How to Become a Hero c.j. hayden
   How to Become a Hero
   You Are the Champion the World Is Waiting For

   C.J. Hayden, MCC

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Conscious shopper's 2008 holiday guide 

gifts for a greener worldIt's time once again for my annual guide to conscious holiday shopping. In past years, I've suggested buying gift items from fair trade organizations, social enterprises, and cooperatives that support social causes. This year, I'm taking a different approach.

I love the holiday custom of exchanging gifts, but in a year when economic crisis and environmental degradation dominate the world news, it seems to me that nothing should be wasted. If you give someone a gift they will never use, precious resources are depleted. Money spent on unwanted tchotchkes could have gone to support a worthwhile cause. Shipping goods from across the country or around the world consumes fossil fuels. Many presents and their packaging quickly end up in landfills.

With those thoughts in mind, here are my suggestions for giving gifts this season that will make everyone happy, including Mother Earth.

Consider consumables. Food and beverages are often welcome and affordable gifts, especially if they will keep past the holidays when we are often surrounded by too much. Fair trade coffee, tea, and chocolate are good choices, as are soup and chili mixes, or jams and jellies. Avoid fruit baskets containing perishable products and excessive packaging. Make your purchase count even more by buying food gifts from projects like Global Exchange, SERRV International, and Greyston Bakery that support economic development in the developing world and inner cities.

Buy local. Shopping online is convenient and can save fuel when it replaces driving from store to store, but shipping your purchases adds to emissions also, and consumes more packaging. Buying gifts as close to the source as possible is an eco-friendly choice, especially for presents you'll be giving in person. Plan a trip to your local farmer's market, flea market, or crafts fair to find locally produced, inexpensive food and gift items. To find a farmer's market near you, visit Local Harvest.

Or, buy from local merchants that support your community instead of from national chains and big-box stores. For example, in San Francisco, Cole Hardware will donate 10% of your purchase to a local school or nonprofit of your choice, offers recycling for batteries, paint, and printer cartridges, and provides many other community services. They carry plenty of truly useful gift choices, including green selections like SIGG water bottles, the Garden Gourmet composter, and Goodwood® firelogs.

Give a gift that gives to others. Many of the recipients on your list may have more than enough of everything already. Consider planting a tree in their honor through Trees for the Future, adopting a marine mammal on their behalf through The Marine Mammal Center, or purchasing a dairy cow or goat in their name for a needy family in the developing world through Heifer International.

Ask people what they want. Most of us do this with our children, but we rarely ask adult relatives or business associates what they would like. If you don't know someone's preferences enough to know what sort of present would be welcome, gift cards are an environmentally friendly choice, and don't even require gift wrapping. If you purchase gift cards for major retailers through iGive, many merchants will donate a percentage of your purchase to a charity of your choice. (BTW, if you are planning to give me a gift this holiday, check my Amazon wish list, or just send chocolate.)

Donate unwanted gifts yourself. Unless you forward a copy of this article to everyone who will give you a present this season, you'll almost certainly receive some gifts you don't want. You might be pleasantly surprised at how many items can be donated. In addition to national charities like Goodwill Industries, many local churches, animal shelters, and hospital auxiliaries operate thrift shops that accept clothing and housewares. Libraries, schools, and community centers need books. Homeless shelters, children's hospitals, and day care centers can use toys and games. Women's shelters and recovery homes always need unopened bath and beauty products. Even gift cards can be donated through GiftCardDonor.

With a bit of planning and care, you and everyone on your gift list can enjoy the holiday season without depleting the earth or your pocketbook.

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