Are the holidays sustainable? Not really, are they? Chopping down firs for Christmas trees, running all those holiday lights (LEDs? Perish the thought), manufacturing so many candy canes: Holidaying is energy-intensive business. And apparently Santa Claus is feeling the strain of trying to work sustainably from the North Pole. (The rising costs of insuring against rising waters are too much for St. Nick.)
The environmentalist in your life may not want to hear that gifts just aren't appropriate for him. So focus on gifts that do what sustainable design does best: re-use and recycle. The Transglass series by Tord Boontje and Emma Woffenden is a perfect example of sustainable design, and a vintage example at that. Consider this 1997 upcycled glass carafe. Leather isn't everyone's thing, but upcycled vintage-sofa leather can be used to make products, like a leather card case, that are more sustainable than most.
Then there are gifts that keep on giving. Jute leaf sacks turn raking leaves into a more productive chore. The bags turn piles of leaves into compost after a year. Designers who favor biomorphic work and vegetation in design may appreciate a sustainable candle, by Lite + Cycle, that is grown in a compostable holder, just like a mushroom. Still other gifts can get your loved one close to nature, like a classic 1947 Audubon bird call designed by Roger Eddy, or straight-up seed bombs.
Perhaps all a sustainable holiday requires is the right carbon offset—like a bamboo bicycle frame.