10 Last-minute Gifting Ideas

In addition to pursuing greener options, for many, gloomy economics are driving holiday gift choices this year. Fortunately, the earth-friendliest gifts most often are the ones that don’t involve product consumption; although few of us are in the habit of substituting service gifts, these can be the cheapest, the greenest and the most meaningful.

Consumers overwhelmingly indicate that they will support (aka consume) a product associated with a cause. Knowing this, marketers are pushing elaborate messages to seduce (and sometimes deceive) you. Although this means you must be extra vigilant not to fall prey to greenwashing, it also means you wield consumer power. Use it.

In the spirit of evolving holiday habits — from office parties and their regifting opportunities, to gifts of selfless service — here are our top 10 last-minute gifting game-plans.

1 Support global visions of a better world.

Ashoka supports social entrepreneurs and networks of changemakers with business tools and knowledge, social financing and nurturing partnerships. TerraCycle converts crowdsource-collected waste into a wide variety of products and materials. Charity: Water helps bring clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations.

EcoTrust offers numerous ways to pursue sustainable investing. Or how about investing in good new ideas? Homegrown.org has curated a list of great new projects looking for support.

Check out Mercy Corps, Kiva and CommonThreads, all groups working to alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping people build secure, productive and just communities.

2 Think (and give) local.

Maybe you want to give to your neighborhood or community. You could start a neighborhood tool share program. Or team up with your neighbors and Solar Mosaic or One Block off the Grid to get solar panels up on rooftops throughout your community.

Rally your neighbors to make your neighborhood greener; Urban Compost, Seed and Cycle, SNAP Gardens and Yes to Carrots can all help you do so.

And don’t forget how easily you can find local organizations by searching online. (How great is Miami’s Up Lab’s Compost Mobile?!)

3 Do-it-yourself gifts.

Make gifts. Our friends at TreeHugger have a nifty selection of energy-saving crafting ideas. And the web is filled with DIY gadget vendors; some are quite green. How about giving a little hands-on solar experience with a DIY solar charger kit?

Or give a certificate to someone you think would love to get time in a nearby creative studio or a class. In the New York area, 3rd Ward takes a fresh approach, offering unique classes and workspaces (including photo, metal and woodworking studios). Ask around to see what studio and creative workspaces your community offers. (Or if you're web-savvy, the world needs a DIY network. Build it for us all.)

And of course you can’t get any more DIY than gardening (even window gardening!) and composting.

4 Upcycle!

Upcycling is getting plenty of press this year. It basically means taking ‘waste materials' to their next level of utility, often to surprising beauty.

For example, you can recycle old tools. Engineering A Better World Blog has a great resource list with practical ideas for waste-to-wow gifts. And Instructables is the go-to site for diy inspired brilliance. Need inspiration? Check out designer Bao-Khang Luu‘s six-pack rings morphed into elegant pendant lamps.

5 Regift – with pride!

Regifters are coming out of the closet this year. NY Stuff Exchange is organized by one of the world’s largest municipalities. Google to find a similar one near you. Consignment shops are another way to regift… but keep in mind how the consignment shop’s politics impact others and the environment. You can always just stay at home and host a “yankee swap.”

6 Give service gifts.

One of the most time-tested ways to give is to skip the credit card (and carbon footprint) and give of your time. The Obama Administration’s ambitious service programs have grown to impact millions of Americans economically and environmentally. Check out America Serves, All for Good and Hands on Network.

Google is also your friend: search “neighborhood support programs” and your nearest municipality, then grab your calendar and pick up the phone. Or turn off your computer altogether: befriend a senior neighbor and invite them for scheduled regular walks, help in their kitchen, record their great stories.

7 When buying something feels like the thing to do.

Here are some ideas: Blissmo‘s organic & eco products (we like Back to Roots' Easy-to-Grow Mushroom Gardens), ebay’s World of Good and Boston-based Preserve, which makes a range of stylish, high performance, eco-friendly products. Danielle Gould at Food+Tech Direct has carefully combed for unique foodie treat suggestions.

For garments, Nau is a trendy Portand, OR outfitter that donates to humanitarian and environmental initiatives – and Pants for Poverty is the place for (alas, expensive) undies… Looptworks repurposes abandoned materials into meaningful, long-lasting and limited-edition products. Get cozy with Smartwool, Ibex and Icebreaker (their ‘baaah' code enables you to trace your garment to the herd of sheep that work to keep you warm). (BTW, have you seen outfitter Patagonia’s expensive ad urging shoppers to think twice before buying their products? Some of the folks at Ecocentric thought this was pretty impressive.)

To give light, or life: SolarTown has a bunch of mid-priced (and money-saving) gifts while groups like Hudson Valley Seed Library offer amazing heirloom seeds (a Facebook “like” will give seeds to school gardens just by clicking!) Clicktivism abounds.

ALERT: We at Ecocentric are book lovers, and while we're glad Amazon partnerships help support many organizations we respect, we are currently concerned about Amazon’s ugly moveto preempt shoppers from buying local. (Don’t forget to shop at your local independent bookstore.)

8 Wish lists can inspire consuming choices.

If you know you're going to receive ye olde obligatory gifts from family, why not point them to a list of options that shares shopping ideas (and your values). It’s like a marriage registry – you're more likely to get what you'd like AND encourage your loved ones to vote with their wallet. Several sites enable you to create a wish list for yourself… and Ethical Ocean’s Holiday Helper Elf is a whimsical way to get and suggest sustainable gift ideas for others.

9 Buy stuff from the organizations facilitating change.

Still didn’t find the perfect gift? Check out more suggestions from a couple of our friends:

Rescue Gifts offers ways to fund community gardens, and provides clean water and even a goat or small flock of chickens to help a farmer recover from a natural disaster.

Environmental Working Group includes their researchers' smart gift ideas and gift card options (…through Amazon…) Or make a tax-deductible donation to EWG (you get cool stocking stuffers for donating).

Whatever orgs you like, they are almost sure to have created opportunities for you to give a gift in a loved one’s name, or even to buy gifts associated with them. (Note: we are rapidly approaching the deadline for tax write-offs.)

10 Feed your loved ones.

Great sustainable dinner parties are fabulous. Feast on the wide range of recipes Joey Lee has amassed at Meatless Monday, or check out these outstanding sites: Gojee, Cookstr, Herbivoracious, Happy Herbivore and Tastespotting… Find your best local food producers at EatWellGuide. You can give one heaping helping of health, memories and sustainability.

Wishing you an inspired holiday season!