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Q. Dear Umbra,

A friend has finally been able to buy a home in Florida, and I want to send a gift card.  I know she will have plenty of occasions to patronize the big chain hardware stores, but I am wondering whether there is a green alternative — either a chain that might have a brick-and-mortar store nearby, or a versatile general-purpose online vendor of things that will help make her infrastructure more sustainable?

Deborah Roher
New Bedford, Mass.

Hammer and giftcardA. Dearest Deborah,

A considerate friend, you are. A less-thoughtful (and less eco-conscious) pal would poke a few holes in a refrigerator box and send herself to Florida for an impromptu, vitamin D-filled vacation.

In a perfect world, you could enact one of the three R’s — reuse — and send her something she needed that you don’t, like your old toolkit or picture-hanging supplies. While still incurring wrath from the eco-gods for the CO2 associated with shipping, that eliminates her need to drive somewhere to spend her gift card, as well as the resources involved in producing something new. You could also present her with a list of tool-sharing programs or Florida Freecycle groups to help her find gently used versions of what she needs.

But I understand if you’re set on a gift card. It’s not clear where in Florida your friend is (the better to dissuade us all from unexpectedly visiting her!) so you may need to do a little digging. Google her town and “hardware store,” or try a similar search on Yelp, which will even tell you where the locals like to shop. See if you can find a mom-and-pop establishment she’d patronize. If they don’t seem to sell gift cards (or their wizened relative, the gift certificate) through their website, call or email to inquire. I can’t imagine they’d turn down your money. Helping her sustain her local economy is the next best thing to consuming less.

If you can’t find a local hardware store, you may want to broaden your scope a wee bit. Will your friend be decorating? What about a gift card to a local fabric store? Is there somewhere that sells recycled lumber? Maybe there’s a Floridian version of Portland’s Hippo Hardware, a funky antique or junk shop where she can dig through secondhand doorknobs and knick-knacks to find what she needs. Thrill of the hunt and all that!

Maybe a non-home improvement sort of housewarming gift is an option. You could gift your lovely friend with a membership to a nearby co-op or CSA, provided she’s interested, or send a gift card to a local nursery so she can pick out a native housewarming plant. Even if you do decide to go with a gift card for one of the big-box hardware stores, you can encourage her to buy something nontoxic that’ll last her a long time. Just let us know when to bring over the salmon-safe wine!

Housewarmingly,
Umbra