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Thursday, Dec. 14, 2006 09:04 pm

Giving green this year

Where to find environmentally friendly, socially responsible gifts

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Where can one find green-friendly gifts for friends and family this holiday season?

Reconciling one’s green values with the urge to shop has never been easy. Most environmental groups today decry Western consumer habits as wasteful and a major cause of ecological degradation in a shrinking world. And many people, environmental issues aside, believe that the rampant commercialism we’ve all come to expect at holiday times cheapens what should be a reflective or sacred time of year.

Our buying habits are not easy on the wallet, either. According to the Center for a New American Dream, 60 million American families carry an average credit-card debt of more than $7,000 and pay more than $1,000 a year in interest and fees. Further, the center reports, “A record 1.6 million Americans declared personal bankruptcy last year.”

For those who ply an ethic of moderation (for whatever reason) but still have to show up at a half-dozen holiday parties with something for under the tree, there are now more green-friendly (and affordable) options than ever before. Steer your Web browser to any number of online merchants offering items from clothes, bed and bath, and organic baby products to food, the latest books, and “gifts that give back,” such as tree-planting kits and fair-trade crafts that support economically disadvantaged communities in developing countries. A few popular sites include the Green Home Environmental Products store, Global Exchange’s Fair Trade Online Store, the Eco-Store, Abundant Earth, and Gaiam, among others. A visit to Co-Op America’s National Green Pages Online is one quick path to a treasure trove of such options.

Although these stores all specialize in decidedly green items, many environmentally concerned consumers simply want to buy from mainstream retailers but want to feel confident that their money is going to companies that are good corporate citizens. If you better fit that category of consumer, pay a visit to Alonovo.com, which provides information on companies’ social and environmental records alongside thousands of products for sale in partnership with Amazon.com. The Web site can also simply be used as a research tool to get the lowdown on companies before heading out to downtown or the mall. Alonovo rates companies in five different areas: social responsibility, workplace fairness, environmental issues, customer relations, and overall business ethics. If you do buy from the site, the company shares 20 to 40 percent of its profits with environmental and other nonprofits that you, the customer, can choose.

Some other options include Consumer Reports; Greenerchoices.org, which rates mainstream products from cars to electronics on the basis of environmental criteria; and Co-op America’s “Responsible Shopper,” which features detailed reports on various companies that market green consumer products. Of course, you need not buy anything if you have a little more time (and items to reuse and recycle) on your hands than money. Sherri Osborn, the family-crafts guide at About.com, offers up a healthy listing of “101 Great Gifts to Make” for any season, complete with links to instructions and the materials needed.

For more information: National Green Pages Online, coopamerica.org/pubs/greenpages; Alonovo, www.alonovo.com; Greenerchoices.org; Responsible Shopper, www.coopamerica.org/programs/rs; About.com’s “101 Great Gifts to Make,” familycrafts.about.com/cs/giftgiving/a/120400a.htm.

Send questions to Earth Talk, care of E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881 or e-mail earthtalk@emagazine.com.

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