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How You Can Give Better Holiday Gifts AND Be More Environmentally Friendly

It's the holiday shopping season, and Grinning Planet would like to point out that the holiday phrase "Ho, ho, ho!" also relates to being green--it's the Jolly Green Giant's tagline. Well, OK, that doesn't exactly get us to the "eco-friendly" meaning of being green. But when shopping for holiday gifts, there are a number of ways we can be environmentally friendly.

All manufactured items, including gifts, require material and energy to be produced, and production and transportation of the items results in some level of pollution. Here are a couple of ways to make sure those resources aren't a waste:

1) Useful Gifts -- One of the best ways to ensure the resources related to your gift don't get wasted is to make sure your gift doesn't end up gathering dust in a closet. While "surprises" can be nice, giving someone a gift out of the blue without any clue whether they'll truly like it or use it may get you one of those half-hearted "Um, oh, cool, thanks" responses. A different approach is to ask your giftees for wish lists, which works especially well within families, where social protocols and rituals can be more easily adjusted. This lessens the surprise factor but guarantees that you're giving a gift that the person will use.

2) Drawing Names -- As families and circles of friends grow, the number of gifts being exchanged can increase rapidly. Rather than each person within a group giving a gift to every other member of the group, names can be drawn so that each person gives gifts to only one or two people. This reduces the overall amount of resources related to presents and will reduce your holiday stress level. It may be too late this year to implement such a strategy, but if you'd like to try it next year, suggesting the change to your family/friends just after this holiday season will give people time to think about it and adjust to the idea.

Regardless of how you arrange your gift giving, choosing environmentally friendly products will be better for the planet than buying everyone an economy sized bottle of cloying cologne or some other non-green item. When looking at items claiming to be green, the US Federal Trade Commission advises that shoppers look for quantitative or specific claims, rather than general claims like "green," "eco-friendly," or "environmentally safe," which are open to interpretation. Better descriptions are things like "made from organic cotton," "made from 50% recycled materials," or "manufactured without animal testing."

Here are a few categories of gifts that would be more eco-friendly than some others:

1) Organic -- A gift basket of food is a typical holiday gift that's even better if at least part of the basket is filled with organic yummies. If you know someone who is a coffee lover, they will flip over the bag of organic gourmet coffee you give them. Organic flowers are available, as are flower arrangements that are not organic but whose growers minimize their use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Organic cotton clothing and bedding are also making rapid gains in popularity.
2) Fair trade -- Buying fair-trade items--items typically made by indigenous peoples--often helps the creators sustain themselves without resorting to environmentally unwise practices such as clearcutting forests. Whether it's art, coffee, chocolate, soaps, or carpets, buying items labeled "fair trade" lets you avoid purchasing gifts that were produced by companies that use exploitative labor practices.

3) Recycled -- These days, lots of things are made out of recycled materials--from works of art to clothing. A great holiday gift might be some of the very cool clothes they now make from recycled cotton. Some eco-friendly clothing even includes 50% fibers from recycled plastic bottles.

4) Honorary Gifts -- How much stuff does anyone really need? Once we reach a certain age, getting more "stuff" is as much a storage problem as anything else. Donating money to a person's favorite charity or cause in their name is a nice substitute.
To some extent, a nice holiday get-together with family and friends, full of good cheer and warm conversation, is as good a gift as many of us really need. But for the instances where a gift is appropriate, here's a good starting point for your eco-friendly shopping: Grinning Planet's Green Products and Services page (

(Disclaimer: Grinning Planet does not receive any commission from the companies listed on the Green Products and Services page.)

Finally, we'd like to put in a word for our dear departed Uncle Freeman. When cash got short, he still never skimped on the Christmas gifts--he just sent them C.O.D.

For jokes, cartoons, and more great environmental information, visit

- 2003 by

About the Author
Mark is a writer, financial analyst, web developer, environmentalist, and, as necessary, chef and janitor. Grinning Planet is an expression of Mark's enthusiasm for all things humorous and green, as well as a psychotic desire to work himself half-to-death. Hobbies include health foods, music, getting frustrated over politics, and occasionally lecturing the TV set on how uncreative it is.

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