After "Black Friday"/"Buy Nothing Day", and now "Cyber Monday", we enter the mainstream holiday shopping period. Hopefully, as climate change and peak oil become more real, consumers will begin to think about the true costs of the various trinkets and mass-produced goods that we buy. As a nation, we no longer produce, we import, and as we have recently seen, many of these imports are poorly regulated, sending toxic toys into the hands of our youths. But never fear, if you're not into giving your friends lead-tainted, petrol-based crap made in sweatshops and shipped around the world, wasting fossil fuels and undermining American jobs, there are many other options out there!
Donate: You can buy an amazing array of animals, supplies, and other helpful items for 3rd world villages through Oxfam or Heifer International, or adopt a child through Save the Children. To make sure that your money is going to the right place and your charities are run efficiently and properly, check out CharityNavigator.org for reviews.
Offset: Buy CO2 offsets for friends and family through Terrapass (for profit) or Carbonfund (non-profit).
Reuse: Check out craigslist, freecycle, and ebay for used items that can still be a thoughtful gift, and don't forget your local thrift shops! Also check out make, readymade, and instructables for fun projects that can recycle your old stuff into fun gifts.
Online Gifts: A digital iTunes gift certificate can get your loved one some sweet melodies and not use a single piece of paper, no CDs, no jewel cases, no fuel for delivery. Just the electrons going to your computer! Amazon.com has a digital music store as well with gift certificates available, offering up DRM-free tunes for download.
Buy Responsibly: If you're can't find that perfect non-consumer gift, there are plenty of responsible options out there as well. Try to find fair-trade and local goods when possible. With fair trade, you have confidence that the workers that produced what you're buying are getting paid a reasonable wage and are not subjected to sweat shop conditions. Since we live in central CA, a good local bottle of wine, especially organic, is the perfect tasty gift. Ten Thousand Villages imports fair-trade crafts from around the world and more and more online retailers like Greenfeet, Gaiam, 3rLiving, and are targeting the green crowd with a lot of eco-friendly options. We're huge Patagonia fans as well, where you'll find responsibly and well-made clothing for the outdoors and indoors, they've been using organic cotton, hemp, and recycled PET for years and even have an underwear recycling program! Their new eco-conscious wetsuit is on my holiday list (R3 model, size XLS if you're wondering). Prana, Timberland, and Simple (I have a pair of the Green Toe "Toemorrows" and they're fantastic) are other companies that have reworked their business practices in response to the current state of our planet's health. Outdoor gear retailer Backcountry.com has a new page called "The Green Goat" that spotlights all of their green offerings. Method is our favorite eco-friendly cleaning supply company that serves up non-toxic, naturally scented, designer products for most of your home scouring needs. Also, a quick and easy stocking stuffer is a steel water bottle (and here) to fight the "bottled water environmental catastrophe" (here, here, and here) that we have fallen prey to.
Get Them What They Want: Although I'd hope that most people these days would be stoked to receive one of the aforementioned ideas as a socially conscious gift, some people might not be as receptive to the concept. Our culture still has a long way to go to let go of the consumerist traditions that have been cultivated since WWII, but that doesn't mean that they deserve coal in their stockings. I think that one of the easiest ways to avoid waste this holiday season without offending some, is to find out what they really need and/or want, and get them that. Then you're sure they'll like it and use it, and it won't be thrown away (or hopefully recycled) to make room for next year's unwanted presents.
There are many more responsible options available, Treehugger has their holiday gift guides up as well for more ideas. Feel free to post your favorites!
Happy Holidays to all!