How can one recognize green gifts? They may be zero waste, or up-cycled, or home-made. They may be intangible, socially responsible, or actively supporting sustainability initiatives. Whatever your holiday circumstances, it is possible to make every gift choice a little greener. Here are a few ideas.

Zeit Statt Zeug: Time, Not Stuff

green gifts of experiences

Flying at Tibidabo

I spent all day on the train going from Paris to Budapest yesterday. It was lovely watching the fog rolling through the countryside in France, spotting all the solar panels and windmills in Germany, and snacking all the way! Austria is one of my favorite countries to ride through. The perfect architecture of small-town churches and their hamlets framed by the Alps is just gut-wrenchingly beautiful. Perhaps a ride on a train would be a good green gift! Travel is a journey, not a destination, right? It’s special to see the land you’re traveling across. Amtrak up the coast of California or a ride from Budapest to Zurich is a treat indeed.

Anyway, I bring this up because I read — and mostly understood with my rusty German — a lovely article in Deutsche Bahn’s Mobil magazine about the “Zeit statt Zeug” movement: Time instead of stuff. There is a cool Zeit statt Zeug website with an English version, too. It helps you move your thinking from concrete gift ideas like perfume, cookbooks, toys, flowers, etc. to intangible time-based ones to directly replace them. Fresh mountain air on a hike you take together replaces perfume. Getting together to cook a meal replaces cookbooks. Experiences like going to the zoo replace toys like stuffed animals. Time spent planting flowers together replaces a bouquet.

gift of self interior design

gift of self: book nook design

I absolutely love this idea. Special outings make amazing memories. I still remember my adult cousins taking me and my sister out to Sturbridge Village as a kid and cooking us a spaghetti dinner back home. This past weekend, we had a magical time at the Tibidabo amusement park on a high hilltop overlooking Barcelona. It was a birthday treat for hubby, and it made me realize how rare it actually is for us to spend all day together as a family.

I’ve also loved and cherished my sister’s gifts of time as an interior designer. She helped me put together my son’s reading nook, mostly via internet! It turned out great, and I could’ve have done it without her input and ideas. We also have a lovely babysitter we met through the Buy Nothing Project who is very generous with her gifts of free babysitting time. We absolutely appreciate and enjoy that very much! When we think about what we really feel like we need, it’s usually time, or help with some project that just can’t seem to get done on its own.

Gifts to Charity

If ever there was a year for tongue-in-cheek gifts, this may be it. Giving to Planned Parenthood in the name of family members who voted Republican could be considered spiteful and in bad taste. (Assuming, of course, that the voter believes that cutting access to family planning will actually reduce the number of abortions in our country.) But there’s no denying that many, many organizations are going to need more funding this year to fulfill their important missions.

kiva loans that change livesI wrote about some of my favorite Seattle nonprofits in this post and some anti-hate organizations in my post-election reflection. I’ve also been meaning to write about Kiva microfinance, which is a super fun and feel-good kind of giving where you actually get your money back after doing some good! I’ve been able to give loans for biodigesters in Mexico, reforestation in South America, small-scale recyclers in Africa, beekeepers in Armenia, etc. I lose a little due to currency fluctuations and such, but I’ve saved up $500 while lending to 38 entrepreneurs in 20 countries. They now have loans to entrepreneurs and small farmers in the USA, too. So in a time of increasing austerity and uncertainty, Kiva presents a nice way to directly support some great sustainability initiatives happening in the most unlikely places.

earth justiceAnother organization I really love is Earthjustice. Their slogan says it all: “Because the Earth needs a good lawyer.” Since 1971, their legal victories have protected us from air pollution and toxic chemicals, protected biodiversity, and preserved forests. Signing petitions, calling legislators, and even protesting are important, but so often it is only through the courts that activists can stand up to big businesses that try to exploit our natural resources without caring about ramifications for human and ecosystem health now and in the future. When situations like pipeline protests, methane gas leaks, and poisoned drinking water arise, we absolutely want good lawyers in our corner. Earthjustice is always there, and often emerges victorious. As far as lawyers are concerned, these folks are my heroes!

Both of these organizations have earned Charity Navigator’s top 4-star rating, meaning that the organization is transparent, accoutable and efficient, spending almost everything on mission and almost nothing on its fundraising. Only 2% of charities earn this rating each year. Even the ever-popular Heifer International, which lets you buy livestock for poor families in someone’s name as a gift, only got 3 stars this year.

Sustainable Products

It’s not always possible or polite to take such a high road (or high horse?) and refuse to give conventional gifts. I recommended some toys made from recycled materials in this post, and some thoughts on sustainable clothing here. I also love this list of ideas for sustainable food gifts from Take Part. – one of the first publicly traded B-corporations, by the way! – is a great place to find upcycled and handmade items and to discover local producers of the items you need. My sis found this awesome handmade garden tote for me — made of up-cylced sails in coastal Maine. It was made by Hoist Away Bags, which she discovered on Etsy. I’ve also ordered pillowcases, personalized handkerchiefs, upcycled linen cocktail napkins, and who knows what else on there, all with great results.

Well, those are my ideas for now. Please comment below with your own ideas of DIY, upcycled, or otherwise sustainable gift alternatives for the holiday season. And a very happy holidays to all!

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