Dear Umbra,

The recent question about a senior gift to the school got me wondering: what are some green gift ideas for graduates?

Misty Boyd
Tahlequah, Okla.

Dearest Misty,

Cash. You could help them set up a retirement account.

With this answer, I think Grist will have covered most gifting opportunities: Valentine’s Day, weddings, babies, winter holidays, winter holidays for kids, and birthday fart jokes.

The gift of a public-transit habit.

Photo: iStockphoto

What differentiates a high school or college graduation from these other gifting opportunities? Um. Teenager-dom, or young-adult-dom, for one … and setting up a transitory household, but as a single person … and the general lack of cash in hand for funding dreams and schemes.

Usually graduates relocate to new cities or towns after leaving high school and college, or perhaps go on a short or long trip to celebrate their success and see the world. So transit gifts are my big graduate-related gift innovation.

A kid who was doing the traditional trip to Europe could use cash toward a Eurail Pass; someone visiting an uncle in Boston could use an MBTA subway pass. A kid moving to a new city could use an entire public-transit package, with maps; bus passes, subway cards, or rolls of quarters; and a guidebook. It doesn’t have to be a normal guidebook, either — I got the idea from a young graduate who received a large tome on Chicago urban history.

Continuing the transit theme: a biking graduate could use biking accessories, like a very good lock or two, a tune-up, a bike map, a book of bike trips near their new home, outdoor gear if they are an all-weather cyclist. A lot of cities have walking guidebooks. And you know a few kids would be deeply thankful for skateboard accessories.

Even car-owning graduates living where cars are a virtual necessity could use your help. A well-maintained car has fewer emissions, and a gift certificate for a tune-up, although not particularly thrilling, sure would be handy.

Of course, if transit seems like a non-starter, there are other ways to help a graduate be a conservationist. A giant comforter would help a Michigan student lower the heat at night. Books on reducing one’s environmental impact would be an obvious and probably useful green gift. I say probably, because only a few graduates would make the time to read such a book. Nature guides, hiking guides, and guides to urban parks would hit the plant end of ecological for interested persons.

I’m also thinking about the few presents I received during that time of life and held on to for years. I still have my world atlas (Iron Curtain and all), and the stereo I got after college was a longtime companion. That makes me think that durable goods are a fine gift for a graduate: something they need, or will certainly buy anyway, but a version vetted by you for ecological properties if necessary. Someone who is going to college might like a dorm room accessory like an LED desk lamp — or what about a solar charger for an iPod battery? Definitely any long-lasting object that supports their passions is fine.

One last idea: if the grad has a career path or defined interest area, there may be an organization out there that is both environmental and whatever. Environment and the law, environment and medicine, environment and construction, environment and sculpture, you get the idea. A membership in such an organization — that is my final offer.

Mortarboardly,
Umbra