Where can I find green-friendly gifts for friends and family this holiday season?
—A.L. Burger, via e-mail
Reconciling one’s green values with the urge to shop has never been easy. Most environmental groups today decry Western consumer habits as wasteful and a major cause of ecological degradation in a shrinking world. And many people, environmental issues aside, believe that the rampant commercialism we’ve all come to expect at holiday times cheapens what should be a reflective or sacred time of year.
Our buying habits are not easy on the wallet, either. According to the Center for a New American Dream (CNAD), 60 million American families carry an average credit card debt of over $7,000 and pay more than $1,000 a year in interest and fees. Further, says CNAD, “A record 1.6 million Americans declared personal bankruptcy last year.”
For those who ply an ethic of moderation (for whatever reason) but still have to show up at a half-dozen holiday parties with something for under the tree, there are now more green-friendly (and affordable) options than ever before. Steer your web browser to any number of online merchants offering items from clothes, bed-and-bath and organic baby products to food, the latest books and “gifts that give back,” such as tree-planting kits and “fair trade” crafts that support economically disadvantaged communities in developing countries. A few popular sites include the Green Home Environmental Store, Global Exchange’s Fair Trade Online Store, The Eco-Store, Abundant Earth, and Gaiam, among others. A visit to Co-Op America’s National Green Pages Online is one quick path to a treasure trove of such options.
While these stores all specialize in decidedly “green” items, many environmentally concerned consumers simply want to buy from mainstream retailers but want to feel confident their money is going to companies that are “good corporate citizens.” If you better fit that category of consumer, pay a visit to Alonovo.com, which provides information on companies” social and environmental records alongside thousands of products for sale in partnership with Amazon.com. The website can also simply be used as a research tool to get the lowdown on companies before heading out to downtown or the mall. Alonovo rates companies in five different areas: social responsibility, workplace fairness, environmental issues, customer relations and overall business ethics. If you do buy from the site, the company shares from 20 to 40 percent of its profits with environmental and other nonprofits that you as a customer can choose.
Some other options include Consumer Reports” Greenerchoices.org, which rates mainstream products from cars to electronics based on environmental criteria, and Co-op America’s Responsible Shopper, which features detailed reports on various companies that market “green” consumer products. Of course, you need not buy anything if you have a little more time (and items to re-use and recycle) on your hands than money. Sherri Osborn, the family crafts guide at About.com, offers up a healthy listing of “101 Great Gifts to Make” for any season, complete with links to instructions and materials needed.