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It’s open season in malls across America, a time when even normally eco-conscious shoppers can find themselves sucked into the vortex of mindless consumerism.
Not surprisingly, all of those holiday shopping bags, useless knickknacks and excessively packaged electronics have a major impact on the planet: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the amount of household trash increases 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
This year, make the season a little greener with gifts that actually give back. We’ve come up with a slew of fresh, Earth-friendly ideas for every budget that will help ensure holiday cheer not only for the recipient, for future generations too. Consider it our gift to you—and the planet we call home!
PACKAGE SOME ENERGY
You might not be able to tie a ribbon around the wind, rain or sun, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make excellent presents. With conservation more important every year, it’s no wonder that gifts that utilize natural resources are on our wish list this holiday season.
• Give that special someone a Wind-Builders gift certificate, and support a turbine on a Native American wind farm. Each level-1 certificate will prevent one ton of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the air by replacing it with clean, renewable wind energy. $15; 800.924.6826; nativeenergy.com
• Grow green gardens with a rain barrel made from recycled materials; the barrel collects and stores 60 gallons of rainwater for future gardening use. $95; 800.940.0187; sprucecreekrainsaver. com/recycledrainbarrel.html
• Embrace the sun with Voltaic’s solar-paneled backpack. It converts the sun’s rays into energy that can be used to charge cell phones, cameras, PDAs and iPods when you’re on the go. $229; 212.627.5012; voltaicsystems.com
ADOPT A CRITTER
What do you get that certain person who has everything? How about a family of gorillas? Or an acre of rain forest? Adopting endangered wildlife and eco-systems may help save some species from extinction and the planet from deforestation.
• Delight animal lovers by sponsoring a furry friend in their honor. Defenders of Wildlife has a wide range of critters—from cottontail bunnies to polar bears—up for adoption. These “adoption” programs protect the lives and habitats of the animal of your choice. For example, Defenders of Wildlife has been working hard to prevent Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from being opened to oil drilling; adopting a snowy owl will aid these efforts ($25; 800.385.9712; defenders.org).
For a gift that can be shared by a whole family, splurge and adopt a family of gorillas from The World Wildlife Fund ($100; 202.293.4800; worldwildlife.org). Adoptions at both organizations include a certificate of adoption and a plush toy replica of your new family member.
• The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving animals and natural habitats, operates a “Rescue the Reef ” adoption program that works to save Indonesia’s 33,000 square miles of coral reefs from threats such as destructive fishing and coastal development. Remarkably, Indonesia’s reef is home to a quarter of the world’s fish species and a third of the world’s corals. In addition to the pleasure of helping to protect this irreplaceable reef, your gift recipient will enjoy a certificate of adoption and a yearlong subscription to Nature Conservancy magazine. From $75; 800.628.6860; nature.org
• For the landlubber in your life, what could be better than saving an acre of rain forest—and the creatures that live there—from destruction? Through the Rainforest Alliance’s Adopt-a-Rainforest program, a gift of $50 will add an acre of previously unprotected Central or South American rain forest to a nature reserve; a certificate of adoption is included. 888.693.2784; rainforest-alliance.org
SHOP LOCALLY AND GLOBALLY
Buying locally produced holiday gifts is great for the environment (less packaging and truck exhaust is used in transporting them), but you can also help build strong global communities by purchasing gifts made in disadvantaged areas of the world. The products below have been certified by the Fair Trade Federation, an organization that ensures workers receive living wages, work in safe conditions and engage in environmentally sustainable practices.
• The online vendor A Greater Gift sells fair trade products made in 35 countries. Reasonably priced gift ideas range from heart-shaped brass earrings with red glass beads crafted in Kenya to Balinese wind chimes made from bamboo, a sustainable material. $10 each; 800.422.5915; agreatergift.org
• At Global Exchange, we loved the striped silk-and-ribbon jewelry travel roll made by an Indian fair trade cooperative ($12.50) and the hip, Chuck Taylor-style sweatshop-free Indonesian sneakers ($42). And Global Exchange will wrap your gift in a recycled box with a ribbon for $3. 800.505.4410; store.gxonlinestore.org
• If you can’t bear to purchase anything without first seeing it in person, check out the Fair Trade Federation’s website for a list of shops near you (fairtradefederation.com). Also look for branch stores of Ten Thousand Villages, a nonprofit fair trade retailer that sells jewelry, art and housewares made by people living in Third World countries; there are more than 180 locations across North America. 717.859.8100; tenthousandvillages.com
GO FOR THE GREEN
Give friends and family members gifts that they’ll experience rather than open (and have the bonus of keeping yet another sheet of wrapping paper out of the trash).
• A National Parks Pass gives your recipient and any accompanying family members free admission to all US National Parks for an entire year following the pass’s first use. $50; 888.467.2757; nationalparks.org
• Encourage nature appreciation with a gift membership to a local arboretum or garden, or aim for a different type of green by giving a membership to an environmental organization in the giftee’s neighborhood.
Once every item on your ecoshopping list has been divided among friends and family, you’ll see how appreciative your gift recipients are that you’ve made the effort to think green this holiday season. Your thoughtful shopping habits might even trigger a wave of green giving—before you know it, you could be the one receiving such presents.
And considering your influential new status as an Earth-conscious trendsetter, you’ll be forgiven for feeling a bit like an ecosuperhero—making the planet greener, one holiday at a time.
Freelance writer Meg Donohue plans to wrap her eco-conscious holiday gifts in leftover colorful tissue paper that she has saved over the past year.