Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dreaming of a green Christmas

The season of giving doesn't also have to be the season of waste

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TVs and audio-visual gadgets, $840 million; $551 million on toys, games and hobby supplies; $165 million on makeup and fragrances.

If there's any good news in Canada's ever-rising holiday shopping bill -- those numbers from December 2009, courtesy of Statistics Canada -- it's that the spirit of giving here is alive and well.

But there's also the post-Christmas bad news: heaps of excess packaging, cheaply made toys that don't last a play session and last year's electronics made obsolete by this year's.

It's a fine line between the season of giving and the season of conspicuous consumption, and how to gift sustainably can be a conundrum for shoppers who'd like their contributions to help the Earth -- or at least, not harm it.

In the spirit of greener giving, we asked a group of Winnipeggers active on environmental issues for their eco-friendly present pick. Here's a round-up of their best bets and tips:


Opt for experiences

Peg City Car Co-op board member Melissa Depuis suggests opting for experiential gifts, whether they be concert tickets or yoga or pottery classes. "The benefit of the experiential gift is that it also reduces the amount of waste that's produced," she said.

One option: the Lifestyle Pass offers a sampler platter of discounts and freebies at local yoga studios, gyms, health-food stores and more. A listing of retails is online at .

For a local tie-in, Hull suggests a restaurant certificate or tickets to a local theatre or dance performance. (Just a hunch, but we're guessing Jets tickets might go over well, too.)


Help backyard wildlife

The gift of a bird feeder along with some seed or nutrient-rich suet will help migratory songbirds passing through Manitoba in the spring and fall. Alternately, prepare a gift basket with native seeds for a butterfly or xeriscaped garden. "These plants are adapted to Manitoba water conditions," said Manitoba Eco-Network executive director Kristine Koster. "They're going to require less water and less of any kind of fertilizer. And of course, the pollinators appreciate having the nectar from those flowers."


Cut down on bottled water

A reusable bottle tucked in the stocking can make it more appealing to kick the pre-bottled H20 habit. The Sierra Club board's Prairie representative Sean Petty is partial to the Sigg brand, but you can find a range of styles and price points on the market. If fizzy water's more appetizing, pick up a home water carbonator. SodaStream models start at $100.


Think charitably

A charitable donation gives the receiver something to feel good about without a knick-knack that's likely to get regifted next year.

"You're not just adding to the consumption of stuff," said Curt Hull, Climate Change Connection project manager. "You're putting money to use to help people or good causes in general."

The David Suzuki Foundation has a symbolic gift catalogue, with options such as the "critter passport" or "green belt" -- essentially, donations with an e-card. The World Wildlife Federation offers symbolic animal adoptions that come with a plush toy. Petty points out you can also give a membership in a local or national environmental group, which often come with a journal subscription or other member benefits.


A toy that lasts

If you're shopping for kid-friendly gifts, Hull suggests a gender-neutral toy will get more use in families, and that a more durable option will have a life beyond the family that first receives it. Dupuis points to as a useful destination for determining toxicity in children's toys.

One toy line that fits the green bill: sustainably sourced dollhouses, trucks, and other rubberwood kids items from eco-minded Plan Toys, sold at Toad Hall Toys.


We wish you a DIY Christmas

Handmade gifts mean all the expressions of love with less packaging and, depending on the gift, minimal shipping. Whether building a bookshelf or knitting a scarf, "something you've made with your own hands is always more personal, as well as something that's not going to be adding a lot of greenhouse gases," said Hull. If you're not especially crafty, Hull suggests a service-based gift: say, an offer of financial services if you're an accountant. Think of it as a grown-up version of a childhood Mother's Day IOU.


...and a low-emission New Year

A bus pass may not be the sexiest stocking-stuffer, but it can come in handy for the transit-riding friend in your life. Koster said bigger spenders could also look into the gift of a car-share membership or a certificate for bike repair, she said.


Used? Try pre-loved

If you can't make it yourself, pre-owned might be the next best thing. Hull admits thrift-store buys may not go over well for all types of gifts, but a thoughtfully chosen used book with a message inscribed can be as meaningful as a newly printed one.

If pre-owned finds aren't your style, stores like Ten Thousand Villages have a wide array of new fair-trade handicrafts made from recycled or repurposed items. Those include bowls and musical instruments made of recycled newsprint and magazines, and photo frames, boxes and candle holders made of broken glass.


Go organic

If you're going for a holiday shopping staple, pick a version with a lower environmental impact. Koster suggests organic bed sheet sets or organic, fair-trade or shade-grown coffee. Petty's a fan of the Me to We Style line of socially responsible, organic duds, sales of which see 50 per cent of proceeds given to the Free the Children charity.


Buy less

Does every aunt and uncle really need a bottle of scented bath bubbles or a mini-manicure kit? If you'd like to buy less, period, go for a family-wide Secret Santa draw. The one-to-one gift-buying ratio means you can put more effort into finding a present your cousin or nephew will actually want.

Dupuis said her decision to buy less during the holidays has meant less stressing over the perfect gift and more quality time with family. "It's a positive outcome that I didn't expect."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 19, 2011 J1

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