The Christmas Tree R-Ladder

In both the spirit of Christmas and incorporating the learnings of our first ever Design Sprint Camp, this year we have put together a Christmas Tree R-ladder to share some gift giving inspiration for the festive season.

Consumerism is greater today than ever before and with that comes increased emissions and the deterioration of our planet. The R-ladder offers an alternative to the take-make-waste culture that currently drives the market. As the diagram below highlights, it prioritises different ways of reducing consumption, pollution, and environmental damage in order of effectiveness. The higher up on the R-ladder, the smaller the emissions and the greater the benefit.

Going down the R-ladder we have compiled a list of alternatives ways to approach gift giving this year. These suggestions look at what we can do as individual consumers. Obviously, for even greater change, we need to apply pressure to businesses and governments around the globe, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do our bit and each drive our own responsible revolution this Christmas.


Rethink asks us to use products more intensively. We suggest starting with bicycles. 700,000 children’s bikes are sold each year in the UK with six million families claiming that cycling is a vital life skill for their children. However, there are a shocking estimated 7m unused bikes in the UK, with hundreds of thousands ending up in landfill. So why not look at a gift subscription to The Bike Club? For between £5-£15 per month, The Bike Club make it possible for families to access high-quality bikes for their children as they grow. They carry a large variety, ensuring a child can always find a model that’s the right size for them. When they grow out of it, they can return the bike and find a new model that fits better. Meanwhile, The Bike Club will find a new home for your old one.


Today most of the furniture available to us is cheap, mass-produced and low quality, designed to be disposable. OpenDesk are overhauling the way furniture is made, and in doing so, manufacturing more efficiently. They are an online marketplace that hosts independently designed furniture and connects its customers to local makers around the world. Rather than mass manufacturing and shipping worldwide, they are reducing materials and building ethical, local supply chains through a global maker network. The furniture at OpenDesk won’t be a cheap gift, but it will be durable and a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.


Gen Z are ripping up the rulebook, transforming some of the cultural norms that have become ingrained into modern day society. They embrace reuse and more specifically: second-hand vintage clothing. New, no longer means best, as our recent Design Sprint Camp Research Toolkit highlighted. Platforms such as Depop and Vinted are enabling consumers to reuse pre-loved clothing. So why not give a pair of vintage Levis or a suede jacket a second life and source your Christmas gift from the world of second-hand or sell an unwanted gift come the new year so that someone else can love it instead?

Repair / Refurbish

Repairing a product can be surprisingly satisfying if you do it yourself. iFixit is a wiki-based site located in the United States that teaches people how to fix almost anything. When, say, the latest product is released by Apple, iFixit will immediately set about taking that product apart and creating a repair manual for it. They also sell Apple parts to help people do the repair jobs. With over 80,000 manuals you’re sure to find the right guide for your needs. Why not fix some old tech to become a valuable new gift..

Remanufacture / Repurpose

Returning to the cycling, do you know anyone who would like a durable, practical messenger bag as a gift this year? Then check out Freitag. They collect truck tarps from European trucking companies and repurpose them into incredibly long-lasting bags. What’s great is that each piece of tarp has a unique pattern because of its first life on the road, making each bag a distinctive, one-off.


Have you ever considered gifts made from recycled materials? In the world of fashion, brands like Patagonia and Passenger are making a lot of their products out of recycled goods. In 2019 69% of Patagonia’s fabrics were made with recycled materials whilst 100% of its electricity needs in the US were met with renewable electricity. To counteract Black Friday, Passenger were planting 5 trees and protecting 500sqm of rainforest with every order. For a less costly option, check out Pola phone cases. Made out of recycled materials, they’re also biodegradable keeping their impact on the planet minimal.

We hope you’ve found some Christmas inspiration from this list and if you’re interested in learning more about the R-ladder and our Design Sprint Camp for 2022 , then please get in touch.

Originally published at on December 16, 2021.



We’re the UK arm of the Design Thinkers Academy. Using design thinking, we help embed new ways of approaching complex problems.

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Design Thinkers Academy London

Design Thinkers Academy London

We’re the UK arm of the Design Thinkers Academy. Using design thinking, we help embed new ways of approaching complex problems.