Ecocentric's Top Green Gifts for 2012

Giving the perfect gift can be difficult, even more so if you're looking for something that's good for your recipient, your community and our planet. To help you out, here are some ideas for greener gifts sure to please everyone on your list.

Heirloom Seeds - Saving seeds is one of the most important ways to secure the biodiversity of the food we eat every day. Seed companies like FEDCO, Johnny's, and High Mowing Organic Seeds are all excellent options for heirloom and organic seeds. Hudson Valley Seed Library goes the extra mile, working with artists to design unique seed packets.

Farm to Table Restaurant Gift Certificate - Supporting family-owned restaurants with sustainable philosophies is a great way to help grow your local food scene and contribute to your local economy. Bonus: helping farmers who rely on restaurants to make ends meet. Search the Eat Well Guide to find a restaurant in your neighborhood.

Learn a New Skill - Giving someone the gift of a class to learn a new skill, whether it be cooking, pig butchering, kombucha or home beer brewing can be worth the price of admission. Skillshare is a worldwide resource to find classes near you. Think of all the money you could save by learning how to perfect a certain cuisine instead of ordering take out. Erin says, "You can even pay it forward and offer to give the gift of cooking a friend a home cooked meal. Bonus!"

A National Geographic subscription - The National Geographic Society has designed green initiatives related to water, energy, recycling and employee programs that are in line with its mission to inspire people to care about the planet. ($10-$15 ) Kyle says, "Your little ones will love National Geographic's Little Kids magazine; it's designed especially for children ages 3-6."

Ultra-Low-Flow Showerhead - Today's efficient showerheads use just 1.25 - 1.5 gallons of water per minute (GPM).  Compared to standard 2.5 GPM fixtures, 1.5 GPM models save 3,650 gallons of water annually per bather (assuming one 10-minute shower daily), reduce the energy required to treat, transport and heat water to shower temp, and can save households $46.59 - $77.17 per bather per year! (Cost: $5 - $30).  Chris says, "A friend bought me one last Christmas; it was easy to install, and dramatically reduced my energy and water use without compromising my rock-and-roll lifestyle of shower time luxury.  It's also very Mustachian."

Pressure Cooker - The cool thing about these old-timey implements is that they cook most anything really quickly, saving both energy and valuable time. Leslie says, "Some foodie friends went in on a fancy pressure cooker (and a year's worth of those amazing Rancho Gordo beans, and a book from Lorna Sass, the Pressure Cooker Queen) for my husband and me when we got married last year, and - as promised - it has changed our life. You don't even have to soak your dried beans, and they cook up in a flash." Prices range from $25 to $200.

Solar Powered Path Lights - These path lights use renewable energy to illuminate your way outside. You also have the added bonus of not having to deal with wires. ($50-$75 for 10 lights) James says, "My parents have used these for years to light the path to their front door."

Food Forward Gift Crate - Support food security with this delicious holiday gift crate which includes gingered lemon marmalade, grapefruit rosemary simple syrup, preserved Meyer lemons, persimmon cinnamon tea, orange pomanders and a Food Forward hoodie, baseball cap and apron. All money raised from this sale supports Food Forward's mission to harvest fresh produce for people in the greater Los Angeles community who are most in need. (Cost $125 )

Hand Crank Charger - Your giftee can rest assured that they're ready for the next failure of our rapidly decaying electrical grid with a hand crank charger to power electronic gadgets like a cell phone or iPad. ($60 ) Peter says, "All it takes is a prolonged power outage (thank you, Hurricane Sandy) to learn to love hand-cranked flashlights and radios."

Packable Recycled Water Pack Shopping Bag - The shopping bags are fair-trade and handmade in Ghana from plastic sachets (bags) that contain clean drinking water and are discarded everywhere. Proceeds from these durable shopping bags provide a little more money to Ghanaians so that a clean drinking water future might come from their taps rather than from a bag. ($15 ) Kai says, "If you're like me and prefer reusable shopping bags that are neatly packable when searching for fresh produce, check out these eye-catching ones by Trashy Bags."

Canning/Preserving Equipment - Preserving food is experiencing a huge revival and the equipment and recipes are readily available. Kits start at around $50, but this is a good thing to look for used, or DIY your own kit with a book from Sherri Brooks Vinton, a big canning pot, some jars, a funnel and some canning tongs. Robin says, "I have lots of memories of my mother canning jars and jars of tomatoes and jams and peaches. She still does it after all these years. I love getting jars of her stewed tomatoes."

Rechargeable Batteries - They make perfect stocking stuffers. These batteries can be reused again and again. They save the water and energy needed to make new batteries and prevent water pollution from single use batteries that end up in landfills. ($7-$40 depending on the size and quantity) Robin says, "I use them at home and keep a few sets charged and ready so I can switch out fresh batteries as needed."

Metro Card - Applicable for anyone who lives in an area with a public transportation system, especially for people who rely on public transportation, this gift can help ease someone's monthly burden. Plus, as we like to say, "Saving energy saves water." Prices vary depending on the system and the type of card purchased. Robin says, "I never have to worry about gas, oil, insurance or getting parking tickets because I ride the subway or the bus."

Share, Barter, Make and Upcycle - First, ask: do you and your loved ones need more stuff? Why not give shared activities: cook or pickle, or scan family images to start a Tumblr or Flickr family archive. Offer your skills in support of a cause at the growing number of barter networks. Jamie believes "gifting shouldn't be a consumerist ordeal, but a joyful expression of love - and our commitment to a sustainable future." Try making gifts (perhaps with your recipient!); get ideas from the endlessly inventive folks at Homesteading Survivalism. And if you must shop, consider upcycled gift options.

Give a truly priceless gift - time! Share your expertise and time with others! You'd be surprised how much your BFF loves the gift of a freshly organized closet, or what a present it is for a new mom to grab some precious hours of sleep as you lend some baby time. How about building playlists of his favorite music for your iTunes-challenged dad, or teaching your nieces and nephews your famous jump shot (because well-intentioned though they are, mom and dad weren't state champs back in the day, now were they?)

Updated 11/26/14