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Published on December 17th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans


Green Gift Giving

Whether you’re searching for a unique birthday gift for a loved one, an inexpensive holiday gift for an office gift exchange, or a special present to welcome a friend’s new baby, green gift-giving allows you to show your love and appreciation for those who are special to you while minimizing the carbon trail that gift-giving so often leaves on the planet.

With so many environmentally friendly products on the market today, finding the perfect green gift is easier than ever.  But there is also a wealth of gifting ideasGift Giving that involve spending little to no money at all.  By striking a balance between giving only gifts you know that people will use and infusing your gift ideas with a flair bearing your unique personal style, gift-giving need not be an occasion of stress and anxiety—the process can easily reflect the pleasure that giving is meant to bring.  Let’s open the package of simple and purposeful gift-giving . . .

The Purposeful Gift

When choosing your gifts, it is wise to think practically.  "Dust-collector" is just another word for an object that never gets used.  The easiest way to avoid giving a gift that has no purpose is to give purposeful gifts.  Ask yourself the following about the person you are buying a gift for:

  • What does this person enjoy doing most?
  • What is his or her taste?
  • Does he/ she like to go on excursions or attend classes, or is he/she more of an indoor type?

Of course it will be easier to answer these questions for someone who you know well compared with an acquaintance.  Either way, it is wise to have some sense of the person in mind before going out in search of a gift.

It is essential that we establish a new norm for gift-giving expectations, for the sake of the planet that sustains us and the viability of future generations.  When it comes to gifts, it is time we start thinking outside of the box.

Consumable items make wonderful gifts, both for people you know well and for those who aren’t as familiar to you.  Assembling food baskets as gifts can be as extravagant or as inexpensive as you choose:

  • You can fill a gift basket for a chocolate lover with organic, fair-trade chocolate bars, hot cocoas, and chocolate-dipped strawberries that you prepared at home. 
  • For a gourmet cook you might fill a big basket with a sustainable food cookbook—Sustainable Table provides a great cookbook database to get you started—and a supply of organic pantry items such as specialty flours, unrefined sugar, premium sea salt, and aged balsamic vinegar. 
  • By taking care to choose a quality container to hold your gift, you help to ensure that the packaging gets used too.  Visit flea markets and second-hand shops to find affordable, high-quality goods that still have a lot of life left in them, and make them new with a personal touch such as a special ribbon or a little bit of paint.

Food BasketFood baskets also make great holiday or corporate gifts for people who are difficult to buy for because you don’t know them well enough or because they already seem to have everything they need.  Who wouldn’t appreciate a colorful colander filled with an organic selection of locally grown, seasonal fruits?  Or a picnic basket brimming with breads and dips made from your own kitchen and a bottle of locally made wine?  To whip up some small treats for a large crowd, take a weekend day and make some seasonal goodies or homemade  organic trail mix with nuts, raisins, and seeds.  

Green Gifting—Purchased, Intangible, and Homemade

These days you will not find a shortage of eco-friendly gifts available for purchase.  But such a plethora of choices can make deciding on the right gift even harder.  Co-op America’s National Green Pages offers a great online directory of over 100 businesses that specialize in eco-friendly products.  Also keep in mind that even everyday green items can also make great gifts.  Giving a gift that helps someone make his or her own life greener is a way of giving a present that continues to give, both to the recipient and to the planet:

  • A low-flow showerhead or automatic thermostat control will help reduce utility costs all year, as will a generous supply of energy-saving lightbulbs or rechargeable batteries.
  • For more gifts that keep on giving: how about a magazine subscription, or a membership to a museum or aquarium?

Many gifts that you can give require no wrapping at all—simply thought or time.  Offering your services can be a priceless gift to friends and family members who are shorter on time than anything else.  For gifts that will be remembered longer than many tangible items, look for a need and offer to fill it: extend a free evening of babysitting to friends who are new parents. 

Giving of yourself is a wonderful way to provide meaningful gifts, especially when you don’t have the money to put towards gifting.

You can also donate your time or money to a charity in honor of the gift recipient.  By donating to organizations like Environmental Defense, your gift helps toCharitable Donation support the fight against global warming, the protection of endangered species, and the effort to clean up our air and waterways.  Environmental Defense World Gifts has a selection of "two-in-one" gifts that you can buy for someone in the developing world on behalf of someone else.  These gifts, such as seeds and gardening tools, a pair of piglets, or a beehive, are given to help people who are living in poverty get a chance at opportunities they wouldn’t ordinarily have.  Especially when these gifts are given to children, they can teach important lessons about the value of sharing with others who are less fortunate.  For a perfect match, look for organizations and charities that are in line with the interests and passions of the gift recipient.

Are you creative?  Do you have a little spare time?  That’s all that is required to make your own gifts!  Handmade gifts have a quality that industrially manufactured items lack and for this reason:

  • a baby sweater that you knit yourself is more likely to be cherished and passed on to another baby when it has been outgrown
  • a book that you construct yourself, with a story and/or photographs you have taken, makes a highly personalized and unique gift that will not soon be forgotten.

If you find that you just do not have a creative bone in your body and you’d still like to give unique and fun handmade gifts, an indispensible online source is out there for you: Etsy.  Etsy is an online community marketplace created by artists with the intention of re-establishing the lost connection between producer and consumer in our culture.  The intention of Etsy’s creators is "to create viable alternatives to mass-produced objects in the world’s marketplace, and give all independent artists the technology they need to make a living, making things."  On Etsy you can find unique gifts galore, many made with recycled or organic materials.

Notes on Gift Wrapping

Think twice before buying gift wrap to dress up your presents.  An alarming percentage of  rubbish is made in this country just by gift wrap and shopping bags alone–over 4 million tons a year!  Your options for sustainable wrapping: Pick up some hemp or recycled content wrap that can be recycled or composted, or, even better, use packaging that will not go to waste:

  • Your wrap can be part of the gift itself, such as a colorful scarf you found in a resale store, or a box that you can decorate with wrapping paper you’ve saved that can be used again by the recipient.  Save and reuse your ribbons and bows.
  • You can sew gift bags from fabric you’ve collected throughout the year and reuse decorative gift bags that have been given to you.
  • You can even hide your gift behind your back and make its recipient close his or her eyes, and then you won’t have to wrap the gift at all!

It is essential that we establish a new norm for gift-giving expectations, for the sake of the planet that sustains us and the viability of future generations.  When it comes to gifts, it is time we start thinking outside of the box.

Article Contributors: Julie Reid  

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