Gift ideas and holiday cheer from Grist readers and staff
The holiday season is upon us, and you know what that means: bajillions of crazed consumers seeking sales assistants full of cheer, good tidings of markdowns, and the joy of reaching the last TMX Elmo just before that little old lady in the wheelchair does.
What’s a jaded green to do? Turn to Grist, of course!
We’ve consulted the best and the brightest — our staff and readers — for holiday gift suggestions. And with their brilliant ideas, we’ve built a wondrous virtual department store just for you. Instead of fighting the crowds, sit back and imagine that our readers and staff are friendly clerks offering inspiration and assistance. Doesn’t that feel nice?
Some of the ideas below — and oodles more — can be found in our brand-spankin’ new Amazon store! (We hate to be crass, but we do get a small percentage of the profits, so you get to give two gifts in one. And we know consumption is evil — but if you’re going to engage in it regardless, we know your choices will be wise ones. Because you’re so thoughtful! So generous! And so darn good-looking!)
Got more ideas? Add your suggestions to the list.
Wander Into the Store, and Grab a Bag
I was given three ChicoBags for my birthday this year, and I plan on giving them as a perfect gift for families and friends. Everyone needs to go grocery shopping, so everyone can use these reusable bags! They fold into an integrated pouch with a hook, can fit in or hook on to your pocket or purse, and come in five colors. Imagine not having to deal with 300 to 700 plastic shopping bags (which in turn saves three to seven gallons of crude oil) a year anymore.
— Sarah Parrott, Fabulous Grist Reader
Get a Wrapsack, log on to the website, register it, name it something cool (like the “Sea-Sheep”), give it a goal (“make it to Machu Picchu”), and send it on its merry way. Then track how many times it’s changed hands, how many miles it’s traveled, etc. It’s not just a way to reduce gift-wrap waste, it’s an epic journey!
— Corey McKrill, Marvelous Grist Production Associate
Leaf Through the Literature Department
This year, I’m planning to give out copies of An Inconvenient Truth. Several will go to friends and family who saw the film and who I know will enjoy the book and share it with others. But I’m also sending a copy to my very conservative grandparents. I’m pretty sure they’ll have a chuckle and roll their eyes, but I’m hoping they’ll leave it out on their coffee table, too afraid my feelings will be hurt if they get rid of it. And maybe one day, when their TV program is over and they’ve read all their Prevention magazines — and no one’s looking — they’ll pick it up and flip through it. Or maybe a neighbor will. Or my grandmother’s bridge club. All I know is that the full-page, full-color images and foldout graphs had a huge impact on me — and I’m already a believer. So maybe, just maybe, it could make believers out of them too.
— Sarah van Schagen, Dazzling Grist Assistant Editor
Dash Over to the Sports Department
Best eco-gifts ever: Woolly wear from Ibex, a cool small company based in Vermont. They have some truly excellent base layers, as well as some useful cycling tights. Most of their stuff is 100 percent wool, but not the itchy, heavy, cumbersome stuff. Light, warm, and non-itchy — it’s all that’s on my list this year. And clad in it, nothing will keep me inside this fall and winter.
Tying woolly wear for the best eco-gifts ever are (what else?) the best in transportation versatility: a doesn’t-get-more-useful-than-this cyclo-cross bike. Combining the speed of a road bike and many of the terrain capabilities of a mountain bike, ‘cross bikes are the best commuters and all-around bicycles out there, period. If you’ve no spending limit, consider the sweet, sweet titanium, Colorado-made Moots. For the rest of us, there are other fun options.
— Todd Hymas, Astonishing Grist Assistant Editor
After soccer (that’s football to the rest of the world) and my wife Sarah — oh wait, I meant Sarah and then soccer — cycling is top priority for this two-wheeling enthusiast. Because purchasing worldly goods is so 1994, the best thing to get the bike-obsessed is a contribution to the local chapter of a bicycling advocacy group. Nothing says “I love you” like some much-deserved money for an organization working hard to ensure that safe biking options exist, so your loved one isn’t found splattered by an SUV.
If you must consume, there’s nothing better than some head-turning cycling swag. This year’s picks are unquestionably cycling jackets, Giordana cycling jerseys, Assos Roubaix F1 Mille knickers (hot!), and Chrome bags. Purchasing from Indie Bike is advised, as a percentage of their proceeds benefit Rails to Trails. See previous paragraph for why that’s a good idea.
— Andrew Kraybill Burkhalter, Stunning Grist Reader and Grist Husband
I like bags. It’s an easy way to store gear and make sure that all my crap (beloved stuff) is in the same place when I need it. Two bags I’m dropping hints with Santa for are both messenger bags, from Alchemy Goods and Reware.
The Alchemy Goods bag is a compulsive recycler’s wet dream, made from recycled bike-tire tubes and seat belts. It’s soft, durable, and looks really sharp. I’d use this for commuting to work by bike, as it has lots of room for a change of clothes. Reware’s Juice Bag is perfect for off-grid adventures: it’s made from recycled soda bottles and can power up your electronics via the sun! The outside flap is a thin-film solar panel that can recharge mobile devices like a camera, phone, mp3 player, or GPS. It’ll also charge up your social life, as it’s a natural conversation starter.
— Brendon Smyth, Spectacular Grist Marketing Manager
Take a Break, for Creativity’s Sake
We usually make our gifts each year, often out of materials we have on hand. We’ve done a lot of renovating over the years, so one year we painted leftover ceramic tiles and added a felt bottom for coasters; another year we used leftover paint on leftover Homasote to make bulletin boards; and so on. This year, since people are so busy during the holidays or often succumb to whatever bug is going around, we thought we’d make a meal a week in December to give people a respite from cooking. We have to cook for ourselves anyway and we use all organic ingredients, so why not make extras for the rest of the family?
— Amy Humphrey, Amazing Grist Reader
Choosing gifts for eco-friends is easy: TerraPass, planting trees, organic soap, etc. It’s getting something for the not-so-eco-minded that doesn’t smack of “crunchy granola,” but also is not mass-produced crap, that can be difficult. I give a lot of “weekends away”: a snowboard lesson, a night at a B&B and passes to a national park for hiking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing lessons. For my less active friends, a night at a spa for two. Generally I get to join in on these activities, and so it’s like two gifts in one — I get to spend time with friends and we get to do something we both enjoy.
I find lovely nature-themed books, watercolors, and films at the Heron Dance nonprofit website, run by a painter and his wife. I have also been lucky with A Greater Gift, a nonprofit that sells fair-trade products from around the world. The Y Catalog is a relatively new spot wherein a bunch of manufacturers have pledged to donate 10 percent of anything you buy to the charity of their choice. Patagonia products are sneaky eco-gifts. Most people don’t know that Patagonia’s cotton is organic, its wool is not bleached, and it participates in the 1% for the Planet initiative — they just think they are getting a cool shirt. [Editor's note: Grist is also grateful to Patagonia for including recycled- content Grist flyers in many of its holiday packages this year, making a Patagonia present doubly eco-sneaky.]
— Kaela Porter, Beloved Grist Reader
Skip Through the Kids’ Department
One year my sister and I cleaned our closets of their outdated contents: poofy pastel bridesmaid dresses, platform shoes (that are actually back in style now), floral scarves, clunky jewelry, big-brimmed hats, loud blouses — you get the idea. We threw in sample-sized lipsticks and eye shadows we’d never wear, augmented with a few carefully chosen items from a thrift shop (sadly we only needed a couple of things because there was such a wealth of embarrassing material in our closets), put it all in a recycled, dishwasher-sized cardboard box, wrapped it up with a big ribbon and gave it to our two nieces for Christmas. They loved it, not only because they got to unwrap the biggest gift under the tree, but because it provided hours and hours of dress-up fun. Surprisingly, my nephews were into it almost more than my nieces!
— Kendra Howe, Adept Grist CEO
I gave hot water bottles to some children for Christmas a few years ago. One of them smiled blissfully as he held a filled water bottle to his chest and said, “I can’t wait to take a nap!” — which made his mom’s jaw drop. It’s a low-tech gift that makes adults happy too. I recently found some at Whole Foods that have fuzzy covers with “Hot Wheels”-type flames embroidered on the sides. I bought some for some of the older kids I know, as they are totally cool-looking. Maybe Santa will bring me one too.
— Roz Cummins, Delectable Gristmill Contributor
Tickets are a favorite holiday gift in my family. I’ve got two teenage siblings I don’t see very often, and the only thing the three of us have in common is good taste in music, so I like taking them to concerts. Sometimes I snoop around on their MySpace pages to find out their favorite bands, or I just give them a gift certificate that lets them pick the concert. There’s no excess crap involved, we get to spend time together, and they may even think I’m cool as a result. Plus it absolves the folks from having to take them to a loud rock show, so they like it, too.
— Kate Sheppard, Adroit Grist Editorial Intern
Pause in the Good Cause Department
My friends and family have a tradition of giving to others (various charitable organizations, food banks, etc.). One can often get gift cards to send to acknowledge the donation made in another’s honor. Another gift-giving tradition is the gift of prayers and hopes, given to another in the form of a card or letter. I have also given small jars with tiny scrolls of blessings. These take a little time, but are always one of a kind.
— Raye Hodgson, Extraordinary Grist Reader
This year, I’m giving everybody I know a goodie from Thistle Farms — a jackpot for conscientious gift-givers that combines environmental do-goodism with humanitarian outreach. Thistle Farms sells natural and organic bath and body products that are handmade by the residents of Magdalene House, a nonprofit recovery community for women with a criminal history of prostitution and drug abuse. Proceeds support the residents and also provide outreach to women in jail or on the streets. The program was founded by an Episcopal priest and the products have Bible-derived names — “Balm of Gilead,” “Lot’s Wife Salt Scrub” — but the driving mission is universal in spirit. I’ve tried all the products, and the quality is consistently excellent. In fact, the model has been so successful that its founder is now working with other churches in several cities throughout the Southeast to begin replicating it.
— Amanda Griscom Little, Accomplished Grist Columnist
One of the most highly appreciated gifts I ever gave was a membership to a local public radio station for a friend who was an avid listener but hadn’t previously donated. He was thrilled because he no longer had to feel guilty during the pledge drives.
— Lisa Hymas, Stupendous Grist Senior Editor
I like to give friends and family peace bonds. Sold by the nonprofit Nonviolent Peaceforce, they support NP’s mission of sending well-trained, unarmed, third-party peacekeepers into countries that invite them to come. Currently they have peacekeepers living and working in Sri Lanka.
— lylee, Awesome Grist Reader
I always donate to nonprofits. I like being both defensive and offensive in my approach. I donated to a nonprofit that promised to keep a ton of pollution out of the atmosphere with my moola, and then another that was working on clean energy.
— Emily Cunningham, Diverting Grist Marketing Coordinator
Our group of friends gets together and pools the money we would gift each other toward Heifer International (or other organizations helping others around the globe), and then we either make or buy token gifts for each other priced under $5 each. We’ve been able to support sustainable self-help for villages all over the world!
— Nancy Boyd, Superb Grist Reader
Stop by the Café on Your Way Out
A great gift to the environment, to our neighboring farmers in Chiapas, Mexico, and to the taste buds of coffee drinkers, Just Coffee is a cooperative that offers 100 percent pure Arabica Coffee — shade-grown. I just ordered my next batch. What a morning treat! I am willing to pay more for the privilege of doing good. My reward? Great coffee
— Nancy Beeghly, Fantastic Grist Reader
Some of my friends and I decided a few years ago that the best gift we could give to each other was to not exchange gifts at the holidays. What we do instead is all go out to a big Chinese dinner together, which is fun because you can order stuff you don’t normally order, like two eggplant dishes, etc., and split the cost. Doing this cuts down on expense, stress, and having too many “things” around, and it leaves us money to give to causes we really care about. And it beats the hell out of getting re-gifted scented candles!
— Roz Cummins, Delectable Gristmill Contributor
As a chocolate snob and an eco-aspirational eater, I love Theo Chocolate. This new Seattle-based chocolatier makes scrumptious bars and truffles using organic, fair trade-certified cocoa beans. My hands-down favorite is the Bread & Chocolate bar — it sounds odd, but if you like sweet and salty together (think top-notch chocolate-covered pretzels), this is the confection for you. More widely available — and also organic, equitably produced, and deee-lish — are chocolate bars from Dagoba (made in Oregon) and Green & Black’s (made in the U.K.).
— Lisa Hymas, Stupendous Grist Senior Editor
Oops! Almost Forgot the Shameless Self-Promotion Lounge
Some of our readers couldn’t help but plug their own organizations in response to our inquiries — so, it being the season of giving, we’re giving them their very own section. And speaking of self-promotion, did we mention we have a new Amazon store?
Treat your family and friends (and even yourself) to the gift of the oceans by adopting an endangered marine creature. Your donation to Oceana helps us protect sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, and whales and promote healthy oceans. And as a token of our thanks, you’ll receive a special cookie cutter in the shape of your favorite marine creature.
— Andy Sharpless, Intrepid Grist Blog Contributor and Oceana CEO
I can’t pretend to be impartial telling you this, since I work for Mountain Equipment Co-op, but have a look at our shopping bag policy. We’re trying to lead the way in this area, in Canada at least.
— Christian Bergeron, Brilliant Grist Reader
Earth Tech just created an exciting new section called Gifts for Treehuggers. We just updated and enhanced it to include more recycled glass and decor items. Here we are featuring our favorite green gift ideas for this holiday season. We have everything from cool solar gadgets and chargers to beautiful glass vases and tableware. We also have modern decor and furniture from some of the hottest up-and-coming designers.
— Frank Bianco, Exquisite Grist Reader and Earthtech Products CEO
We’ve just published the Green Guide for Christmas here in the U.K.
— Gavin Markham, Glorious Grist Reader and Green Guide Editor
I’d like to recommend Ironweed Film Club. It’s a progressive, independent, monthly DVD “magazine” of hard-to-find films from film fests around the world. You can give gift subscriptions really easily online!
— Natalie Silverstein, Impressive Grist Reader and former Ironweed Outreach Director
My book Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and Other Backyard Wildlife makes a great holiday gift for anyone interested in backyard birding/wildlife, gardening, or living more sustainably.
— David Mizejewski, Worthy Grist Reader and Host of Animal Planet’s Backyard Habitat
Ecoist has a lot more than just the regular candy wrapper handbag — which is cool on its own. They’ve got belts, placemats, movie billboard yoga bags, billboard laptop bags, etc. They’ve already planted 10,000 trees via Trees for the Future, and each bag purchase plants another one. The bags are made in Mexico and Peru by folks earning fair wages. They are keeping lots and lots of waste from going to the landfills.
— Rebecca Carter, Illustrious Grist Reader, Ecorazzi Cofounder and Editor, and Ecoist Consultant
I used to design products for Resource Revival in Portland, Ore., and am still a partner. Self-interest aside, we make really cool products out of recycled bike parts. The bottle openers and picture frames are particularly snazzy!
— Kif Scheuer, Excellent Gristmill Contributor
Our new book is green (in practice as well as content), useful, interesting, and beautifully designed. It doesn’t suck.
— Alex Nikolai Steffen, Convivial Grist Reader and Worldchanging Executive Editor
Donate now to support our work.