I want to become a better gift-giver, and I know where to start. I’ve got a friend who’s graduating and going to be a science teacher. It’s exactly what she has always wanted to do, but we are really going to miss her, and I’m sure she is going to miss us (when she isn’t living her dream). She’s one of my best friends; there’s a group of five of us who have been really close for three years now. I want to get her a gift that’s from all of us, that she can look at and know that she will always be part of our group. She is also a science nerd who will really appreciate gifts that are sustainable. She made me a lot more environmentally conscious, so I really want to change my gift-buying so that I’m buying eco-conscious gifts, starting with her. What is your advice for searching for eco-friendly gifts for a new house? I would ask her, but the gift has to be a secret! Thank you!
That’s a great question. You want to get your friend something that reflects her green values, but you don’t know where to start. Fortunately, as society has become more eco-conscious, more and more products have come on the market to fill that demand. However, with all the options available to us, it still isn’t easy to know what to look for. So, beyond the obvious stuff—reusable water bottles and tea strainers—how do we find eco-conscious products for a friendship as unique and special as the one that you have with her?
Moving across the country, away from your friends, is tough, especially when you have to move to a new house that doesn’t feel like home. If you want to give her something that makes her house feel homelike while also commemorating your friendship, I would recommend starting with gifts that are more decorative and commemorative, rather than practical.
One option is to give her a printed photograph of the five of you. According to Simple Canvas Prints, an online canvas printing business, companies involved in canvas printing typically use latex inks, which are more sustainable than typical photo inks. The photo development process typically uses silver nitrite, a dangerous pollutant. Latex inks pollute fewer heavy metals, and they often come from recycled materials. By giving her a photo of all of you—in other words, having it somewhere other than Instagram—you will bring yourselves into her home and let her hang the memories you’ve made together on her wall. It doesn’t have to be a huge canvas, but just something that she can hang in her room and look at when she gets lonely.
Another idea is to buy her a palate for her new place. Few things are more depressing than the white walls of a starter apartment. But like photos, there are some environmental considerations to take into account when purchasing paints—if you are going to buy paints, make sure that they have no volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Colorhouse, a company that manufactures environmental paints, writes that VOCs are “are chemical liquids that evaporate at room temperature, and have measurable negative effects on human health.” Being a science nerd, I’m sure she will appreciate the chemistry that you researched while purchasing a new palate for her house.
Sometimes all it takes to make a place feel like home is a cozy blanket, and there are tons of sites that offer custom blankets printed with photos or quotes. It’s the same with a bedsheet or any type of custom tee shirt (though, let’s be honest, getting somebody a bunch of custom tee-shirts is a little bachelorette party, unless that’s what she’s into!). If you want to give her something special that’s made from fabric, look for recycled cotton, polyester, or acrylic. When looking for recycled cotton, make sure it’s post-consumer. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (formerly the World Wildlife Fund), it takes 20,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of cotton. Recycled polyester is especially green—it’s made from recycled plastic bottles, and as we’re sure you’re well aware, we use way too many plastic bottles for it to be sustainable.
If you are crafty and want to give her a unique gift, look into crafting something personal for her. You want to give her something that reminds her of the good times you have had together, and if you have leftover pieces of those good times, why not upcycle them? If you have a bowl full of wine corks, make her a handmade set of cork stamps. Or, use those old wine bottles and turn them into oil lamps. If you really want to celebrate her scientific side, check out this coffee table made from lab containers, or this uber-sciency spice rack. The internet is full of ideas of what to do with old stuff – you just need a little creativity to turn a game you play together, a record you always listen to, or a book that you know is her favorite into an appealing piece of home décor.
But say none of these things appeal to you, and you are still wondering what to look for. What do you do? The key here is to understand the forest of certifications that certify a product as green, and believe me, it goes way beyond ‘organic.’ One manufacturing standard is Underwriters Laboratories’ ‘Ecologo’ and ‘Greenguard’ certifications. If a product carries the ‘Ecologo’ label, that means that the production life-cycle has been designed to minimize fluid pollutants. The ‘Greenguard’ certification designates products that have low chemical emissions; in other words, fewer air pollutants. Another certification is ‘Cradle to Cradle,’ a certification that includes carbon emission, renewable energy, and material health standards. There are lots of dubious standards and labels on the market (“All-Natural,” anyone?), but if you are able to learn how to discern which ones are rigorous, you can take the step towards become a better and more conscientious gift-giver. In fact, you will be giving her one of the greatest gifts of all: the gift of a cleaner future!
“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” — St. Thomas Aquinas
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