Hi Umbra,

I’m getting married in August, and I’ve registered on Heifer International, but am looking for other ways to offer gift-givers a way to buy socially conscious and green gifts. Since “green,” fair-trade, and organic are all the rage, could you recommend any good online places to find eco-friendly products other than the obvious (Whole Foods, REI, etc.)? I want to be sure I support the right places instead of the wannabes.

Charla
Seattle, Wash.

Dearest Charla,

Congratulations. I hope all the wedding advice and tips in the Grist archives have been helpful to your event planning. I know they help me every year as I revisit the green wedding. No, no, I don’t get married every year. Each spring we hear from concerned betrothed persons, and I go back through the Grist archives, read what my colleagues and readers have suggested, and remix the ideas, along with some new ones, into one sparkly brew of love.

Mind you, some of my own home-cooked suggestions have been pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. I still believe that registering for durable, well-made products that you are certain to use is the way to go. “Gift” too often means something you don’t really need that looks nice and decorative and seemed safely inoffensive to the giver. A “green gift” then becomes an unnecessary item made of bamboo. The biggest favor you can do yourselves and the planet is to figure out what you actually need, make that clear to your givers via direct communication or a registry, and not ask for anything above or beyond those needed items.

I laud you for registering on Heifer, not only because Heifer is great, gives to others, does good ecological work, and won’t result in unnecessary gear, but also because you have provided your guests with a way to express their own social activism on your behalf.

All that said, I think it is also OK to register for things that you want. As for the “wannabe” question, that can be hard to muddle through, unless you have months to do research on each corporation. Today, we find some big companies taking positive steps: Target is phasing out PVC, even Wal-Mart is undertaking corporate greening. On the other hand, a smaller store that sells all-hemp or “natural” gear doesn’t necessarily have meaningful green credentials — a lot of the goods at all-natural sites are geared toward ye olde gifte shoppe type gifting. That’s why I think the key here is the products themselves. If you find a pile of ecologically mild, desirable items at a store you respect, then go ahead and patronize their website. It may be Amazon (they sell cast iron pans …), and that wouldn’t necessarily be bad.

If that seems too obvious, our readers and authors have suggested a variety of helpful www shops: Just Give, a charity registry; Felicite, where you can build a registry out of various favorite online stores; Co-op America’s Green Pages, a directory of “screened and approved green business”; and Green Home and Green Culture, two bamboo-filled sites. The Grist holiday gift guide from a couple of years back has gobs of suggested gifts and locations, and I have even flirted with the topic myself.

You might find local craftspeople whose products fit your values, and figure out some kind of registry process with them, either through their website or via email. Marrying people have also enjoyed asking for donations to the honeymoon, which gets back to the green idea of giving experiences, not things. Sometimes, though, you just want a KitchenAid mixer.

Covetously,
Umbra