A lump of coal is not only a rotten holiday gift, it's also a fossil fuel—one that no eco-friendly scrooge or prankster should drop in a stocking.
Forgo the pesticide-laden holiday trees. Forget the gas-guzzling lawn mower. From organic baby slings to carbon offsets to non-toxic sex toys, it's easy giving green.
To reduce your carbon footprint, shop locally at the many Triangle stores that carry green items. Shopping itself can be an environmentally conscious act: While it's tough to load your rotary mower on a city bus, consider using public transit if you're buying small items. If you must drive, consider carpooling. And please don't waste gas (and pollute the air with exhaust, which contributes to global warming) trolling the parking lot or city streets for the perfect space.
Other green tips: Bring your own canvas shopping bags. Buy goods that have the least amount of packaging, sidestepping those annoying plastic clamshells that require a hand grenade to open. (Note: Hand grenades are not eco-friendly.)
If you buy items online, do it early to avoid overnight shipping, which usually involves flying your purchases to their destination. Use ground service when possible.
And don't forget consignment, thrift and resale stores. Gently used, vintage items are just as good if not better than a new gift. (I bought a brown wool Nehru jacket at a thrift store in 1988. It was old then, but looked—and still looks—good as new.) Save the energy, often generated by coal-fired power plants, used in making a new item, while still contributing to the local economy.
Better than a goat, an odorless, noiseless way to cut the grass is a rotary mower. Today's self-sharpening models weigh less than the one your grandpa lugged around the yard, but they still qualify as exercise machines—the ultimate in multi-tasking. A lawn bag is unnecessary since the clippings fall onto the yard and serve as mulch. There are no noxious fumes or deafening engine sounds, yet your yard will look tidy enough to meet the exacting standards of the most anal-retentive homeowner's association. $99 at your local hardware store.
For the foodie, consider a gift certificate to The Fearrington House Restaurant near Pittsboro. It the area's only restaurant certified by The Green Restaurant Association, meeting standards including using a comprehensive recycling system and eliminating Styrofoam products. Fearrington House also buys its produce, meat and fish from local growers; harvests some of its herbs and vegetables from its own gardens; and converts cooking oil to fuel. 2000 Fearrington Village, Pittsboro; 542-2121, www.fearringtonhouse.com.
For those stay-at-home meals, consider buying a membership in a CSA, community supported agriculture. For a fee—they're tiered, depending on the amount and type of food—you get organic veggies grown in season, meat and eggs. Your money feeds the local economy and the food feeds you. Small, sustainable farms survive and you get the best of nature's bounty produced in North Carolina. (It still stuns me that anyone eats catfish shipped from China.)
There are many CSAs located in the Triangle, including Coon Rock Farms near Hillsborough (coonrockfarm.com) and H&H Organic Farms in Raleigh (H-H-OrganicFarms@nc.rr.com). Check out the list for the CSA nearest you: www.ces.ncsu.edu/chatham/ag/SustAg/csafarms.html.
Buy a gift at the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission's N.C. Wild Store (www.ncwildstore.com) and help feathered, finned and furry friends. For starters, proceeds from the book and CD set The Frogs and Toads of North Carolina support projects that benefit critters such as bog turtles in western North Carolina, red-cockaded woodpeckers in the Sandhills and loggerhead seaturtles along the coast.
Teach your kids about climate change through Earthopoly, a board game similar to Monopoly. Instead of adding to urban sprawl by buying St. James Place, they become stewards of places on the planet. Increase property values not with energy-binging hotels, but by buying carbon credits and trading them for clean air. The game itself is biodegradable and made from recycled or reclaimed materials. $24.99 at many online retailers.
It's never too early to drill the environment into your kid's head: Dr. Seuss' The Lorax was published nearly 40 years ago, but its pro-environmental message rings true today. The book even predicted—in rhyme, of course—the excessive pollution in Lake Erie. It also receives bonus points for being banned: A California school district struck it from the second-grade reading list in 1989 because it was viewed as critical of the timber industry. $10 at your local bookstores.
To keep your carbon footprint small, try shopping locally or regionally. GreenPea Nursery (greenpeanursery.com) carries organic cotton baby slings made in Alexander, N.C. In addition, GreenPea sells toy cookware and dining sets made from recycled milk jugs; organic clothing, blankets and mattresses; and teethers made from cornstarch-based eco-friendly plastic. The store is relocating to a larger location in Apex, and reopens Dec. 11 at 120A N. Salem St.
And for adults, check out Vert & Vogue in Durham's Brightleaf Square. The boutique carries designer goods made from recycled or reclaimed materials such as textiles, plastic and steel. (Yesterday's abandoned upholstery is today's handbag.) Apparel includes items made from bamboo, hemp and organic cotton. 905 W. Main St., Suite 24-B, 251-8537; vertandvogue.com is under construction.
For the jet-setter in the family, compensate for his or her Size 140 carbon footprint by purchasing carbon offsets from terrapass.com. This is how it works: By buying an offset, your money then goes to environmental projects that help reduce your carbon footprint and by extension, global warming. For example, Terrapass helps fund a landfill gas capture project in Robeson County, N.C.; dairy farms throughout the U.S. that capture methane from animal waste and use it to produce energy; and wind farms in Oklahoma.
The company sells offset packages for different types of energy users. A four-person family's annual carbon offset runs $369; compensating for the footprint of an average-sized car is $71.40. The site has a carbon calculator, so you can figure the size of your footprint.
When a kiss under the mistletoe leads to more adventurous romping, you might want to check out the environmentally friendly sex toys at holisticwisdom.com. The vibrators, handcuffs and other pleasure-heightening accoutrements are guaranteed to be made from non-toxic materials, including phlalate-free plastic. Hey, if you don't want to drink out of a water jug made from phlalates, you certainly don't want those nasty chemicals next to your genitals. The company is based in Longmont, Colo., so consider buying a carbon offset to compensate for the distance in shipping.
Buy the book that started the environmental movement: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was published in 1962 and sounded the alarm on the perils of chemicals and pesticides. After its release, Carson was vilified by the chemical industry, which had promised us all better living through its manipulation of molecules. Now we know she was right. A warm and fuzzy bedtime story it's not, but it is appropriate reading as a New Year's resolution. $10 new at your local bookstore.
Speaking again of chemicals, that holiday tree doubling as a roach fogger in the corner is chocked full of them—unless you bought an organic one. Yes, organic trees cost more, but the benefits are worth it: Not only do you avoid exposing yourself and your family and pets to chemicals, but think of the workers who harvest the trees. They're better off without pesticides, too. Based in Raleigh, Toxic Free N.C. can direct you to the nearest places to buy chemical-free trees and wreaths. 833-5333, toxicfreenc.org.