Busted – that’s the Potomac River. But rivers feed into oceans, so you get the idea!
As the holiday shopping season heats up, I thought it would be fun to put together a list of gift ideas that do double duty – hopefully, delighting the recipient and supporting environmental conservation through either their low planetary impact or their direct contribution to earth-friendly causes. Here are some of my favorites…
- Upcycled sunnies. I’ve got a thing for great design, and I especially love great design that makes creative use of materials, so I’m predictably obsessed with Norton Point sunglasses. They’re polarized, completely UV-blocking, and made from recycled ocean plastic! I have a pair – “The Tide” – and was waxing poetic about them to my BFF, Rebecca, who said “I have a hard time imagining you wearing garbage on your face.” But I assure you – they don’t look like garbage; they get more compliments than any of my other pairs of sunglasses. I can’t get enough of them, and I’m hoping they come out with more designs soon! (I love “The Whitecap Swell,” but I have a very similar-looking pair from goodr, and can’t justify spending the money for almost the same exact look.)
- Jenga for ocean nerds. I first spotted this Jenga game, made from recycled plastic fishing nets, in the National Aquarium gift shop, and I thought it was such a cool idea. If we ever decide to add Jenga to our game closet, this is definitely the version I’m going for.
- 4Ocean bracelets. I looked at 4Ocean’s products for a long time before pulling the trigger and buying the whale bracelet, and I LOVE it. The basic gist is that for every bracelet that is purchased, 4Ocean will pull a pound of trash from the ocean – and the bracelets themselves are made of recycled materials (glass beads and a string made from plastic water bottles) pulled from the beaches and waterways. You can even get a subscription and receive additional bracelets – with corresponding good feelings – throughout the year. I think these look especially cute stacked, so I’d love to add to my collection at some point.
- A wetsuit yoga mat?! If I didn’t already have a yoga mat that I love, I’d be so into this one, made from recycled wetsuits.
- A recycled recycling truck. Nugget has a fleet of vehicles – trucks, cars, buses, helicopters and airplanes, and even a submarine and a ferry boat – from Green Toys. (He doesn’t actually have the recycling truck, but I love how meta that idea is.) The products are made from recycled milk jugs, the packaging is all cardstock and recyclable, and with no small parts to choke on, they’re suitable for the youngest kids. Ours have done bathtub and sandbox duty, driven over the tough terrain at the beach and playground, and served as snuggle buddies at night. Yes – I’m serious. Nugget went through a phase when he was about a year and a half old, in which he wouldn’t be caught dead with a stuffed friend and would instead fall asleep cuddled up with his Green Toys fire truck.
Low Impact Gifts
- Experiences. My high school BFF, Jenn, gifted our family tickets to the National Aquarium in Baltimore last Christmas. We saved the tickets for a rainy spring day and enjoyed every minute of our aquarium visit. The National Aquarium is on the pricey side (especially in an area where many museums, zoos and other experiences are free) so having the tickets bought and paid for took some of the heat off of our wallets and encouraged us to go. And bonus – the tickets were delivered by email and my phone was scanned at the entrance, so the carbon footprint of the gift was literally nada. The year before, my very generous mother-in-law gave us a gift certificate to the Inn at Little Washington – the dinner of a lifetime, and almost no packaging. (I have an experience gift planned for Steve this year, and I think he’s going to love it.)
- Memberships. We’re big on memberships in my family. I’ve gifted Steve with an annual membership to the Buffalo Museum of Science when we lived on the tundra, and down in DC we renew our Mount Vernon membership, our Friends of the National Zoo subscription, and our America the Beautiful pass every year. As with experiences, memberships are a great low-impact option – very little packaging, just a tiny membership card, and an entire year’s worth of enjoyment.
- Support local businesses. I’m a busy working mom, so I’ll be relying on Amazon to help me stock under the tree for Christmas morning, but I really love shopping locally. Given where I live, I am spoiled by the opportunity to walk out my front door and have dozens of fabulous local businesses to support within just a few blocks. We try to shop at our neighborhood children’s bookstore for every birthday party, and I’ve given plenty of handmade gifts purchased from the neighborhood farmers’ market (which includes craftspeople), the shops along King Street, and the Torpedo Factory Art Center (a favorite, because I can support local artists within walking distance of my house!). The earth-friendly bonus to supporting my neighbors: less packaging, I can use my own bag, and I don’t have to burn any gas, whether my own or FedEx’s.
- Gifts from your travels. I won’t be doing this in 2018, because I wasn’t on the ball enough when we visited the Adirondacks, but in other years I’ve thought ahead and picked up holiday gifts while on vacation. I’m there anyway, so it’s not burning any additional fuel, and I get the fun of including in my adventures those family and friends who weren’t on the vacation with me.
- Make it yourself. Once again, I probably won’t be doing this in 2018, but once upon a long time ago I had some spare time and I did an entirely handmade Christmas – I crocheted scarves for the women in my family, made homemade soaps and bath teas for my mom, and gave extended family members homemade rosemary and lemon-infused olive oil. The gifts were a hit! This year, I may try having the kids make something for their grandparents, but they’re not always in the mood to be cooperative, so we’ll see how that goes. But in my experience, gifts from the kitchen are usually a hit – one year, I’d love to do preserved lemon in pretty glass jars for everyone – and they’re as low impact as farmers’ market ingredients and some of your time and love.
- Green their laundry. Lately I’ve been really focused on microfibers and microplastics. I’d love to find the Guppyfriend under my tree – it would give me so much peace of mind to know that if my laundry is shedding microfibers, that I’m catching them and keeping them out of the Potomac and the Chesapeake.
Gifts that Give Back
- Adopt an endangered animal. Fun story: when Steve and I were on our second date, I told him about my friend Nicole, who had an adopted whale, and how much I had always wanted one. A couple of months later, for my birthday, he surprised me with my very own humpback whale, a calf named Ember. (Cue the collective awwwww.) Years later, I added an orca to the family: J-51 Nova of the southern resident population. Later I adopted L-119 Joy, also a southern resident orca, for Peanut’s class, and Steve and the kids adopted me J-26 Mike as a birthday gift. The money for the adoption goes toward research and conservation efforts, and if you choose to adopt an orca through The Whale Museum, you can even choose an environmentally-friendly paperless subscription.
- Donations. I love gifting (and receiving!) donations to a good cause. For the past few years, I’ve done donations to educational causes for Peanut’s teacher gifts – last year she gave three “a year of school for a Syrian boy” donations, one for each of her teachers. For me, I set up a birthday fundraiser through Facebook, with proceeds going to The Center for Whale Research, the leading research and conservation organization dedicated to protecting my beloved SRKWs. As with many experiences and endangered animal adoptions, donations can be paperless for the lowest impact possible, and there are so many great causes to support.
- Reveal techie goods. I’m obsessed with my Bluetooth earbuds from Reveal Shop. For every purchase of their – beautifully-designed, cruelty-free and affordable – products, Reveal plants a tree. I’m seriously considering adding this bamboo Bluetooth speaker and smartphone charger to my Christmas list this year.
- Glassybaby for everyone. I couldn’t make a sustainable/low-impact gift list without including glassybaby. I’ve been collecting them for years. In addition to their handmade uniqueness and gorgeous glow-from-within look, glassybaby is committed to giving back to causes including environmental and wildlife conservation – for every single glassybaby purchased, the company donates a portion of its proceeds to charity. I love that they’re on a mission to make the world better, one light at a time. (Note: glassybaby is based in the Pacific Northwest, so if you’re not local to one of their shops, this is a gift with a little bit of a carbon footprint. But I think the company’s commitment to charitable giving makes it worth it nonetheless.)
What are your favorite eco-friendly gifts?