Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Green Friday

Some BIA readers will no doubt plunge into the mayhem that is Black Friday. I will be laughing at you from the comfort of my home or a nearby park.
As much as I rail against consumerism, giving gifts is important. It’s part of our culture and it’s part of just about every culture. These days, it does also seem to contribute the accumulation of a whole lot of stuff that people don’t really want, or at least don't want for long. There’s also that whole awkward situation, wherein some relation or friend who doesn’t really know you gives you something for which you have no use, no room, and no interest. Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for anything someone sees fit to give me as a gift, and make a genuine effort to put it to good use.
Fortunately, there are some good ways for gift-givers to reduce their impact, which don’t involve stealing Christmas, declaring it a humbug, or being a complete ass to friends and family. Be the solution:
An event is a great way to do this. Tickets to a game or a performance are good options. Keep in mind that most restaurants also have gift certificates, as do hip local inns that serve good spƤtzle or have a superb collection of whiskies. Once the event is done with, there’s nothing to throw away. (Caveat, caveat, caveat.)
A carefully selected bottle of wine or small batch bourbon (or other spirit of choice) is another good option. This will be consumed, its container recycled.
Some gifts have already enjoyed a long and useful life. Antiques and other vintage goods (denim, vinyl, musical instruments, books, &c) don’t require the expenditure of new raw materials or energy to produce and they’re more likely to find another home than a trash can in the future. Similarly, works of art are gifts of enduring value with comparatively small environmental impacts.
Buy locally produced products. These gifts haven’t traveled as far, which means less energy has been used in their transport. Buying local can also avoid some of the public health and environemntal problems associated with production in countries with poor health and safety, environmental, and labor laws.
If you’re even a little unsure, give a gift receipt with your gift. And, equally important, don’t be offended if your gift is exchanged for something else.
There is of course the more esoteric stuff. For instance, know the person you’re giving the gift to, and give something that will be meaningful, rather than simply trying to rack-up dollars spent. Don’t get bogged-down in giving so much stuff. That’s not at all the point, and recipients (especially children) will learn to appreciate their gifts more if they’re not overwhelmed by volume.
Finally, keep in mind that while exchanging gifts is what we do, the important parts of the exchange are the people, not the things.

Image source: Paper Crave


Sue said...

Better yet, don't buy a gift, make one. Bake or cook something, draw something, paint something, take photographs that will be meaningful and make nice prints, write a poem, story or even a long letter, craft something. Even men can learn to crochet and knit -- best crochet artist I ever knew was my Uncle Frank Merker a psychiatrist who crafted the most beautiful afaghans. But simple things like scarves and hats make great gifts.

Another idea that does involve purchasing, but little material product -- many people today have MP3 players and would love a gift card that would allow them to download new music. The obvious is iTunes or Rapsody, but other places, such as offer a wide range of MP3's for download.

E. R. Dunhill said...

I couldn't agree more. Giving something made with one's own mind and hands is a great way to give something that is both meaningful and environmentally friendly.
It's unfortunate that as a culture, we've allowed this sort of gift-giving to be devalued. Whether it's a matter of lacking free time, succumbing to the constant din of advertisers, a lack of esteem for "useless" creative skills, or some confluence of these and other pressures, it's a sad passing.
I'll save my more general soap-box about the importance of artists and artisans in a sustainable economy for a later post.

Pat Jenkins said...

well erd this time of year brings out the desire to give! i hope you don't limit your "desire" to please others by your worry!!... i wish you, sue, prog, and pan the most blessed thanksgiving!!

E. R. Dunhill said...

I'm not worried. I'd just rather that people focus on each other, rather than things. Happy Thanksgiving.

Chris Crawford said...

I don't give gifts by schedule. I don't receive gifts, either (that is, justice is served and my ungenerous behavior is reciprocated by my friends and loved ones). I will give things to people on an opportunistic basis: I might make some odd item that is perfect for the recipient, or give something I already own to somebody who has greater need of it. But it is quite rare for me to purchase a gift for somebody. I confess, however, that my motivation is not primarily green. It *is* rather anti-materialist. I perceive a purchased gift as shallow and devoid of serious intent. I much prefer to do some special service that only I can perform.

An interesting manifestation of my anti-materialism is my growing dread of throwing things away. I always feel some compunction about putting anything in the trash. It's partially the sense of guilt about adding to the waste disposal problem, but it's also a sense of waste. A particularly stupid example of this attitude is my refusal to throw away a damaged wastebasket. It's plastic, and the upper edges are rent with splits that make handling it rather clumsy. One part of me says, hell, it's just a cheap plastic wastebasket. Heave it and get a new one. But another part of me notes that it's still usable if a tad clumsy. So I argue with myself and the years roll by...