol for conspicuous consumption, or in simpler terms, spending huge amounts of money on the biggest sale items from the largest stores, paying little to no attention to anything that doesn’t have a huge discount from a recognizable brand on a “””hot item.”””


This leaves me sad for a number of reasons. First, the holidays have become a commodity acquisition season (said in robot voice) as opposed to a time to really pay attention to your loved ones and enjoy the company of the rad people in your life while you all have days off at the same time. I’m not saying that the experience of getting a $50 tablet and having a heartwarming gifting season are an impossible combo, but I do wish that the “savings opportunities” weren’t shoved down our throats through constant commercials, billboards, and entire days devoted to shopping at large, multi-billion dollar companies.

Secondly, the number of people running and employed by small businesses highly outnumber the amount of billionaire CEOs that run stores like Target, H&M, Best Buy, and Walmart. (In fact, the family that owns WalMart has more wealth than the bottom 40% of the nation) In a true-to-America fashion, these already unkillable companies are reaping all of the benefits of the one season per year that could change the game for small businesses. How are they doing it? By selling the cheapest crap they can for almost what they paid for it, but selling so many products that it makes up for it. Small businesses and shops don’t often buy in the same quantities as larger stores, so they likely pay a higher per-item price, not to mention their loss margins are much, much smaller – they can’t afford to have merchandise that doesn’t sell.

Imagine if the millions of dollars that are about to be spent at the mall this holiday season were split up and given to thousands of independent, ethical, sustainable companies that now, thanks to the financial boost from the biggest shopping season of the year, have a chance to compete with big, unethical, gross brands that pack their products full of crap ingredients and materials.

Enter Small Business Saturday.

small business saturday round blue logo

Small Business Saturday is a really good idea that B&B has celebrated in the past, and I love how much press it has accumulated over the years… 5 years, to be specific. Ironically, it was the brainchild (I almost wrote “brandchild…”) of credit card giant, American Express – a company worth $14.9 billion dollars.

Small Business Saturday is a fabulous way to give attention to your neighborhood Mom & Pop Shops – even the Obamas participate SBS! When companies like Toys’R’Us can spend $88 million dollars on advertising during the holiday months, it can make your town’s indie toy shop owner with ethically sourced products and subsequently higher prices feel like it’s not even worth trying to compete.

It would be great if Small Business Saturday was as wildly celebrated as Black Friday. The reality is that 65% of small businesses don’t run sales during the holiday season, according to a survey that Dealstruck, a lending company for small businesses, conducted recently. Whether they can’t afford to cut price margins low enough to compete, or they just don’t have an interest in participating in the consumer “holiday,” it will likely result in many small businesses losing sales due to their lack of “rock-bottom” pricing or lack of advertising.

The study also returned results that said, of 343 small business owners, 40% don’t even know that there’s such thing as Small Business Saturday, and as many as 17% think that they may need a small loan or line of credit to make it through the rest of the year. While the survey also showed that two-thirds of the small businesses were optimistic about their sales in the holiday season, I have first-hand experience with the dread that comes from not being sure if you’re going to be able to pay your bills, or worse, keep your business open. Over 50% of the businesses surveyed said that they rely heavily on local customers to keep their businesses open.

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It’s at the doorstep of this five year milestone that I suggest we now step it up, so I’m presenting a challenge a little more intense than our last “do your nails without messing them up” challenge from a few years back.

budget-friendly sustainable ecoaffordable holiday shopping challenge

I’m challenging all holiday season shoppers to buy everything gift-related from a small business or independent creators.

Now, if your pupils just turned to dollar signs and your jaw dropped to the floor – I totally understand why. It’s because, just like I mentioned before, small business and independent artists can’t afford to give their valuable items away for the same prices that Big Box Store #1 can, so their price may be higher than others – even for products that you might deem less valuable than their equal-but-cheaper counterparts. It’s gonna happen. It’s okay. I hate that, too. I’m more broke than you, remember? (No, really. I am.)

No one loves to combat price tags more than I do, so I have used my love for ethical consumerism and MOTHERFARMING GIFT GUIDES to selfishly put together some really excellent gift guides featuring sustainable products, ethical companies, bio-friendly ingredients –  All accessible financially, and I’ll even do my damnest to make them accessible internationally, too. (At least you, Canada!)

And please – don’t for a second think I would expect anyone to be perfect. The world is a weird, imperfect place and the most you can do is try the best you can. So if your favorite indie find sells things made from plastic – you’re not failing, that’s a win, but definitely be mindful of your purchases and careful with your dollar. And if your friend only wears GAP body scents, remind them that they’re a grown ass adult, but buy them what makes them happy. At the end of the day, this season is about being cool to each other, and my only goal is to explode that love to it also includes the planet, and people who need more help than we do. 

B&B’s Ethical Product Resources

Obviously, if you’re looking for a head start and are possibly battling some disbelief regarding the affordability of ethical gift giving, I am eager to direct you to B&B’s Ethical Shopping page. If you’re an old pro at these types of gifts but want to zero in on your personal favorite type of sustainable business, you can choose one of our popular categories like Vegan, Fair Trade, Paraben-Free, Made in the USA, Biodegradable, Cruelty-Free Cosmetics, and so on.

Use #SustainableHolidayChallenge to show gifts you’ve received to give others inspiration, or suggest your favorite ethical products!

I am definitely not the end-all to sustainable shopping, though, and there are tons of other awesome blogs that feature ethical and Earth-conscious gifts. Check the gift guides on these blogs:

Lots of these are out of date, but keep an eye out as they’ll likely update soon. Also, watch this space! Our Sustainable Shopping Gift Guides are on their way, and they’ll be full of good, budget-friendly, accessible things that’ll help out small businesses, the environment, other people, or ideally – a combination of all three!

  • I love this post. It’s a great perspective builder for the season ahead. I feel like we share a lot of sentiment about consumer culture although, admittedly, my awakening is quite recent.

    I think the Walmart family stat is slightly misrepresented though. In following your link, Sanders reports that the Walmart family’s wealth is greater than the combined wealth of America’s bottom 40%, not 40% of America’s wealth. Either way, the figure is astounding. I cannot imagine having that kind of wealth and not dedicating a significant part of my life/business model to making the world a better place.


    • Thank you, Lesley!! I appreciate the comment about the Walmart figure because I swear I rewrote that sentence nine times and managed to get my own words all twisted. I’m going to edit with the way you phrased it (including the clarification) because it’s so well-put! And yes, the figure is totally astounding. :|

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