Love your partner and love the planet
I get it now, as a happily committed man. It’s not cheesy. It’s not a pointless holiday. This St Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to mark my love for this person, to celebrate it in as deeply personal a way as I can. It doesn’t matter if I normally do romantic gestures once a day or once a month or never. This day is a celebration.
My resistance to the commercial side of the holiday stems from a longing for gifts that meant something, that have permanence, and that are responsible and sustainable. I railed against the impersonal, the quick, the done-without-thought.
In this guide, I provide tips for sustainable Valentines, grouped into three categories: cards, gifts and gestures. The key thing to remember is that we know our partners best, so we are the best people to judge how sustainable to make it. We shouldn’t aim for maximum “greenness” at the expense of putting ourselves in the doghouse.
(1) Make the card ourselves. It doesn’t even matter if we think we’re not creative. The objective is to capture and express the sentiment — “I love you” — with our own hands. It doesn’t matter how it looks, as long as it communicates that central point effectively.
- Suggested search term: “how to hand-make a greeting card”
To make it more sustainable, we shouldn’t spend money on art supplies if we don’t already have them. Use the materials we already have around the home. Remember the mantra: Everything saved from the bin is a win.
One point I’ll mention whenever I talk about making cards or presents: No glitter. It’s evil.
(2) Send an electronic card. Obviously, this is a great way to reduce our footprint, but don’t send them frivolously as all electronic transactions still have an associated carbon footprint. For me, I miss the physical presence that comes with having a real card, but for a lot of people, they could be the answer. For those of us remote from our partners — and many, many people are this year — electronic cards could be the answer.
- Suggested search term: eCards or electronic cards
- Examples: Top 10 Online eCard Sites 2021 (UK)
- Examples: Top 10 US Online Greeting Card Sites (US)
If we opt for a physical card, (3) Make it keepable. Whether shop bought or handmade, a personal sentiment gives them a reason to keep the item. The aim is to keep that item from the bin or recycling.
(4) Buy cards they can turn into art. When we buy, we always buy cards that can have a future in a frame; a family photo or a nice picture, something with personal relevance to the individual. St. Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be cupids, hearts and doves.
(5) Buy seeded or plantable cards. If keeping the card is not an option (or if we think they will get a kick out of the idea), several companies are now planting cards with seeds embedded in the cardstock. Once the card is finished with, it can be planted and become beautiful wildflowers.
- Suggested search term: “seeded greeting cards” or “plantable greeting cards”
- Example: Workers Gallery (UK)
- Example: Poppy Forrest (UK)
- Example: Hannah Marchant (UK)
Remember that sustainability is not just about the environment, but society and the economy too. With that in mind, (6) Buy cards that support a charity. Anything goes here, but the obvious choice would be, again, something that has personal relevance to the recipient.
- Suggested search term: look at the online shop for our chosen charity, because an online search tends to return just the big players
To support our local economy, (7) Buy cards from a local artist or manufacturer. Keeping our money local — even the small amount it would take to purchase a card — can have a massive impact. Not only does it keep the money out of the hands of massive corporations, but it supports a local business. Local businesses have been hit hardest by the pandemic restrictions, and they need all the help we can give them. Never fear that our purchase is too small to make a difference, these businesses are grateful for every bit of help.
(1) The best gift is one we make ourselves. If we’re cunning (and I appreciate there isn’t much time left to be cunning), we can make our gift tick multiple sustainability boxes. Local. Resource conscious. Repurposed or upcycled. Low carbon. Veggie or Vegan. Animal friendly. Socially responsible.
The important thing is to not overreach. If we’re creating something, it doesn’t have to be perfect.
In the same vein, if we do want to buy something, (2) there are many ways to buy something sustainable. Think about what we can get that will tick one or more of those boxes above. If a company claims to be providing sustainable gifts, look at how the items are sustainable, don’t take anybody’s word for it.
Remember as well that buying something made from recyclable materials is not sustainable. For one thing, we want to buy something that’s going to be kept (see above regarding bins and wins), for another, in a sustainable, circular economy recycling should always be a last resort. Not all of the things we currently put in the bin are recycled. Let’s not add anything to the pile.
If we want to go traditional, (3) buy fairtrade Chocolates, and try to avoid plastic wrappers. The holy grail is fairtrade, plastic-free and vegan. Local zero-waste shops can let us know what our options are.
- Suggested search term: “sustainable chocolate” or “fairtrade plastic-free chocolate” or “fairtrade plastic-free vegan chocolate”
- Examples: Top 5 best sustainable, vegan and plastic-free chocolate bars (UK)
- Example: Tony’s Chocolonely (UK)
- Example: Cocoa Loco (UK)
As for the flowers, (4) buy local flowers, or better yet houseplants, for something longer lasting. Try to avoid flowers that have been shipped long distances.
- Suggested search term: “locally grown flowers”
- Example: Flowers from the Farm (UK)
- Example: The Great British Florist (UK)
(1) Make our Romantic Dinners sustainable by going meat and animal product-free. If we must buy meat, avoid red meat where we can, and if not go for local and higher welfare beef and lamb. Whatever we choose, we should buy local and organic and plastic-free.
There is no official dinner of St Valentine’s Day; the only required ingredient is love.
(2) Give our partners the day off. This might have limited potential, given St Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday, but it could still be a nice gesture. Low carbon and potentially zero waste (assuming one doesn’t stray too far from their normal routine).
To end on something a bit different, we could (3) support a charity with time or money. Maybe we don’t need to give anything at all. Maybe the gift can be for a social or environmental cause, something we can do together.
In closing, I hope I’ve demonstrated how easy it can be to have a sustainable St Valentine’s Day, and that generally, the only extra effort that is required is a bit of planning.