December 17, 2009

I’m dreaming of a Green Christmas… gift, that is

handmade cardIf you’re reading this you might be as last-minute with your holiday shopping as I tend to be. Admittedly my post itself is last-minute. I’ve done half my shopping and, this year, with each item I’ve put more thought than ever into what effect each will have on this finite planet. If you’re the kind of giver that prefers to give an item rather than an experience, make it meaningful not just as a useful object but as one with the smallest environmental impact possible.

Before I tell you how easy it is to be eco-conscious at Christmas, you might want to know why you should:

* according to Statistics Canada, 900,000 tonnes of garbage is produced between Thanksgiving and Christmas each year

* transportion of gifts that are produced a great distance away, whether it’s Califonia or China, emits greenhouse gases that pollute our air and contribute to climate change

* logging of old-growth forests to produce “virgin” paper products releases CO2 into the atmosphere and threatens animal habitat (think of the caribou and the owls!)

* conventional plastic is a petroleum-based product, which carries a triple-threat carbon footprint

* it takes resources and produces waste to make something new and to recycle or dispose of it at the end of its life cycle (which, these days, is often pretty short!)

* that regiftable stuff is better off loved by someone else than being a guilt trip in your closet for you or your kids!

* buying local supports the local economy and friends of your friends

* and more environmental, ethical and health-related reasons…

h3. Ok, I get it. I’ll be good this year. How easy is it?

Got a bookstore nearby? A Choices/Capers/Whole Foods? MEC? Independent coffee shop? Granville Island? Main St or Commercial Drive? You can make smart choices anywhere — that includes IKEA. I did not have to go out of my way to get smart gifts for my family. A bit of thoughtfulness and planning is all it takes. And do I ever feel good about it!

Here are some suggestions and tips!

Favourite booksSmart reading. Books, calendars, cards, and journals printed on 100% post-consumer waste (PCW) paper or FSC-Certified paper and especially with vegetable-based inks are a great eco-friendly gift. (If you want to be really sneaky, get them Ecoholic or Ecoholic Home, sustainable seafood recipes in A Good Catch, a Michael Pollan book or David Suzuki’s Green Guide.)

Get your hands on something handmade. If you haven’t got the skills or time to make something by hand, support a local artist or designer by buying their stuff. I’ve missed the boat here on local craft fairs but there are plenty! The farmer’s market is also a fantastic place for food gifts, etc. At your convenience… “Winter Farmer’s Market”: Wise Hall, Saturday the 19th, 10am!

Organic, local, fair trade, recycled, recyclable. Cocoa Camino makes fair trade, organic chocolate and hot chocolate mix; “Whistler Chocolate”: isn’t fair trade but is locally made from imported ingredients and even has a compostable wrapper! (The hazelnuts in the hazelnut bars are from the Fraser Valley. Yum!) Denman Island Chocolate is a little BC company. For coffee lovers, try Saltspring Island Coffee. It’s fair-trade and organic.

Choose natural and preferably organic fibers. Your loved one will appreciate soft 100% wool or cosy 100% organic cotton or bamboo. The planet will thank you! If you’re really clever, wrap the gift in a reusable tote bag.

Beeswax is better! It’s expensive, but call it an investment in good health and clean air. Conventional candles are made from a petroleum byproduct (paraffin) and sometimes contain lead. (To test, open up the wick. If you see a metallic core and can draw with it, toss it out!) Nobody wants to breathe in pollutants like formaldehyde, benzene and toxic soot either, so do your loved ones a favour and make the switch. Avoid artificial scents — beeswax smells great on its own! Beeswax apparently also cleans the air by emitting negative ions that help remove particles. Make sure they’re 100% beeswax. Alternatively, find some safe vegetable-wax candles if you can’t afford the best stuff.

Materials matter. If you can’t get items used (preloved), make sure as much of the gift and its packaging (if any) are recyclable and/or reusable. Look for stainless steel, glass, or wood instead of plastic. Get organic cloth instead of paper, or recycled paper instead of plastic. Avoid clamshell packaging (they’re a nuisance to open anyway), or make sure it’s recyclable and point that out to the person receiving your gift.

Do a little research or ask questions! It never hurts to ask or to dig deeper. Support businesses that have made a committment to sustainability. Upholstery Arts is a great model for this; Apple is greening their products beyond industry expectations; members of 1% For the Planet are just plain do-gooders.

Other favourite little places and things:

Rocky Mountain Soap Company

Trees Organic Coffee and Roasting House

Room6, Deep Cove

ecojot — available at Paper-Ya, Chapters, Capers, etc.

Don’t forget to bring your reusable bag with you!

Read more tips on planet-friendly and people-healthy gifts at the Queen of Green blog. Granville Magazine’s “Unique, locally sourced gift ideas” feature offers suggestions for the wine lover, bookworm and chef on your list, among others. I particularly love the handmade cloth gift wrap idea. Awesome!

Happy holidays everyone!