This week I want to focus on gifts that you can give to your friends and family that are either beneficial to the earth or at least do little to no harm.
First I want to encourage you to think about used products as gifts. No, I'm not talking about the stuff in your house that no one will take off your hands. (You know what I'm talking about--the Smores maker that you got 4 years ago and have never used, the "seasonal sweater" that makes you look about 15 years older than you are, and anything that came from the men's department at Target or Wall-mart for Christmas or Father's Day.) What I'm talking about are things that still have value to them even after being used. Take books for instance. Just because you've read a book doesn't mean it has to live on your shelf or, even worse, get thrown out. There are lots of places where you can get used books to pass on to friends and family but one of my favorites is Half Price Books. You can sell your old books and get cash or store credit for "new" books to read. You can even buy gift cards so that your loved one can pick out their own books.
EBay and Craig's List are other good places to find used items for gifts. One of the best gifts I've received and one of the best I've given have come from EBay and Half Price Books. A year or two ago I found a copy of Twas the Night Before Christmas on EBay that was the same edition as the one I remember reading when I was small. That's a gift (to myself) that I truly cherish. Another year, I bought a used copy of my sister's favorite book and framed the pages that contained her favorite scene. She loved it and it was mostly a recycled gift.
Then there are gifts that don't look different from the outside but are manufactured with environmentally friendly processes and products. Anything that is made of organic cotton is a good choice. Cotton is one of the most environmentally harmful crops because of the pesticides and fertilizers needed to grow it successfully. So, organic cotton is a better choice when available.
In addition, items made locally (reduces greenhouse gases produced through transport), made from renewable resources (bamboo anyone?) or made organically (less synthetic fertilizer and pesticides means better water quality) are choices for gifts that are environmentally conscious.
Let's not forget clothing resale. From thrift stores and vintage boutiques to consignment stores, used clothing can be a bargain and good for the earth. Depending on where you buy it, it may also benefit the charity of your choice. Many charity organizations have thrift stores where they sell donated goods. The proceeds from those sales help them to help others.
The last category of green Christmas gifts is the "Obviously Green Gift" category. This category is filled with items that are made to help us be better stewards. Gifts in this category are anything reusable that replaces something disposable (lunch containers, water bottles, shopping bags, cloth napkins) or items that replace "earth-unfriendly" items in our lives such as natural home cleaning items, soy candles or reed air diffusers. One year a student who knew that I was interested in the earth-friendly lifestyle gave me a gift pack of Mrs.Meyer's Clean Day Peppermint cleaning products. I was thrilled! I fell in love with the peppermint counter top spray. It smelled great and made me feel better about cleaning my kitchen counters. It had always creeped me out to use chemical sprays on food preparation areas but now I don't worry.
This is far from an exhaustive list of environmentally minded Christmas gifts but, hopefully, it gives you a starting point and you'll take off from here. Let me know what you find. I'm always interested in hearing about new ways to stay green.