Last Minute Holiday Gifts That Foster Sustainability

Bentley Snowflake11.jpgAlthough some winter holidays, like Hannukah, have already come and gone, over the next few days, there will likely be many people scrambling to find last minute gifts for friends and family. If you’ve waited until the last minute, or have had a hard time thinking of what to give someone on your list who has all they need, this list of “gifts for the greater good” might be just what you need. Note that links and companies mentioned in this post are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as endorsements by ISTC or the University of Illinois.

 

It’s always a great gift idea to make a donation in honor of a loved one to an organization that has meaning to them. There are many organizations that allow you to make a donation toward something which will help lift other people out of hunger and poverty, and thus foster the social and economic aspects of sustainability. Heifer International is one of the more visible of such organizations. Heifer conducts projects in countries throughout the world–including the U.S. in areas of low income. See http://www.heifer.org/ending-hunger/our-work/index.html for their complete list of projects. Their gift catalog allows you to provide a donation that will help wherever it is needed the most, or to foster specific projects. For example, you might fund, or help fund, provision of a goat to a family in need, which will help provide them with milk and cheese for their own consumption, and for sale to raise funds for food, shelter, and education that might not otherwise be affordable. Besides livestock-related donations, you might support the empowerment of women, sustainable farming, or the provision of basic needs (e.g. clean water). When you make a donation, you have the opportunity to send a gift card, via traditional or e-mail, to someone in whose honor you are making the donation. Such gifts raise awareness of important environmental and societal issues, and avoid potential problems that giving “stuff” that might entail (e.g. the wrong size, a duplicate of something already owned, etc.). Plus, it’s unique–how often are honeybees provided to someone in your honor? For more expensive options in their catalog, you can opt to fund a share of an item rather than the entire thing. Similar organizations, like Action Against Hunger, work to provide nutrition, food security, clean water and sanitation, and emergency response in various parts of the world. Though they don’t have the “card” set-up that Heifer does, you can check a box on their donation form to make it in someone’s honor, providing their email address so they can be notified of the gesture. You’ll find that many charities have similar provisions, so think about what cause would resonate most with your intended recipient. Perhaps they’d prefer to see hunger fought in their own community–check out Feeding America’s Find a Food Bank tool or Ample Harvest’s Find a Food Pantry tool to locate an organization closer to your recipient. America’s Charities provides an online search tool that allows you to find organizations focused on various causes throughout the United States.

 

If you’d like to have something to hand to your recipient, there are companies that provide useful items while putting a portion of their proceeds toward projects for the greater good. Check out Mitscoots Socks, for example. For every warm pair of socks or gloves, hat or scarf you buy, they give an equivalent item to someone in need (similar to TOMS shoes). Mitscoots also fosters sustainability by employing people transitioning out of homelessness. Another option is LifeStraw. This company makes a variety of filters, for individual, family, or community use, which remove virtually all the microbiological contaminants from water which make it unsafe to drink. These filters could be great to have on hand in case of emergency, or for camping or hiking. A portion of the proceeds from sales goes toward the purchase of LifeStraw Community purifiers which are distributed to schools in developing communities. So by giving someone you know a tool to ensure they’ll have clean water in an emergency, you’re helping ensure a child has access to clean water too.

 

Finally, you could give a gift of experience by making a commitment to your recipient that the two of you will do something together to make the world a little better for everyone. Perhaps you can volunteer together at a soup kitchen, or you could clean up litter in an area you both enjoy. If you both enjoy knitting, commit to spending time together to make items for those in need (see http://www.lionbrand.com/charityConnection.html to find a charity to which your items could be donated). Whatever your shared interest, you’ll enjoy time spent together while helping out in some small way.

 

These are just a few ideas to inspire you. ISTC wishes you and yours a happy holiday season.

About Joy Scrogum

Joy is a Sustainability Specialist at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She has worked on developing & maintaining online resources for the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable since 2001. She also currently coordinates the Sustainable Electronics Initiative & works on Zero Waste Illinois projects, including the Illini Gadget Garage and the Green Lunchroom Challenge. Key past projects include coordinating the International Sustainable Electronics Competition, developing & teaching ENG 498 "Sustainable Technology: Environmental & Social Impacts of Innovations," & Greening Schools, which focused on making K-12 facilities & curricula more sustainable.
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