Buying Sustainable Holiday Gifts

A reindeer sweater, a battery-operated foot massager, a vacuum for the car. We’ve all gotten them. And wish we hadn’t.

According to a Harris Interactive Survey, 84 percent of adults in the US receive unwanted items as gifts during the holidays. So maybe it’s time to give the opposite of the unwanted this year by offering a gift that gives to the future, broadens horizons, and opens doors to new appreciation of the bounty in the non-material world around us.

one Give an Experience
Forgo the fleeting material gift, and go for one that has the potential for a wonderful memory instead. Box and wrap up tickets to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, lovingly known as the BSO, paired with an offer to provide babysitting services. Visit for a schedule of performances and information on purchasing a subscription or tickets to an individual performance. Or, put last year’s foot massager to shame with a gift certificate for a truly professional massage at a local spa. Wellesley’s Bella Santé Spa makes it easy especially for last-minute shoppers with an instant gift certificate that you can purchase online and have sent immediately via e-mail to the recipient. Visit for a complete list of services. And for those who love learning, The Boston Center for Adult Education offers courses to excite the imagination of the food and wine enthusiast, or those who love to dance.

two Pique Their Curiosity
Help the special people in your life experience and appreciate the natural wonders all around us. Give the gift of conservation with a membership to the Trustees of the Reservations ( for discounted admission to the wide expanse of Crane Beach, to name just one of many offered, or an annual pass from the National Parks Service (, which grants admission to national parks and recreational lands. Closer to home, a membership to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society (headquartered at Wellesley’s Elm Bank) offers many educational opportunities and advantages, including free tickets to the annual Boston Flower & Garden Show.

three For Members Only
A jacket labeled “Members Only” might have been a great present in the eighties, but today’s “members” want to expand their minds, not their wardrobes. Annual memberships to Zoo New England, the Museum of Science, or the Museum of Fine Art are perfect for all ages. The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), Boston’s first new museum in 100 years, provides members with the opportunity to attend exclusive special events and meet artists.

four Bake Something
Why rely on boring mail-order fruitcake when baking holiday treats is a sweeter idea? Go organic with the ingredients and it’s a win-win. Need ideas? Visit, click on Past Issues, and look for the heading “Food and Wine” from the December 2009 issue. In “Not Your Mother’s Fruitcake,” local cooks share their ideas for tasty and tasteful homemade holiday gifts.

five Be Fruity
Set them up with shares of a local farm for fresh seasonal produce. This program provided by Community Supported Agriculture is a great way to support local growing communities. Check into Land’s Sake ( in Weston for CSA shares in 2011. For more local farm locations, visit

six Channel Your Inner Artist 
Sure, you aren’t Picasso, and when it comes to pottery, you have two left thumbs. But creating something yourself means less mass-market waste and the potential for a more meaningful gift. Create a photo album, “scrapbook” an event, or write a poem. Wellesley’s Paper Source ( sells a variety of materials for making that special scrapbook to be leafed through again and again. If you would like some instruction before you begin, the store offers a number of workshops to provide inspiration.

seven Be Socially Conscious
Web sites like Ten Thousand Villages Fair Trade (, Global Exchange Fair Trade Online Store (, and Fair World Gallery( offer great gift ideas that are examples of fair trade, which respects producers, communities, and the environment and provides low-income artisans and farmers with a living wage for their work.

eight Give a Gift that Gives
A truly significant gift helps save a life, whether it’s a family in a distant village or a lone zebra on the Serengeti Plain. There are plenty of ways to make meaningful gestures on someone’s behalf. The World Vision’s Gift Catalog ( offers poverty-fighting gifts (think ducks, bicycles, and goats), ranging in price from $16 to $39,000, that can be donated in your friend’s name. Adopting an African animal through African Wildlife Foundation’s Adoption Center ( or an acre of a tropical forestland from the Rainforest Alliance ( shows respect and love for the planet and its inhabitants. Visit and purchase a flock of chicks or a cow through Heifer International and give families in impoverished communities the means to prosper.

nine Go Paperless
The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year could fill in a football field 10 feet high. This year, send e-greetings from sites like or Some charge a minimal membership fee for premium cards with music and personalized messages. If you’re set upon a mailbox delivery, send postcards instead to save paper.

ten More Trees, Please
Really mean “green” by giving a tree sapling or seed packets—perfect for creating a little outdoor oasis. Combine your gift with an indoor plant light (with energy-saving bulbs, of course) for winter nurture, until the springtime sun can take over. Just imagine how your gift will grow in beauty and value throughout the coming years. 

© 2010 Elm Bank Media | Beth Furman, Publisher

Summer 2024