Posted by: leahbiery | December 11, 2009

Green Giving

Are You Making a List and Checking it Twice?

As the holiday season is again upon us, we would like to remind you to keep our environment in mind while doing good for others.

Many companies are turning to “green” advertising as a way of marketing their products to the public. While perusing the internet, I found gift ideas ranging from the practical (nice reusable shopping bags) to the absurd (“eco-friendly” snow-globes and organic aftershave).  I think that during the shopping bonanza of the holidays, it’s important to keep in mind which purchases are necessary, or at least which are the best.

For example, your clownfish might really appreciate a new toy, but if you really want to do something for a fish, why not help many sea creatures in need by donating money to the cause of ocean conservation?

At the Sanibel Sea School, we believe in the spirit of giving, and we know that gifts can be obligatory and that giving is just plain fun.  This holiday season, we encourage you to give wisely by choosing meaningful gifts for friends and family instead of just “things.” We invite you to join us in finding creative ways of giving that provide meaning, reduce waste and make the world a better place, and we created this guide to help you!

First Things First

During the holidays, our mailboxes are stuffed with catalogs, many of which end up directly in the recycling bin without a glance.  Between the trees required to make the paper, the chemicals used in printing, and the fuel used for delivery, catalogs are very draining on the environment.  These days, nearly every major retailer has a website, so why not be more efficient by ditching the catalogs and doing your holiday shopping online? The Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service allows you to control the junk mail you receive. You can cancel catalogs and those annoying credit card offers. I registered with this website last year and it takes a few months to start working, but it is definitely effective.

While we’re on the topic, another way you can save paper (and money!) is by finding alternatives to store-bought wrapping paper. Black and white newspaper looks great with a red ribbon, and the comic pages are a fun wrapper. You could also have your kids decorate brown paper grocery bags to use as gift-wrap.  Their art will be more meaningful to family than store-bought paper.

If you plan on purchasing magazine or newspaper subscriptions as gifts, consider an electronic subscription. It’s environmentally friendly and usually cheaper than the paper version.

The Gift of the Outdoors

Instead of video games or clothing, set your family up with an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. An annual pass to all of the National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands in the United States is an inexpensive gift that the whole family can enjoy. If you don’t live near a national park, check out local wildlife refuges (Sanibel’s Ding Darling offers a duck stamp that permits access to the wildlife drive for a year).

Glacier National Park, Montana

You could also consider giving a gift certificate for surfing lessons or taking a snorkeling trip. These activities will foster an appreciation of the natural environment and help your family stay healthy and active.

Another idea is to save fuel by giving your family a trip to a nearby destination. Rather than traveling long distances to relax and explore, pack up the kids, the dog, the grandparents, the parakeet – whatever your unit is – and head down the road for a long weekend of exploration to some out of the way, but nearly local place.  You will have a great weekend and the whole family will enjoy the anticipation and planning of your mini-vacation.

The Gift of Learning

Try to remember what your friends and family have expressed interest in over the past year. If your mom has been glued to the Food Network, now would be a good time to buy her a series of culinary classes.  Many such classes are available online.

If your kids love the beach, sign them up for a program or two at Sanibel Sea School! It’s fun to get gifts that last past the holidays, and gifts of learning often lead to a lifetime of enjoyment.

Anna Schuster enjoys a day of learning at Sanibel Sea School

The Gift of Livelihood

Last year I received a goat for Christmas from Heifer International. My landlord would have lost his mind if I started keeping livestock in the backyard, so it worked out perfectly that I never had a chance to meet my ruminant. Heifer is an organization that allows you to purchase livestock and have it sent to people around the world (domestically and abroad) who are living in hunger and poverty. You can give the gift in a friend’s name and they will receive a thank you card with a picture of their animal and an explanation of the organization’s work. The Heifer organization delivers the animals in breeding pairs and provides training to the recipients about how to make the most of their new livestock. Instead of eating one goat, the community is taught to breed their pair of goats until they have a herd, then collect milk, make cheese, and start businesses to sell the goods. I love this idea because I think it really encompasses the spirit of meaningful giving. Personally, I would much rather have a donation made in my name to Heifer than receive one more pair of slippers.

A Tanzanian boy enjoys a gift to his family from Heifer International

Truly Blue Giving

At Sanibel Sea School, we like to think blue instead of green. After all, 70 percent of our planet’s surface is covered in water.  All rivers lead to the sea, so all of our choices and actions ultimately affect the ocean.  And, environmentalism is really about ocean conservation – so remember that blue is the new and true green.

If you’re shopping for that granola friend who wants to save the planet, and you want to buy her a tangible, eco-friendly gift, buy something that the recipient can actually use to make her lifestyle more “blue.” Avoid buying things labeled “organic” or “green” just because they seem to be an environmental answer.  Always remember: your goal is to give a lasting gift that truly warms the recipient’s heart.

Some good presents for the eco-people in your life: a Brita filter paired with reusable bottles for the whole family.  Buy a set of paint pens and take the time to decorate and personalize the bottles, so your friends will enjoy it every time they take a sip. Many companies make nice reusable shopping bags – there are beautiful girly patterns available as well as more rugged styles for men.

An indoor plant or herb garden is a useful gift that will help improve air quality, and people usually love a good bottle of organic wine.  Try to find unique locally grown products; in SW Florida, we have mangrove honey, which is a truly exotic gift for your snow-bound friends.

If you’re shopping for clothes, Patagonia makes high quality clothing that will last for years. They also donate a percentage of their profits to a variety of environmental organizations.

There is also a great program through World Wildlife Fund that allows you to adopt an animal in a friend’s name. Your friend will receive a stuffed animal and some information about their new adoptee, and the money helps support conservation efforts for that animal in the wild.

The Gift of Service

Many of us have enjoyed a gift from a spouse, child or friend that was truly about giving.  It can be a pass to sleep-in late, an IOU for a foot rub, a back-rub, a morning coffee at the local coffee shop, a promise to mow the lawn, or day of dish washing.  With a few 3×5 note cards, a couple of colored pencils and some imagination you can produce a gift that is sure to be enjoyed.

Time is our most valuable commodity, and if you give someone you care about the gift of your time, you will find that you both enjoy it more than a box of chocolate – well, maybe not a box of chocolate, but at least you won’t have to work it off at the gym.

Shop for Good

Regardless of which gifts you buy, you can add meaning by using GoodShop.  It’s an organization that allows you to shop at the stores you already frequent online, but a percentage of your purchase is donated to a charity of your choice.  Choose Sanibel Sea School or another worthy cause as your organization, and you can make contributions as you purchase for the people on your list.  This can really add up over time, so make a difference by making GoodShop your shopping venue!

Most importantly, remember to give of yourself this holiday season!

Happy Holidays!


  1. […] environmentally-conscious gifts. For stress-free giving that you can feel good about, check out our 2009 ideas, and a few new ideas for […]

  2. […] environmentally-conscious gifts. For stress-free giving that you can feel good about, check out our 2009 ideas, and a few new ideas for […]

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