The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 4, 2009


Giving gifts with a multiplier effect


Writer Launa Zimmaro begins to wrap a holiday gift, the Gaining Ground Cookbook, with an eco-certified dish towel and compostable raffia ribbon. The towel packaging was minimal and completely recyclable, including the hook. The cookbook emphasizes the use of seasonal produce and benefits the local non-profit. (Photo by Ellen Huber)

Madison Avenue’s siren call to “shop till we drop” isn’t so compelling these days. The reality of the economic meltdown and growing concerns about environmental issues have caused many Americans to pause and hit a values reset button. While our shopping impulse might be a product of marketing and advertising, generosity and compassion are in our DNA. Spending levels vary, but charitable contributions and gift-giving are here to stay.

In response to financial and environmental circumstances, many are buying less, giving homemade items and reconsidering gift choices. If you’re looking for ways to add meaning and value to your purchased holiday gifts by “doing good” for the planet, society and your wallet, consider the following guidelines: buy green, buy local, buy for social good.

Once you set your sights on local, green and socially-minded purchases, the possibilities for gifts that will reward and enrich you, the community, and the world well past the holidays will seem endless.

Buy green

Contrary to Kermit’s lament, being green has never been easier. And giving green can be as gentle on your bank account as it is on the planet, with benefits that ripple far beyond the giver and givee.

What makes a gift green? From Trenna Sue Hiler of, green gifts “are not just about the gifts purchased, but how the purchases were made, delivered and reach the lucky recipient.” How products are made extends beyond energy, use of toxics, waste and emissions to include working and selling conditions. Eco-certification provides a way for consumers to differentiate products based on “green” considerations.

Fairtrade is an example of certification that addresses these concerns. The Fairtrade mark, found on certified handicrafts and agricultural commodities from developing countries, ensures that practices are in compliance with internationally accepted Fairtrade standards. The vision of the non-profit Fairtrade Foundation is “a world in which justice and sustainable development are at the heart of trade structures and practices so that everyone, through their work, can maintain a decent and dignified livelihood and develop their full potential.”

The certification system in both the US and abroad has become crowded and complex. Efforts to create a unified eco-certification system in the US are underway to help deal with the explosion of labels (; Energy Star, LEED, and USDA Organic certification labels are some of the best known in the US, but are limited in their scope.

Recent scares about product safety, most notably those related to food, baby products and toys, have created understandable anxiety in consumers who increasingly want to know the health, safety and environmental impact of the products they buy.

GoodGuide is leading the way in providing transparency into company and product performance. Over 1,100 criteria related to the social, environmental and health imprint of a product over its full life-cycle (i.e., design, manufacture, transportation and disposal) are used in its rating system. Each category is then analyzed in terms of specific issues such as labor concerns, climate change policies, and product toxicity. Over 50,000 items, including foods, children’s products and toys, have been analyzed by GoodGuide with results available to the public at no charge (

Eco-friendly items have gone mainstream, with a wide variety of choices in every category. Holiday art and craft fairs are picking up on this trend, as reported in a recent article in the Boston Globe (Crafts fairs boosting green for the holiday, Globe West November 26, 2009). Buying at craft fairs allows you to support the arts through your green gifting.

For the foodies on your list, gift certificates and Community Supported Agricultural (CSA) shares from local, small farms are a wonderful way to support the burgeoning sustainable food movement, making ‘tasteful’ gifts in more ways than one.

An Internet search of eco-friendly gifts opens the door to countless possibilities. is a particularly user-friendly site ( Sample items from this site range from $10 to $110:

• Waste-free lunch kits for children and adults
• Terra cotta bread warmer for the bread baker
• Recycled jute bag backpacks
• Solar-powered outdoor lanterns and fixtures
• Recycled glass hummingbird feeders
• Natural cleaning solutions chart
• Kill A Watt power strips
• Home Energy Power Cost Monitor
• Glow Brick Night Light
• Bamboo bowls and platters

Other good sites for direct green gift shopping are:,, and

End-use disposal is another important purchasing consideration. Are products and their packaging recyclable or reuseable or will they end up in the solid waste stream adding to pollution and emissions from landfills and incinerators?

A trip to the Transfer Station after the Christmas holiday is evidence of the amount of waste generated by holiday wrapping and packaging. Multiply that super-sized, seasonal pile by the number of towns and cities across the country to understand the magnitude of the problem. Mass-produced wrapping paper is generally not recyclable. If every family in the U.S. substituted homemade or reusable wrapping (e.g., comics, children’s artwork, dishtowels, bandanas, baskets, bowls, glass jars, recycled tins, etc.) or reusable bags for commercial wrapping paper on just three gifts, enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields would be saved, not to mention the reduction in deforestation, energy and emissions associated with making that paper.

The past decade has brought an upsurge of companies voluntarily designing eco-friendly items and packaging as businesses discover benefits to their bottom line. Timberland was an early adopter of a zero waste approach. When you buy a pair of SmartWool socks (a Timberland product), you’ll be left with only your socks since every part of the minimal package was designed to be recycled.

Buy local

When you shop locally and buy local products, you not only support your community but you reduce the carbon footprint of your gifts by substantially cutting transportation mileage and associated emissions. Honey, candles, soaps, fine chocolates, music, books, stained glass, cheeses, produce, stationery, photographs, sculpture, hand-made fabric and woolen articles and more are produced by Carlisle artisans and available for purchase within Carlisle. Made by Carlisleans and available in town – you can’t get more local than that! Check the Artisans’ Directory (pink pages) in the Carlisle phone book and the following website for a listing of Carlisle artists, craftsmen and farmers:,

Besides our own country store, many small businesses dot the streets and neighborhoods of Acton, Bedford, Concord, West Concord and Lexington with Lincoln even boasting its own vineyard for shopping – all without the frenzy and hyper-stimulation of malls.

Buy for social good

Like many individuals, charitable organizations are struggling with financial losses and reduced funds during this economic downturn so donations in someone’s name do double duty.

In addition to the many organizations that provide relief and other services to those in need, several non-profit organizations are dedicated to relieving hunger and poverty across the globe through programs that promote self-reliance and sustainability. One of the best gifts I’ve ever received was a card notifying me that a gift in my name provided a flock of chicks for an impoverished family – a gift that would start that family on the road to a reliable source of food and income. The charities listed below are some of my personal favorites, but there are many to choose from. Check to find comparative ratings based on allocation of funds.

• Feed 100: Your $10 purchase of this reusable bag will feed 100 school-age children in Rwanda through the collaboration of UN World School Feeding Program and Whole Foods. Sold exclusively at Whole Foods and online.

• Habitat for Humanity International:
• Heifer International:
• Mercy Corps:
• New Entry Sustainable Farms:
• Oxfam America Unwrapped:
• Ten Thousand Villages: supports artisans from around the world through its Fairtrade policy:
• World Vision International:

Simplify the holiday

For other ideas on how to green and simplify the holidays, check the following sites: ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito