When you live in a rural area, your personal Christmas gift list tends to be a lot different than when you live in the city.

Since moving onto our 6 acres two years ago, my gift list has changed a lot.  Last year, it included an Ecofan for the woodstove, a wood carving kit so I can carve our cedar driveway address sign, and Le Creuset cookware (OK, that last one was on the list when I lived in a townhouse, too!).  Is the list luxurious?  No (except maybe the Le Creuset).  Practical?  Absolutely.  It’s a far cry from the spa certificates and high end clothing I had on my list in the past, but the satisfaction I get from receiving those gifts has stayed with me to this day.  And the gifts I’ve been given won’t end up as fodder for our landfill.  I’ll have them for a very, very long time.  That makes me feel good.

But what about my list for others?

Does ‘green’ gift giving mean granola-crunchy, boring, guilt-inducing presents?  Absolutely not.  I’m here to tell you that ‘green’ gifts can be just as fun as the toxic, wasteful kind – maybe even more so, because you can feel good giving them.  They can be practical, useful, and best of all, well loved.  And when they’re at their best, they’ll change the lives of those who receive them.

‘Green’ Gift Giving Criteria

I’ve been thinking about the environmental impact of my gift-giving for a very long time.  Since probably 1990, when some of the big environmental news started going mainstream and I started freaking out over what we were collectively doing to the planet.  Over the years, I’ve created a mental checklist for any gifts I purchase, not only at Christmas time, but throughout the year.  It looks something like this:

  1. Is the gift ‘fair trade’?
  2. Is it made from natural, organic, or recycled materials?
  3. If it’s not made from natural materials, is it made with recyclability in mind?
  4. If it’s made from natural materials, is it finished with safe, non-toxic finishes (i.e., beeswax and/or naturally pigmented, non-oil-based paints)?
  5. Is it made or supplied locally?
  6. Is it recyclable in my community?
  7. Is it of heirloom quality?
  8. Is it a gift of service that isn’t a ‘thing’ that will be thrown away eventually?
  9. Is the gift something the person will use a lot?
  10. Is the gift something the person will LOVE?

Obviously, some of these things sort of cancel others out (i.e., a Fair Trade gift likely won’t be made locally, but both are good criteria to keep in mind).  And while the list is a bit long, it does become second nature after awhile.  Over the years, I’ve found these criteria have served me well in picking gifts that are low on the environmental impact scale.

So where do you find such things?  Well, not generally at your local department store.

You need to buy from sellers who have done the research for you.

Our Favourite ‘Green’ Gift Sources

There are a gazillion places to find green gifts, both online and offline.  Here are a few of my favourites online (which is how I prefer to shop these days – no wasting fuel driving around and no crowds!).

For the Self-Sufficiency Fans
(or just those who care about the planet):

  • Treehugger’s Green Gifts Guide – The ‘uber-guide’ for luxury green gift giving, the 2010 Treehugger.com Green Gift Guide’s 100 gift ideas in 10 categories have (according to the website): “a high impact punch when it comes to thoughtfulness, quality, durability, and, of course, kindness to the environment.” Just a quick look around this site helped me finish up my shopping list!  If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, you’re not looking hard enough!
  • Lehman’s Lehman’s started as a tiny hardware store employing 3 members of one family and is now the world’s largest purveyor of historical technology.  They ship old-fashioned, non-electric merchandise all over the world to a diverse customer base of missionaries and doctors working in developing countries, homesteaders and environmentalists living in remote areas, people with unreliable electricity living on islands and mountains, second home owners, hunters, fishers and cabin dwellers, the ‘chronically nostalgic,’ and even Hollywood set designers looking for historically accurate period pieces.  The owner’s goal was, and still is, to provide authentic, historical products to those seeking a simpler life.  It’s like a candy store for anyone who wants to reduce their reliance on electric appliances!  I personally use the Pressure Handwasher (works great, but I concur with the reviewers on the site), and the Lehman’s wringer (the person who wrote the one review there clearly doesn’t know how to set up a hand wringer, because when secured properly, it works quite well).  I’ve purchased a number of items from Lehman’s over the last couple of years and have always been really happy with the customer service.  For some nostalgic fun, check out the non-electric lighting options, hand cranked items, and non-powered laundry appliances!  If you’re at all interested in being even a little more self-sufficient, you could seriously spend hours poking around this website.  It’s my one stop shop for all things ‘homesteading’.
  • Real Goods – I remember the ‘old’ Real Goods catalog, which returned in the 1990s after disappearing during the excesses of the 1980s.  This is the granddaddy (or grandmommy!) of all ‘green gifts’ catalogs.  EVERYTHING you could imagine for the ‘green’ home – from recycled door mats (in use at our cold storage door) and non-electric woodstove fans (currently whirring away on top of our woodstove), to composting toilets, tankless water heaters, and decor items, they’ve got it all.  Maybe not the most romantic of Christmas presents, but there’s nothing romantic about huge electric and water bills!
  • Etsy Etsy is a treasure trove of hand-made eco-gift items that will fit absolutely anyone on your gift list.  Gorgeous clothing, stunning, one-of-a-kind jewellery, decor items and whimsical bits and pieces that might be useless, but would look awesome in your loved one’s home!  You’ll find a large percentage of the items on Etsy are ‘green’ – recycled materials, natural materials, hand made in North America… Plan to spend at least an hour (or two or three) looking around!
  • Rawganique – Organic cotton and hemp clothing and gorgeous organic home decor, bedding and linens.  I’ve ordered from Rawganique many, many times over the last few years and love their products and customer service.
  • Hankettes – These guys have a huge selection of locally made herbal and organic cotton baby, body, home, garden, and pet care products. All Hankettes products are made on the Sunshine Coast of BC, Canada. They also offer a selection of products from other manufacturers, all of which adhere to the Hankettes Sustainability Pledge – quality Canadian made, fair wage paid, AND good for you & the planet.

For the Children on Your List

  • Natural Pod – Located in Vancouver, British Columbia, Natural Pod has a lovely inventory or gorgeous children’s toys, craft items and games.  The owners are wonderful people and stand behind their products – natural materials, safe finishes, and lots of ‘made in North America’ items.  No plastic in sight!
  • Maplerose So many unique toys here! We LOVE the treehouses!
  • Bella Luna Toys Bella Luna Toys is a beautiful place to purchase quality, natural-material gifts for the children on your list.  The toys are inspired by Waldorf education, and invite open-ended play that nurtures a child’s imagination.  Bella Luna is “committed to offering unique natural toys and products for children and families that are safe, healthy and encourage imaginative play. You will find no battery-operated or plastic toys here, the kind that will be played with for a short time before ending up in a landfill.”
  • A Toy GardenA Toy Garden is another comprehensive source of natural children’s toys.
  • Family Pastimes Family Pastimes designs and manufactures cooperative games (all made in Canada).

Some Other Ideas

  • Spa gift certificates (for men too!).
  • Subscriptions to the local gym, national nature conservancy or their favourite magazine.
  • Knitting or crafting lessons.
  • Music or dance classes.
  • Concert tickets.
  • Conference tickets for their favourite guru.
  • A weekend away at a fancy B&B.
  • A subscription to create a family history book – teamfamilyonline.com
  • Business training – arealchange.com
  • Get a blog built for someone with a gift to share with the world.
  • Use your imagination!

Green gift giving doesn’t have to be boring – or difficult!  And it can change a life if you pick the right one (think about how you can fulfill someone’s dream, even in a small way).  The ideas and resources listed here will set you on your way – the only danger is that you’ll get so engrossed in all the options that you won’t order in time for Christmas… ;o)

Happy holidays, everyone!

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