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More Gifts That Keep on Giving: Sustainable Brands' 2017 Holiday Gift Guide

Top row, left: Pentatonic’s Handy Glasses, made from repurposed smartphone screens; Sustainable Surf's upcycled Deep Blue Bag; Cubetto, the wooden robot that teaches kids to code before they learn to read; Soapbox's buy-one-give-one soap. Bottom row, left: Marc Skid underwear, saving the world one pair at a time; Vertellis, the card game that prompts more meaningful conversations; One World Play Project's durable dog toys, which benefit animal charities; and Planetarians' buy-one-give-one, high-nutrition kids snacks.

Sustainable products geeks rejoice, for 'tis once again the season of giving! And what better way to celebrate and participate than with gifts whose buying and giving creates more cheer, health, beauty and financial stability while eliminating waste, pollution and carbon emissions around the world? Here are just a few of our favorite discoveries this year of products we'd be proud to give.

Waste Not

You know we’re big fans of upcycling, here at SB! Here are just a few of the waste-turned-products we loved this year:

Image credit: Bureo
  • Bureo’s Jenga Ocean – From the startup that brought us skateboards and sunglasses made from abandoned fishing nets recovered from Chile’s coastal waters comes another ingenious reuse of the ubiquitous waste stream: Jenga® Ocean™ is made from over 25 square feet of nets proudly sourced through Bureo's Net Positiva recycling program.
  • Sustainable Surf’s Deep Blue Bag – a superlight technical daypack made from upcycled spinnaker sails, climbing ropes from Yosemite Valley and wetsuit/dry suit material. All profits from the Deep Blue Bag will support Sustainable Surf’s Waste to Waves program, which reimagines waste as a resource by finding new ways for waste material to be made into new products.
  • The LID bike helmet – not only is this stylish helmet made from recycled polystyrene packaging, it’s designed to fold (for carrying convenience) and expand – for better fit and air flow, and no helmet hair! Pre-order during their Kickstarter campaign and save 50%.
  • Image credit: Cozy Cama
    Cozy Cama dog beds – this startup makes durable dog beds built to last and fit “human” pillows (keeping both our dogs’ and our pillows from ending up in landfills), with non-toxic finishes, recycled/organic fabrics, responsibly managed natural materials, soy-based adhesives and eco-friendly packaging – and it now offers shams made from Thread’s upcycled “soda bottle” green fabric. And through a partnership with Sweet Sleep, the company also donates a bed, a mosquito net and a Bible to a child in Uganda for every purchase (see below for other great one-for-one companies that we like). 
  • Pretty much anything from Pentatonicthis pioneering German startup has created a line of sustainable homeware and accessories fabricated entirely from post-consumer waste; think glasses and bowls made from smartphone screens, rings made from cigarette butts, everything from coasters and placemats to wallets and pillows made from plastic bottles, and chairs whose seats absorb carbon from the air. Pentatonic’s products are fully recyclable and offer a buy-back guarantee, thereby establishing a circular model; once recovered, the raw materials are added back into the production loop, recycled, recrafted and resold.

Better fashion

Our news feed continued to burst at the seams this year with news of initiatives working to increase the sustainability of the fashion and textile industries. Here are some of our favorites:

Better toys

While we’re big believers in the importance of playtime (for both kids and adults), we love games that get kids away from screens and using their brains:

  • Primo Toys’ Cubetto is an adorable wooden robot that teaches kids ages 3 and up the principles of coding, before many of them are even old enough to read; kids can send Cubetto on a jouney by creating a program using colored blocks, which Cubetto then executes – a fun, easy, engaging way to learn a valuable skill.
  • Image credit: PlanToys
    Thailand’s PlanToys arose from the founder’s love of nature and design, and awareness of the amount of waste in the rubber tree industry – the company now manufactures toys from what would have been incinerated rubber wood (and recycled sawdust goes into creating water toys) with solar and natural gas power. The company also operates a reforestation program and gives children the opportunity to participate in various enrichment activities during school holidays and Thai Children’s Day in January.

Buy one, give one

While not all one-to-one business models are created equal, we love the ethos behind these:

  • One World Play Project Speaking of the power of playtime, winner of the 2011 SB Innovation Open, the One World Play Project (formerly One World Futbol) created a virtually indestructible, non-inflated soccer ball, which far outlasts conventional balls and stands up to harsh conditions, allowing kids around the world to continue engaging in the transformative power of play; For every ball purchased, the company donates a second ball to organizations working with youth in disadvantaged communities around the world. Now, One World also produces a line of virtually indestructible, non-toxic dog toys that can stand up to the most “aggressive chewers” — and donates a portion of the proceeds to charities that pair dogs with people for therapeutic purposes and strengthen those relationships through play.
  • Image credit: Smile Squared
    Smile Squared – a St. Louis-based social enterprise founded by Eric and Geri Cope, parents to four internationally adopted children, who are on a mission to help provide healthy smiles to children in need around the world. Through sales of their toothbrushes, travel journals and zipper pouches, the organization has been able to donate toothbrushes to children in all 50 states and over 20 countries worldwide; and through partnerships with organizations such as Smile Train, Floating Doctors, Feed the Children, Give Kids a Smile, Save the Children and America’s ToothFairy, 10 percent of Smile Squared’s net profits help fund wish trips for children facing life-threatening medical conditions.
  • Better World Booksfounded in 2002 by three friends from the University of Notre Dame who believe that education and access to books are basic human rights. Through sales of new and used books through its online store and its retail store in Goshen, Indiana, Better World matches every Web purchase with a book donation to someone in need; and funds literacy initiatives worldwide through its three literacy partners — Books for AfricaRoom to Read, and the National Center for Families Learning.
  • Image credit: State Bags
    State Bags - For each bag, purse, wallet or backpack sold, Brooklyn-based State hand-delivers a backpack - packed with “essential tools for success” - to an underserved child in the US; the company has partnered with everyone from The Honest Co. to Beyonce's #BeyGOOD charity, and aims to shed light and share stories around social injustices and marginalized populations across the US through its #WhatDoWeTellTheKids projects.
  • Planetarians this startup was founded by a food developer named Aleh Manchuliantsau, who found a way to utilize waste from the food manufacturing process (a byproduct called oil cake — the dry matter left after oil extraction from crops such as sunflower seeds, cotton seeds, canola, etc — which is higher in protein than beef, but is essentially insoluble fiber that cannot be chewed or digested) by breaking down the fiber through “steam explosion.” The result is a line of low-cost, 100 percent plant-based, high-protein and -fiber snacks – that actually taste good – aimed at fighting childhood obesity. The company’s goal for 2018 is to make its products available in schools, retail and online; by 2019, to find ingredients with useful nutrients in other food industry byproducts and create more snacks; and by 2025, license its steam explosion technology to other manufacturers for maximum impact. In the meantime, though the snacks are not yet widely available, for every pre-order Planetarians will match 75 percent and donate its snacks to kids in underserved communities.
  • Soapbox Soapsthis startup created a line of soaps, shampoos and personal care products from vegan and nontoxic ingredients; it extends its impacts to the developing world through partnerships with organizations such as Eco-Soap Bank, which donates soap and provides hand-washing training for communities in Cambodia; and The Carter Center and UCSF’s F.I. Proctor Foundation, which are researching how water sanitation and hygiene education will help reduce trachoma - the world’s leading infectious eye disease that can lead to blindness, most commonly in children under 10, and is impacting lives in more than 50 countries.

True beauty

Speaking of personal care products that also take care of others …

  • After spending years learning about the shortcomings of conventional hair and skin care products in the modeling and acting worlds, Josie Maran discovered the wonders of Moroccan Argan oil, and set about sharing its benefits with women around the world. She built what is now her cosmetics empire around Argan Oil, grown and harvested responsibly by Moroccan women, while partnering with “earth-loving, women-empowering organizations to help share the #ArganLove.”
  • Image credit: LXMI
    Also bringing little-known “miracle” ingredients to the personal-care market is LXMI (pronounced ‘luxe-me’), the newest venture from Samasource founder Leila Janah, who discovered the potential of nilotica – a rare relative of shea – while in Uganda. Founded with the same goal of ending global poverty by creating meaningful work, LXMI produces luxury beauty products that help marginalized East African women find dignified work through the wild harvesting, production and exportation of nilotica; LXMI’s producers earn at least three times the local average wage.
  • Not to be outdone by the little guys, CPG giant Unilever developed two new ethical beauty brands in the last year, both launched in the last month – ApotheCARE Essentials, released in November; and Love Beauty and Planet, released earlier this week. Both brands aim to make personal care products made from simple, sustainably sourced ingredients available to a wider audience.
  • Also tuning into the desires of the ever-growing contingent of conscientious consumers seeking better products is L’Oréal, whose reformulated Biolage R.A.W. Nourish Shampoo and Conditioner are now Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Silver – 99 percent biodegradable and free of sulfates, silicones and parabens, and packaged in 100 percent post-consumer recycled PET plastic bottles.

Purpose beyond profit

Image credit: LiveBeyond

Gifts that help others: The ultimate win-win and the embodiment of the sentiment of the season of giving.

  • LiveBeyond – a faith-based nonprofit working to improve conditions in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti. Each year, LiveBeyond determines the greatest needs among the people it serves and invites Americans whose needs are met to gift something desperately needed on behalf of their loved ones. This year's Christmas catalog features a unique set of gifts – including everything from school supplies and maternal healthcare to chickens and hygiene kits – that will provide great benefits to those in need in Haiti.
  • Image credit: Naja
    Underwear with impacts – if you or a loved one is looking to make a different kind of impact with your choice of undergarments, try Naja – an environmentally conscious, affordable luxury brand co-founded by “Jane the Virgin” star Gina Rodriguez, that’s empowering its producers (all single mothers or female heads of households) through above-market wages, health benefits and child education stipends. Through its Underwear for Hope program, Naja employs women in the slums of Colombia to make the lingerie bags that come with each Naja purchase, allowing them to work from home and become their own “micro-entrepreneurs.” Two percent of Naja’s revenue is also donated to local charities that provide continuing education to these women. Other skivvies with a social purpose can be found at cheekily named newcomer Marc Skid – in addition to its use of responsible materials (each pair is made from organic pima cotton and features one recycled plastic bottle in the waistband), the brand also donates $4 from each purchase to one of nine Charity Navigator Four Star Charities; each purchase provides customers the opportunity to donate to one of nine partnered charities working to feed, cure and save the world.
  • A party game that promotes more mindful interactions – The makers of Vertellis say their mission is to bring people together at a time when we are inundated by distractions from technology, social media, fake news and ambition. The team hopes to make a positive impact in the world by facilitating beautiful conversations and stimulating time offline – now, that’s a worthy cause if we ever heard one.

Let us know your favorite gifts that keep on giving! Happy holidays from the SB team!


Launched in 2006, Sustainable Brands has become a global learning, collaboration, and commerce community of forward-thinking business and brand strategy, marketing, innovation and sustainability professionals who are leading the way to a better future. We recognize that brands today have… [Read more about Sustainable Brands]


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