10 Christmas gifts to save the planet and maybe some money too…
“But it is a cold, lifeless business when you go to the shops to buy something, which does not represent your life and talent, but a goldsmith’s.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
If as a man you, like me, you often struggle to find the right gift at Christmas for your loved ones, then imagine how much harder it would be if your gift choice had to be environmentally friendly too! I mean how do we even define what the perfect present is?
I think that for me the perfect Christmas gift has to be something that is seriously cool, that has a wow factor and will not break or be discarded the next day. It will have to continue to bring good memories for years to come, as well as representing great value for money.
A quick Google search brings up a huge number of companies all offering green, ethical and environmental gifts. So far so good. But dig a little deeper and bear in mind the criteria for the uber-present I outlined above and things start to look a little shaky.
The choice is seemingly vast and the message that I’m getting from these websites is that buying more stuff equates to being green, as long as the stuff that we buy is green. Therein lies the problem. Just because whatever it is that we are buying is made from something that is less harmful to our planet, doesn’t actually make it environmentally friendly.
I mean when all is said and done, do we men actually need organic llama wool socks from South America, or sustainable wooden chopping boards from Indonesia? Will a digital weather centre help combat climate change – bearing in mind how it got to the shop, who made it, what it’s made from and how that stuff was mined, processed and stuck together? Will buying a pair of $150 MP3 earphones with a wooden top help to save the rainforest just because the wood that it’s made from came from a sustainable forest in Brasil? Is a wine stopper with a golf ball top the silver bullet of sustainability?
What we are actually seeing here is a marketing opportunity called ‘greenwash’. It’s something that appeals to our better sensibilities without actually delivering. In fact it’s really part of the problem; a belief that we can somehow buy ourselves out of trouble, that we just need that one last thing to complete our holy grail of happiness. Instead of just recognising that most of these gifts are both incredibly expensive and almost completely useless when it comes to enhancing our lives or saving the planet.
So if not llama wool recycled organic tapas bowls then what? Do we buy ourselves some solar panels or cavity wall insulation and plan our Christmas menu with servings of lightly grilled tofu and salad followed by a muesli Christmas cake, making sure that all the family is dressed in their newly unwrapped festive hair-shirt outfits?
Well no, because that doesn’t fit the brief either. As far as I am aware insulation is not cool (pun intended). Of course we can always opt out altogether like a kind of eco-warrior scrooge and go around passing out low sugar organic humbugs to all. But actually there’s no fun in that either and non-action is just as bad as inappropriate action.
What we men need to do is to think out of the box a bit here. What presents can we buy that are fun, meaningful and genuinely good for ourselves and the environment? Here are a few of my choices – please feel free to disagree or add your own in the comments section below:
1. Fathers: take your children out on a bonding weekend in nature. Spend some real quality time with them in the great outdoors. There are so many options, a bushcraft and survival weekend, or a camping trip into the mountains. How about cycling off with your tents into the wilderness, or a wild camp near a beautiful cove where you can go fishing? Get your pioneering hats on, hire some canoes and glide slowly down rivers. This will be a real winner with the kids!
2. Buy yourself a bike – a good one, something you will love and use a lot. Use it to commute to work and not just on the weekends. I know this is not possible for everyone but it can be done. If you can do it, it’ll save you money and get you fit as hell.
3. Take yourself off on a course where you can move and get fit in nature – ditch your gym membership for nature’s gym. There are many courses out there nowadays that will show you how to move and train using only natural objects, like boulders, trees and rivers. Not only is it so much cooler than the testosterone-packed gym, but you will save all that money on your membership too. This natural approach was pioneered by Erwan Le Corre and over in Europe there is Earth Strength which I co-founded.
4. Buy some vegetable seeds and a book on how to grow food. It doesn’t matter if you live in a flat, as you can grow veggies in pots on terraces and balconies. If you don’t have those you can always sprout beans and grow herbs on your window ledge. There are many companies out there offering heritage and organic seeds, go and check them out. If you’re in Europe then I can recommend The Organic Gardening Catalogue. There are other ways you can grow veggies too, without a garden, look to see if there is a garden share scheme, where people with big gardens allow others to grow food in exchange for some of the harvest. See if there are community garden schemes in your neighbourhood, if not then start one up with family and friends. Lots of information can be found on the Transition Movement’s website.
5. Have a look at a site like presentaid.com. Instead of buying something for yourself, buy something for someone who has very little. Alternatively you can simply purchase a gift and take it to your local church, community centre or gift distribution organisation. Have a look on the web. I’ve done it several times and I know that it’s a wonderful feeling to give to someone who is genuinely in need.
6. Buy your kids outdoor survival kits, with things like fire starters, a compass, rope, a magnifying glass, and a knife. Combine this with some books on how to identify bugs and birds and plants. While you’re at it buy some for yourself, too. Getting a child into nature is a gift that will last for ever.
7. Go and get yourself a fruit tree. But not just any old fruit tree. Have a look around and see what varieties are local to your area. Go and talk to local growers or farmers. Have a look online for heritage varieties. Now, just imagine lying there in the warm fall, eating and picking apples, pears, or plums off your own tree. Just how good are they going to taste with no pesticides, no food miles, and pretty soon it will pay for itself too! Your tree will also attract insects and birds. It will be a place to hang the swing for the kids or for simply lying in the summer under its dappled shade with a good book and some chilled white wine.
8. While you’re at it you could always get (or even better make some) bird and wildlife feeders to hang from your new fruit tree. Check out this BBC site to see how.
9. Books, yes remember them, those iPads made from trees! Books are incredibly good value for what they are and certainly tick all of the ultimate green present boxes. This is also one of those gifts that kids will learn to love if they don’t already. I know for me there are few more satisfying sights than a child immersed in their book – engendering a love of literature is truly a gift for life.
10. Finally here’s a really good excuse for getting away from all that Christmas shopping and those endless queues. Go and help out in a homeless shelter for an afternoon. Or maybe an old person’s centre. Get on the soup line and make a huge difference to someone’s day. I guarantee you will feel a whole lot better than if you spent five hours in the mall and you’ll be a bit richer too (both in spirit and wallet).
Whatever gift you do end up choosing though, please don’t fall into the trap of Nobby’s friends in Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather;
“They always gives me bath salts,” complained Nobby. “And bath soap and bubble bath and herbal bath lumps and tons of bath stuff and I can’t think why, ‘cos it’s not as if I hardly ever has a bath. You’d think they’d take the hint, wouldn’t you?”