Grandma might appreciate the self-contained aquarium Ecosphere this Christmas.© Ecosphere
With the holiday season rapidly approaching, greens can feel decidedly mixed. In some ways, all the gift giving, holiday travel, parties and decorations can seem like the worst examples of our consumer culture. More of us are prone to maxing out our credit cards—and over-indulging on holiday desserts while we"re at it. Yet while we spend more, we aren’t necessarily happier.
At the same time, we are social beings, and the holidays are a time to gather together with family members and old friends, many of whom might not share our commitment to the planet or living simply. It’s a nice ideal to say “just buy less,” and we’ll suggest that here, but we also know one message doesn’t fit all, and it’s hard to win over your skeptical uncle or nephew by telling him you didn’t get him a present because the Earth couldn’t afford it. While we definitely need to think about consuming less, we can also think about consuming smarter. We can choose gifts that are meaningful, environmentally friendly and still fun.
Confused? Gift giving has never been a simple process, which is why there are so many traditions surrounding it in different cultures. Before you begin checking your list, give a thought to the value the gift might have to the recipient—not in terms of price tag, but in terms of sentiment, enjoyment, usefulness and longevity. If your grandma is a die-hard global warming skeptic, it’s unlikely that she’ll bother cracking the spine on Gavin Schmidt‘s recent book Climate Change: Picturing the Science. Yet she might enjoy getting an eco-sphere. The beautiful orb is a sealed mini-ecosystem, complete with tiny Hawaiian shrimp. By watching the fragile balance of life inside, your grandma may gradually warm up to your concerns about the global environment.
You might also give someone an attractive gift that makes going green easier. For example, notice that your sister throws out plastic bags after a single use? Consider getting her a pretty handmade organizer from Etsy. When you give her the gift, mention how organizing bags has helped you save money and hassle, as well as the environment. In fact, it’s easy to get lost on Etsy"s many thousands of pages, where creative individuals showcase one-of-a-kind creations, from the perfectly practical to the purely whimsical. Besides being handmade, many Etsy items are sourced with organic, fair trade and local materials. Got a friend who loves cats and Michael Jackson? Only Etsy has an organic catnip MJ toy.
You can also encourage others to cultivate their crafty sides. Give a beautiful journal made from discarded banana stalks, or a watercolor set and recycled paper. If someone on your list is a gardener, the possibilities are practically endless, from tools with recycled handles to an adorable apple tree kit.
A handmade plastic bag holder from Etsy makes recycling stylish.© Etsy
Clothes are perennial gift favorites, so why not think organic and fair trade? Major brands are carrying more green options, from Levi’s to H&M, Barney’s, Payless Shoes, Target and many others. You’ll find sweatshop-free gear at American Apparel, and lots of eco-friendly duds at Patagonia.
In the same spirit, think organic and fair trade when it comes to gourmet foods and treats. A great place to start is your local health food store, which should be stocking up on goodies for the holidays. You might also consider giving a membership to a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).
For kids, instead of shiny plastic toys that will end up lost under their beds, think educational and natural toys. Check out Giggle’s cute organic cotton plush animals, or encourage them to bang on this preservative-free, recycled rubber drum kit. There’s also a fun solar-powered wooden helicopter and an adorable play tea set made from recycled bottles.
When you can, make your own gifts, or offer your special talents. Can you write a poem, frame a photo, or offer a “coupon” for teaching Spanish or cleaning gutters?
There are as many perfect gifts as there are imperfect people. Take a moment to think about the people you cherish, their own particular quirks, and about a way to recognize them that doesn"t fit into a standard package.
BRIAN CLARK HOWARD is the Home and Eco-Tips Editor of The Daily Green