Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Green, Socially Responsible Gift Giving

Dec 2007 update

Ouch, says my pocketbook. But, alas, I have never figured out how to extricate myself from participating in the winter holidays’ madness. Plus, BabyG and GreenDaddy have birthdays December 22nd. And BabyG’s Dadi, GreenDaddy’s dad, has a birthday the 26th. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

The main reason I can’t excuse myself from gift-giving frenzies is that I like giving, and I like receiving. My dad liked holidays, especially this one. My family didn’t do a lot of things well…but holidays and gift giving were good. We never had tons of gifts, we just always exchanged thoughtful ones. And this is still important to me. I liked sitting in a room with the whole family, opening things one at a time, mulling over each, remembering them. It’s the surprise I love most. I like adorning my family and friends with things they’ll love but not expect. And these days, I enjoy figuring out how to give people surprising, delightful, AND worthwhile gifts…which means socially responsible, green, charitable, homemade, or local.

In my green gift guide, below, I’ve sort of categorized the sorts of gift genres I like. Sometimes I construct a green gift; sometimes I get an item that I would otherwise label hoary from a local shop or a used store and feel better about it; sometimes I get a fairly traded gift from the web. Generally This list will grow with time, with your suggestions, etc. And please do make suggestions.

This is newly updated for 2008. A couple caveats: I welcome suggestions, but this is not a site to advertise stores. I mention stores I've been to or shop at, but the goal here isn't to amass a long list of deserving stores. Mostly it's a list of 'generes' of giving with examples I particularly like. So feel free to leave info about your store in the comments, but don't be offended if I never ad it. There are millions of organic clothing stores, for example...I note this, and suggest people google them rather than this list being over-wrought.

Basically, the local version of any of the following is better than the internet-purchased version in terms of supporting local businesses. Local meaning a store owned by an individual in your community--probably not a corporation-- or a non-profit organization in your community. If the choice is from Amazon or Target, I don’t see a huge difference, especially if you’re sending it to an Auntie in Argentina or something.
1) Crafts, Foods, Clothes from Locally Owned Fair Trade Shops.
Most major cities have a few. In Houston we have an ever growing number, though I most often frequent: Corazon, Taft Street Coffee, and Ten Thousand Villages (which is a chain, but a worthy one…). Hey, see what shops sell fair trade products in your part of the states (there’s not a world-wide listing, yet…but Google…)
2) Resale or antique shops. I am not a pro at Houston resale. Mostly, I go to a resale children’s shop called Young and Restless. In Montrose I go to Bluebird Circle, but I know this city abounds with good resale I don't know about. I will quote a little birdie's comment on adult resale rather than paraphrase: "Blue Bird on W Alabama is the granddaddy of resale - good selection of furniture and so forth and they sort the clothes by size. Catholic Charities on Lovett and the Junior League shop in the Heights also sort by size, but the Junior League store is best for the size fours of the world. Salvation Army on Washington and Goodwill on the North Freeway are the largest of their brethern."
3) Gifty Foods or Crafts from Farmers Markets Etc. We go to Central City Co-Op and they sell little edible items. Friends like Bayou City Farmer’s Market and Mid-Town Farmer’s Market. To find other Texas or US markets, go to Local Harvest.
4) Support A Local Charity instead of a Mega-One In Your Loved One’s Name. Too many to mention…
6) Gift certificates to local venues…restaurants, your favorite baby shop, a masseuse, an art class, a composting class, a cooking class, a writing class
7) Memberships to a local museum…children’s, mfa, natural science, zoo. 
8) Pass to a National Park in your area…go here
9) Shops of all Ilks. Childrens’, bookstores, bikes, hardware stores, antique shops. Might cost a little extra, but hey, no shipping and handling and the monetary and environmental costs it incurs.

All sorts of charities are making it very easy for you to give in another person’s honor. Most send the person something representative of your purchase, be it a certificate, a photo, a turtle tracking system, or the National Green Pages.
1) Giving That Benefits People: Give a cow to a family in a loved one’s name via Heifer International ... conservatives in the family?  They're pro-Heifer, from what I've gleaned in my own family.  You can all feel good about a gift from there.  Or help a rural community develop health or social services (or a number of other options) via Seva Foundation, Oxfam.  
2) Giving That Benefits Social Justice. Purchasing gift memberships for your loved ones to Oxfam, CoOp America, Pacifica, whatever organization it is you think they’d appreciate membership to.
3) Giving That Promotes the Environment. Trees for Life.
4) Giving That Promotes Conservation. Nature Conservancy gifts to save forests and reefs
5) Giving To Benefit Animals: Adopt and track a sea turtle throughout the year at, Farm Sanctuary
6) There are numerous websites that offer much longer lists of the many different ways you can give these sorts of gifts. The ones above caught my eye for various reasons. But here are three good sites to goto if none of the ones I’ve offered tip your kettles:, NoMoreSocks (defunct!), Oxfam, National Resources Defense Council
7) Echoage is a company that you ask guests to give $20 to for a gift (birthday is the idea on the site) and half that money goes to buying one gift for the child, the other goes to the cause of the child & parents' choice.

There are millions of sites, so I won’t go into detail. But I like the ideas over at NoMoreSocks.
1) Scientific Toys
2) Board Games
3) Craft Items
4) Costumes, puppets…
5) Music
6) Photo related I have used Zazzle a couple of years to make mugs, aprons, t-shirts that make grandparents happy. Zazzle has a lot more options than similar sites for standard items. I am newly impressed with the sites Moo for unusual photo gifting options and the site QOOP because it makes nice photo books.

I forgot this on my original lists, and it has been a longtime favorite gift of mine: sending seedlings or windowbox gardening kits to friends throughout the country. Last year I sent tomato plants to several relatives via -- though they messed up two orders, they resent one and credited me money for the other, and I had a good experience. Windowbox promotes gardening for people w/o the space, which I think is a fabulous idea. Still, this year, my gifts will come via Seeds of Change because they sell organic plants and work hard at preserving biodiversity. You can buy a truffle tree for somebody to reap the benefits of, rent vines you get the bottles of wine from...

Basically, you can get the green version of about anything, but it costs…Also, check to make sure item is really green…ie, many yoga mats from green companies are made out of gassing plastics. Many green things aren’t “fair trade” and “vice-versa.” I’m happy when I can get both (and can buy them locally!)…but it doesn’t always happen. I’d shop around for most any of these items…you CAN find good deals if you look hard enough
1) Clothes: Buying new (or used!), organic, worker friendly, fairly traded, and/or vegan clothes or wallets, bags, or shoes.
2) Crafts: Buying fairly traded crafts from around the world for your loved ones try Global Exchange, Bright Hope, Ten Thousand Villages, World of Good
3) Food Items: AKA fairly traded coffee, teas, chocolates…Global Exchange, CafĂ© Campesino, Shaman Chocolates, Glee Gum
4) Personal Care Items: Soaps, salts,at stores like Our Green House.
5) Toys: Wood, cotton, pvc-free…Kid Bean, Toys from the Heart, Peapods
Portals to find the stores that sell these goods: Co-Op America, Eco Mall, Global Exchange
6) Jewelry: Buy recycled gold etc from
7) Movies: Buy movies that support women filmmakers at
8) Health equipment. Healthy yoga mats at stores like Natural Fitness.

1) The Green Guide via Grist
2) Co-Op America’s Green Pages
3) Environmental Defense
4) Tree hugger

1) Books are good to give used, as they’re not particularly environmentally friendly. And it goes against the idea of local, but these days, it’s pretty easy to get a new-looking used book online. Or go the other way and get a funky old edition of a book, or an illustrated old edition…
2) Jewelry. Want to avoid supporting icky work practices in the mining industry & yet still get your sweetie some kind of bling? Antique jewelry is a good choice…
3) Baby/Kid Things. You can get good wooden baby toys and avoid those nasty plastic chemicals. Or a snowflake dress some baby only wore once. Or black patent leather shoes a baby wore twice. Or cool costumes for babies, kids, toddlers…
4) Furniture. Buy a crappy old table and refinish it. Or if you’ve got the dough, buy a refinished table.
5) Wrapping Paper. I’m ahead of myself here, but as long as you’re out, used stores (and your attic and about everywhere you look) is full of papers or cloth that make inexpensive, cool looking, distinctive wrappings.
6) Doo-dads. You know who you’re shopping for better than I do…go hunting!

1) Bake. Deliver the goods to friends in lieu of purchased gifts
2) Books. Construct them yourself, write a poem or a story, or uses photos…or both…
3) Ornaments, picture frames, magnets. Go to a craft store (or a used store) find materials, and concoct them.
4) Calendars, cds, videos. Use the computer to make calendars or cds or a video
4) Compose. Songs, poems, stories, plays, portraits, dances…
5) Work. Clean out somebody’s garage, cupboards, paint their porch, weed their garden…
6) Sculpt. With clay or snow or granite.
7) Cross pollinate these and other ideas you have…
8) Puppets. Make puppets for the kids in your life…

A few trashy gifts that are not fair-trade, environmentally friendly, local, organic, or educational always slip into my giving. I don’t stress out too much, because I go out of my way to keep their numbers down. Last year I knew somebody who needed a talking Jackie Kennedy doll, so I will look locally and/or used…but I’m not holding my breath.
1) One way around this is to buy your gifts through sites like, which is a portal you enter before shopping at regular places like Amazon or the Gap...but if you do enter these places through the HEARTof hurdel 75% of your purchase money goes to a charity of your choice. Similar organizations that give less money -- 35% -- are or

1) Surprise the family with an outing to some outdoor place on your gift exchange day…an orchard, a sledding hill, a river, a park…bring snacks

***This is newly updated for 2007. A couple caveats: I welcome suggestions, but this is not a site to advertise stores. I mention stores I've been to or shop at, but the goal here isn't to amass a long list of deserving stores. Mostly it's a list of 'generes' of giving with examples I particularly like. So feel free to leave info about your store in the comments, but don't be offended if I never ad it. There are millions of organic clothing stores, for example...I note this, and suggest people google them rather than this list being over-wrought.


Jenny said...

I love this!

Thanks for all the great links!

David Patterson said...

Thanks for the kind words about Heifer International. I joined Heifer as new media director last year and really appreciate it when someone blogs about us.

We have a new BlogRaising program that lets bloggers like you help us get the word out about Heifer and raise the money we need to do our work. Just go to to learn more.

I hope you are able to take part.

Again thanks for the good words.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great guide to socially responsble giving! It will come in handy not only for the holidays but throughout the year.

Only one difference: For online malls where purchases result in donations for charities, I wouldn't recommend either greatergood (which has only about 100 stores and donates up to 15% of what you pay) or igive (which has over 650 stores and donates up to 26%). I would recommend
as clearly the best of the lot. is the only one with a whole section of "eco-friendly" stores. Moreover, it has over 650 stores, donates up to 75%, and pays out the biggest donations on the web. Take a look at their discussion of how much they donate compared to some other sites:


Momstone said...

Thanks for the info. We all do the best we can to live as green as we can in our society. I really liked your practical approach.

Heather Bigley said...

You can now buy personal copies of the films at Women Make Movies, Previously all their titles were priced for institutional or exhibition sale.

So this means, buy your lover that cool 27 minute experimental doc you saw at Double Take Doc Fest in 2000....or something along those line. You can order on line or over the phone, but you must be clear that the film is for personal use only.

Henitsirk said...

This is such a hard time of year not to get caught up in materialism. I'm making lots of things this year (though that hasn't reduced my stress any!)

Anonymous said...

Breat suggestions!

Blue Bird on W Alabama is the granddaddy of resale - good selection of furniture and so forth and they sort the clothes by size. Catholic Charities on Lovett and the Junior League shop in the Heights also sort by size, but the Junior League store is best for the size fours of the world. Salvation Army on Washington and Goodwill on the North Freeway are the largest of their brethern.

I've given Heifer livestock to Republicans, who support the approach. (My mother is still convinced I was switched at birth for her real, presumably more conservative, baby!)

GreenDaddy said...

I think MaGreen did a great job with this post. It's interesting that the post attracted a media promotions person for Heifer International. Clearly the "market" for this type of gift giving has become more competitive and diversified, which is a good thing.

The last comment about Republicans supporting Heifer International's approach is also interesting to me. What worries me about Heifer International is that they tend to present the giving of animals to poor people as a panacea for poverty. There is no mention of the structural reasons for poverty like stilted trade agreements which force subsidized American farm products on Third World markets. A few extra cows won’t save huge communities of farmers whose livelihoods have been undermined by unjust macroeconomic policies. Republicans also tend to emphasize personal responsibility and self-help without addressing structural issues. So I can see the connection.

None of this is to say that giving to Heifer International won’t help people, but now there is an alternative to Heifer. Oxfam has leaped into the animals for poor people gift market. Oxfam has a more holistic approach than Heifer. They advocate for fair trade, debt relief, changes to the law, gender equality, and self-help at the individual level. You can sponsor camels, cows, sheeps, and alligators through Oxfam. I’m also not suggesting that Oxfam is the one answer to world poverty, pure of any contamination. I just learned that because Oxfam accepts funding from the United States, they must conform to the draconian, no-condoms AIDS policies of the Bush administration.

What would Jesus do? I think, since he was a carpenter, he would donate to Oxfam on behalf of friends so that building tools could be provided to people rebuilding after disasters.

Anonymous said...

I am definitely going to buy the truffle tree from, for my snotty uncle. julie

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Ron said...

Great blog! We'll be spending some time here! Please check out our website,, which offers Fair trade and eco friendly bead and wire art, recycled plastic bag animals, tagua nut carvings and more! Also, you will find our articles of real interest!

Sven said...

Great list!
Please also check out
Great organic items for babies and infants.


Anonymous said...

I found this site which is quite an interesting slant on environmentally friendly gift giving:

Instead of buying a gift, guests are asked to make an online payment of $20. Half of the pooled money will buy One Gift for the birthday child. The other half will support One Cause.

There's more: The parent of the birthday child gets an official tax receipt.

Saves all the usual waste of packaging and wrapping and junk associated with a typical bday party.

auroranrose said...

I love these ideas. I am all for reusing things, like the antique store. Plus, you still get the feeling of shopping.

Dick Pyle said...

Hi, I've only just come across your blog. Many thanks for the link to Truffle Tree - When anyone adopts a tree and tells me it's from Grizzlybird I'll be delighted to donate $100 to a charity of their choice.

Best wishes, Dick Pyle

zuo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jyoti said...

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