High on the priority list for many gift givers this holiday season is the earth-friendliness of the presents they'll give. Gifts have to be made from sustainable materials, be manufactured in fair-trade situations and perhaps even support a charitable organization or artisan co-op in a developing country when a percentage of each sale benefits a group making a positive difference in the lives of many.
"I love to give gifts that give not only to the recipient but also to the artisans who made the gift. It's just a perfect way of creating good energy by supporting and elevating other women," says Sophie Uliano, author of "Gorgeously Green" and creator of the green lifestyle site of the same name. She regularly posts her reviews of eco-friendly gifts with a supportive benefit to each buy.
"I love the bloom travel tins at ProsperityCandle.com," says Uliano. "The soft and spherical tins are hand-painted. The candle wax is a natural soy blend with a cotton wick. It can be cleaned and reused forever as a trinket box, and it comes in an eco-friendly gift box with a story card sharing the mission of the company. Prosperity Candle is an amazing organization (that) helps women in the aftermath of war or natural disasters to rebuild their lives."
The key to many eco-friendly gifts is the sharing of the artisan's story, often a story of triumph over adversity or a compelling tale of an artist's leaving a six-figure corporate career to pursue her passion of supporting rain forest preservation or a community of artists in a far-off country to which she has traveled. A tag on an eco-friendly gift adds the element of connecting the recipient to this artisan, knowing her name, feeling wonderful that this pretty shawl or braided bracelet or bamboo coaster set makes her a part of a flow of positivity in the world.
Eco-friendly gifts can also be healthier gifts, when they're made without toxic chemicals or chemical-laden fragrances or dyes. Top choices in this category include BPA-free drink bottles in bright patterns and spa and pampering products such as organic sugar scrubs, soaps, organic facial creams, beeswax foot creams and even nail polish sets.
Also popular are items to make a home smell fabulous, such as aromatherapy candles or scent spritzers made with 100 percent natural ingredients, not toxic chemicals that studies say may contribute to respiratory disease or allergies. An organic tea candle set beneath an aromatherapy wax disc can make a home smell lovely, and the recipient may enjoy not only that gift item but also his or her future purchases of safe and organic aromatherapy wax discs from the brand's collection for a healthier home throughout the year.
Uliano says that eco-friendly gifts can introduce people to healthier products in a subtle way. It's just a pretty, floral-scented candle, given with a tag or label explaining its green qualities, given without any judgment or instruction to "live a greener lifestyle."
Bamboo is one of the best-known eco-friendly materials because it grows so quickly and is sustainable. In recent years, artisans have found amazing ways to create products using bamboo, including bamboo serving bowls, dishware, writing instruments and ultra-soft garments, including robes, pajamas, yoga pants, T-shirts, socks and other popular gift items. You'll find everything from pens to picture frames made of bamboo, which can make it easy for you to shop eco-friendly for everyone on your gift list.
Quirky gifts such as clocks that run on water, or hydro-powered clocks, have made their way onto the top holiday gifts lists and have won awards at gift shows across the country, and edible eco-friendly gifts include organic gourmet-flavored popcorn -- a top trend this year -- organic chocolate collections, organic fruits delivered every month and organic preserves and jams.
Living gifts such as potted herbs, tree seedlings, flowers and green plants that clean the air inside a home naturally get to the heart of green gift items. And gift cards to local organic nurseries can let your recipient pick out the pepper, tomato, pole bean and herb plants he or she would like to plant in an eco-friendly home garden or in planters on an apartment terrace. One big trend in living gifts is the glass-domed terrarium, which can be purchased already planted or made as a DIY project with family members.
Also in the living gift category is a donation made to a reputable organization, such as the Arbor Day Foundation, that will plant trees in your recipient's name, perhaps helping to replenish a ravaged forest fire region and of course creating an ecological home for birds, butterflies and other living creatures of the wild.
For children, eco-friendly toys can be safe and educational. "When it comes to the toys and games kids are playing with (and oftentimes chewing on), parents are more conscious than ever of what toys are made of and of what toys they bring into their homes. A great way to ensure that play time is free of harsh chemicals and BPAs is to gift environmentally friendly toys and games," says Dr. Stevanne Auerbach, known as Dr. Toy and an expert in the best toys on the market. Dr. Toy's most recent list of eco-smart toys includes a plant-a-bean kit with a vertical wooden maze for the beanstalk to grow and arch through, wind-powered toys and eco-friendly craft kits.
Whatever the gift you give, be sure to wrap it in eco-friendly wrapping paper, made with 100 percent post-consumer recycled materials and toxin-free dyes, to create a fully earth-friendly gift presentation.