Sustaining the Holidays
This year honor the planet and your pocketbook with these environmentally minded gifts.
As global economies and environmental conditions continue to nose-dive, the prospect of buying a bunch of superfluous gifts is enough to put a damper on the holiday spirit. To bring back the cheer, find gifts that jibe not just with your friends and family but with your bank account and the planet as well.
Time is precious; the simple gift of spending a bit of it with someone out in nature, for example, embodies the spirit of the season more than anything you can tie a bow around. But if you must spend some cash, purchase items that are local, recyclable, or sustainably sourced. During your search, ask these questions: Where is this product from? Can my gift ultimately be recycled?
To help you cross names off your giftee list, here are a few ideas that might result in some lasting merry memories.
Introduce someone to a new restaurant with a green twist. Buy a gift certificate to a dining venue that has implemented sustainable practices into its business. The nonprofit Green Restaurant Association certifies restaurants that recycle, don’t use Styrofoam, and have completed at least one environmental step and pledge to do more. The group inspects restaurants and checks invoices to ensure compliance. Its website allows you to search restaurants, resorts, and even coffee houses that have been accredited. The site doesn’t offer gift certificates to the restaurants, but it does link to their respective websites, where gift cards are often available.
The Green Restaurant Association is always adding to its roster, but keep in mind that it’s by no means the be-all and end-all list of environmentally friendly restaurants. So keep an eye out in your area for dining destinations that focus on locally sourced cuisine. Contributing to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a great gift for the gourmand or locavore in your life. Most CSA subscriptions include a weekly basket of produce, often with a few recipes tucked in for some fresh ideas. The delivery usually lasts from spring through fall. Check out Local Harvest to find a CSA near your giftee.
For a truly unique food gift (no, this isn’t a fresh take on fruitcake), scroll through Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste to find some of the U.S. or even international options of foods that have been deemed culturally important and are often being edged out of the market by industrial standardization or environmental damage. Find everything from a selection of colonial drink syrups to Creole cream cheese. There’s something on this site for even the most seasoned epicure. But be mindful that these tasty treats might require shipping, which carries its own environmental costs. And if you’re searching for organics, know that some delicacies listed on the site are, but others aren’t.
Wine country doesn’t just mean Napa anymore. Check out this directory to find a local wine region, from the New York Finger Lakes to Nevada City. Buy a few bottles—or even better, buy someone a tasting weekend so she can build a relationship with her local winemaker. And if you’re grabbing a bottle for a hostess gift, many wine stores carry products made from organic or biodynamic grapes, which are grown through a complex system of organic farming attuned to the surrounding flora, fauna, and cosmos.
THE NATURE LOVER
Park and Walk
The gift of nature can enrich someone’s life forever. Give someone a national parks pass to some of the most breathtaking and important wild places right here in the U.S. The America the Beautiful annual pass covers the entrance fee to all national parks and federal recreational lands for the pass holder and three accompanying adults. For the person who likes to explore locally, try a state park pass.
Live trees usually can’t stay inside for very long, but a redwood, pine, or spruce from the Arbor Day Foundation is small enough that it can grow indoors for months. What’s more, the packaging can be used afterward as a bird feeder. Or go to American Forests to donate trees in someone’s name in a forest you can specify.
THE TRAVEL BUFF
Audubon offers Nature Odysseys to impress even the most seasoned traveler. Let someone sail the rivers of Mali; explore the Auckland Islands, a haven for Antarctic wildlife; or go on a botany expedition on the Shumagin Islands during an Alaskan escapade, to name just a few.
Santa’s Other Sack
The “Vertical Mass” backpack from Patagonia is great for long hiking excursions, day trips, and regular commuting (it's built to fit a laptop). Made from 100 percent recycled polyester, it comes lined with an interior zipper for electronics or shades, a stretchy water bottle compartment, and even a safety whistle. You can track the lifecycle of various Patagonia products at the company’s Footprint Chronicles.
Give friends the opportunity to reconnect with culture in their region. There are science and natural history museums in cities across the United States that offer memberships that include admission to exhibition previews, workshops, and lectures. If you’ve befriended an art lover, indulge her with a membership to her local art museum
Renting books sounds a lot like, well, a library. But if you don't want to make a trip outside, try Book Swim. It's like Netflix for books, where avid readers can take out multiple books at a time and hold on to them for as long as they like—with no late fees. The best part is, if you love the book and want to pass it around to your friends, you can opt to buy it.
Feeders and Houses
There are lots of bird feeders and houses out there, so think about getting one made of recycled materials, such as WoodLink feeders and nest boxes or Rubicon feeders made from recycled plastic. If you’re feeling crafty, you can build a nest box from wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to attract your loved one’s favorite flier.
Coffee lovers who also love birds will be grateful for some shade-grown coffee that ensures that crucial tropical forests have not been clear-cut for a cup of joe. Try Audubon’s blend, or search the Smithsonian for local retailers that carry bird-friendly blends.
Plants for the Birds
Help someone support a vulnerable or endangered bird this season. Check out Audubon’s WatchList to see what sort of greenery birds are looking for in different regions of the United States. If a birder you know lives in Florida, for example, planting a sand pine in her yard could help attract the threatened Florida scrub jay. If you’re unsure what plant someone could use in her yard, start with The Audubon Society Guide to Attracting Birds, by Steve Kress.
First Field Guides
Introduce the great outdoors to the next generation with a set of guides, such as these Audubon ones from Scholastic. They cover everthing from rocks and minerals, to insects, to (of course) birds. The convenient books can fit into a field vest and will appeal to any inquisitive child.
Avoid the uncertainty of chemicals in paint and plastics by choosing playthings made by companies like Holgate, which makes classic playthings from FSC-certified wood, and Down to Earth Toys, which features toys made mostly from small companies in the U.S.
For older kids, get them excited about renewable energy with the eLAB Renewable Energy set by LEGO, which invites kids to construct a windmill or water mill with Legos and even power a Lego solar car with a real solar cell. If the entire kit is too much, check out just the solar-powered SunEzoon Car Kit, also from LEGO.
Adopt a Creature
What kid doesn’t love a stuffed animal? But why not make that cuddly creature really mean something: Adopt a real animal from the nonprofit Oceana in the name of your child; she’ll then receive an adoption certificate and plush toy that can help connect her to a charismatic sea creature and its plight.
A sign that the holidays are near usually comes some time in October, when catalogs start jamming the mailbox. A great gift for anyone who hates those unsolicited mounds of paper is to take her off catalog mailing lists. To do this, set up an account at catalog choice.org, and check off the ones she doesn’t want. (If you’re unsure which ones are keepers, wrap up a note card inviting your gift recipient to pile up all her unwanted catalogs so you can do the dirty work later, perhaps on a consistent basis for a year in case new, unwanted catalogs arrive).
Bring on the Bubbles (at home)
Your eco-conscious friend has probably stopped buying individual bottles of sparkling water but may still yearn for a fizzy refreshment now and then. Good news: There’s another way to get the carbonation with less waste in the form of a countertop soda water machine. Soda Club has a variety of styles to fit your needs.
THAT SPECIAL SOMEONE
Sure, jewelry seems like a no-brainer. But the ecological toll of mining metals is substantial. Instead of buying new finery, look around for local craftsmen or artisans’ guilds that make jewelry from recycled metals and products. Estate jewelers are another good way to find reasonable prices and special pieces. You can also find accessories made out of recycled materials on various websites, such as Eco Artware, which sells magazine cuff bracelets made from magazines and cufflinks fashioned out of and typewriter keys, or Green Karat, a site that features recycled gold and gems.
Check out last year’s Audubon gift guide here.
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