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Have A Happy And Greener Holiday

Originally Posted: November 30, 2011

There are lots of ways to have a greener, and more satisfying, holiday season. (Courtesy Photo: sustainablog.com)

Southampton - Black Friday 2011 has come and gone, along with the attending mania. If a no-holds-barred quest for the best deal on a flat screen TV isn't your idea of enjoyable holiday shopping, how about considering some alternatives? There are lots of ways to have a greener, and more satisfying, holiday season. Here are some suggestions.

Shop Locally
The Saturday after Thanksgiving was Small Business Saturday - a day to patronize the participating small shops in our local villages and hamlets and take advantage of one-day discounts on their merchandise. These small local businesses are the backbone of our communities. Besides making our downtowns enjoyable places in which to spend time, these folks employ local people, and they're called upon often to donate to silent auctions to benefit local school groups, arts organizations and charities. And they offer personal service. You know them. Their kids go to school with your kids; they go to your church. Best of all, they've got cool stuff you won't find in the big box chain stores. So shop locally. It'll take a lot less gas than driving to the mall.

There are many legitimate good causes to patronize online. (Courtesy Photo: metaefficient.com)

Visit a local farmers' market or farm stand (some are still open), flower shop, clothing boutique, bookstore or design store. Give a gift certificate to a restaurant or a bottle of wine from one of our local wineries. Buy a print or painting or CD from a local artist or musician. Local galleries and artists' cooperatives such as Plein Air Peconic (pleinairpeconic.com) have work to sell and the East End Arts council (eastendarts.org) has a holiday shop in Riverhead full of the work of local artists and artisans. Crossroads Music in Amagansett has CDs from local musicians. When we support each other our communities thrive.

Shop Online
Surfing the Web takes no gas at all. Connect with artisans of all sorts on etsy.com. Commercial sites with green gift guides, such as treehugger.com, showcase interesting exotica such as a hand-powered espresso machine, a biodegradable watch made with a corn-resin casing and a mercury-free battery, and a water-powered clock that subtracts electrons from the molecules of water circulating through it and uses them to feed the electric current that powers it. For ecologists in training, Stokes Solar Toys (Stokessolar.com) offers a solar construction set, a solar-powered hopping frog and a racecar powered by a saltwater fuel cell.

Environmental organizations like The Nature Conservancy (nature.org) also have online gift guides to green products.

Support A Good Cause
Instead of wrapping another scarf Mom will never wear, or another pair of slippers your Grandpa doesn't need, you could make something for them: a homemade batch of cookies or chocolate truffles, or maybe pickles or jam. Or make a donation in their name to a cause they'd appreciate - a wildlife rescue center, a veterans' organization, a food pantry, the local public radio station. Or, how about tickets to an East End theater, or concert or museum? Nonprofit groups are suffering mightily in these straitened times, and they can all use our support.

There are many legitimate good causes to patronize online. Close to home, through the Riverhead Foundation (riverheadfoundation.org) you can adopt a seal or sea turtle undergoing treatment at their facility. Or you can adopt honeybees or one of the animals being cared for at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge (quoguewildliferefuge.org). Farther afield, The Animal Rescue Site (theanimalrescuesite.com) and its related sites supporting Breast Cancer, Hunger, Literacy, the Rainforest, and more all have online stores featuring worthy products. While you're there, click on a button to have their sponsors donate to the cause too. You can buy a share of a goat or cow or chicks or honeybees through Heifer International (heifer.org) to help support a subsistence farmer and family.

You can even donate to charities by shopping on sites that work with major retailers to give a portion of their profits to charities; you select charities and your cause, then shop, and donations are made automatically. Some examples: goodshop.com, igive.com and we-care.com.

Be A Responsible Shopper
To make the smartest choices, avoid impulse buying. When you go shopping (at bricks-and-mortar or online stores), make a list of items you're looking for. Then before you buy them, especially for bigger ticket items, think it over for a day before you do it. A little product research never hurt, either. Search websites that rate products, such as healthystuff.org.

And shop responsibly. I know, "responsible" can sound sooo dull. But consider this simple advice from the Nature Conservancy:

 • When you're shopping for electronics or appliances, look for products with good Energy Star ratings.

 • For food, clothes and garden-related items, go organic.

 • If you're in the market for imported gifts, seek out fair trade coffee, chocolate, jewelry, crafts and other items to be sure the people who grew or made them were paid a fair price for their goods. There's a fair trade market in the Hamlet Green in Hampton Bays.

Wrap Wisely
When you wrap all those perfect gifts, try some alternatives to all that expensive rolls and sheets of gift wrap. If you do use the throwaway wrap (our kids have all had to sell it at one time or another for school fundraisers), recycle it or shred it and use it to cushion shipping boxes. Or make your own fanciful wrappings: use comics pages from the newspaper, paper bags decorated by your kids, pieces of colorful fabric left over from sewing projects. Or opt for beautiful high-end recycled paper products from small companies such as Of The Earth wrapping papers (oftheearth.org) or Positively Green (www.live-inspired.com/Nature-positively-green-giftwrap).

Deck The Halls
The best Christmas tree of all is a balled-and-burlapped evergreen that you'll plant outdoors in your landscape when Christmas is over. (Note that these trees can't thrive for too long indoors - you can't leave them in your living room for weeks). They're not cheap, but are certainly worthwhile. Just remember to have the planting hole dug before the ground freezes - now would be a good time. If you use a cut tree, when the holidays are over you can cut off the branches and lay them over your perennial garden to mulch the dormant plants.

Whatever kind of tree you have, consider replacing your old incandescent bulbs with LEDs. Tests done by Consumer Reports showed that LED Christmas lights use a fraction of the power consumed by incandescent lights, and last twice as long. If you use clear lights, you might find LEDs harsh and cold-looking. But shop around; there are softer, warmer ones to be found. Oh, and put your holiday lights on a timer - don't leave them on all night.

So take a step, however small, toward a greener holiday this season. Most of all, take time to enjoy this special season with the people - and pets - that you love.

Anne is a writer, editor and professional gardener, and the author of 17 garden, home and nature books. She lives in Hampton Bays.

Updated: November 30, 2011, 10:28 am
Appeared In: lifestyle >> main articles