Celebrating greener holidays can mean reducing the number of gifts you give, choosing instead to focus on relationships and the spiritual meaning attached to the holiday season. Still, many find great joy in sharing gifts with the children in their lives. Fortunately, there are many wonderful gift ideas guaranteed to bring a smile to a child’s face while supporting the giver’s commitment to a just and sustainable future at the same time. The following gift ideas are all from companies that are green, family-owned, or fair trade—or even all three!
From giraffes, to penguins to raccoons, Fair Indigo’s fair trade Stuffed Animals span the entire animal kingdom. Made by artisans in Peru. $25.90
Upavim Craft’s Baby Cow Snuggle Blanket is fair trade and made of super soft fleece. It will surely delight any baby. $15.50
Global Mamas fair trade Kid’s Cape is perfect for games of pretend. The cape is gorgeously printed with magic stars and moons by artisan women in Ghana. $20.00
Fair Trade Winds’ Pixie Ring Rattle is an easy-to-hold crocheted baby rattle. Handmade in Bangladesh from soft cotton by rural women who work flexible hours from home. $16
Bella Luna’s Wooden Toy Work Bench will provide hours of fun for any junior carpenter. Made with sustainably harvested rubber wood and non-toxic dyes. $32.95
The Wishbone 2-in-1 Balance Bike, available from Hazelnut Kids, is made from recycled materials. Rather than having to buy multiple bikes to introduce your child to cycling, this one well-made bike can be enjoyed for many years. 3-in-1 bikes also available. $199
Maple Landmark’s Midget Railway box set includes six train cars and is made in the US from sustainably harvested pine. $41.00
Pocket Discs are great for playing inside and out. All are fair trade with dozens of designs to choose from. $19.99
Color by Nature color pencils are handmade and fair trade in Chile out of twigs. Available at Ten Thousand Villages. $18.00
One World Project’s Muchacho and Muchacha fair trade piggy banks teach kids to save. $30.
HABA’s Fantasy Blocks are ideal for creative play. Includes 26 non-toxic pieces, all made in Germany. $44.99
Build a Bouquet, from Green Toys, allows for any little gardener’s creativity to grow. All Green Toys products are made of 100% recycled materials in the US. $27.99.
Fair Trade finger puppets, from Finger Puppets Inc. offer numerous themes of finger puppets for creative play. $2.99 each.
Used Toys: Let’s face it—kids grow up too fast. Because if this, its often possible to find very gently used toys in yard sales, church sales, and on craigslist. Pleygo, a new service specializing in just Legos, makes it easy to buy used Lego sets.
Global Babies includes full color portraits of babies from around the world.
Click, Clack, Moo – Cows That Type tells the story of farm animals who come together in a non-volient way and bargain collectively for better treatment. Available at Better World Books new and used.
Used Books: It’s very easy to find used books on sites like Better World Books. Choose some of your favorite books form when you were young to share with your favorite little people.
Clothing & Accessories
This festive fair trade “Hooty” bib from Upavim Crafts will have your littlest ones eating in style this holiday. $11.50
Monkey Backpack by Handcrafting Justice. This adorable, fair trade backpack is perfect for kids to carry to school or other activities. Made in Thailand, backpacks also come in elephant and owl! $28.00
Safe Sand Indoor and Outdoor sand, available in 25-pound bags, is ideal for sandbox play and molds when wet. Safe Sand is low-dust and non-toxic, with no asbestos, no lead, no crystalline silica dust. $25.00
Global Mama’s fair trade sun hat is perfect from shielding new baby on sunny days. Made by artisans in Ghana. $20.00
Because so many baby products, like monitors and toys, require batteries to operate, consider a rechargeable battery set as a gift for mom and dad to reduce waste.
And lastly, no products can replace love and care. Any time you can spend playing with the kids in your life will be very well received. If you are looking for activities to do with a little person, consider picking up some art supplies to work with them on a craft project, or take them on a special outing like a nature walk or puppet show.
This post was made possible with the suggestions of many Green America members. Thanks to Carmen, Andrew, Paula, Denise, Alix, Kate, Jennifer, Leslie, Antonie and Jerry.
This fall, Green America member Jack Ryan sent us a letter asking if one could get all the nutrients one needs through a vegan diet, particularly vitamin B12. He’d heard that diets without meat are often deficient in B12, and that the vitamin in pill form is actually obtained from animals rather than plant sources.
We posed his questions to Anything Vegan owners Jasmine Simon and Marjorie Simon-Meinefeld, two sisters who are both certified plant-based nutritionists. While an abbreviated version of their informative response appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of our Green American magazine, we wanted to post the full version here for anyone else who might be wondering how to eat less meat and still get the nutrients you need.
We’re going to plant some truths about vitamin B12 and pull out the weeds that have grown around it—namely the so-called Vegan B12 Deficiency myths. People who adhere to a healthy plant-based lifestyle have reduced risks of heart attack or stroke, breast cancer, prostate cancer, obesity, and diabetes, and rarely suffer from osteoporosis, constipation, indigestion, and arthritis. But let’s take a look at some things that vegans and non-vegans alike need to be aware of when it comes to B12.
Our dear friend Dr. Greger (NutritionFacts.org) says “Vitamin B12 is made by neither animals nor plants, but by microbes. Thankfully, in our sanitized world, there are safe, cheap, convenient sources. It is imperative that those eating plant-based include B12 fortified foods in their diet or intake supplements, especially pregnant or nursing women. Eggs and dairy are not optimal sources of vitamin B12 because foods come as a package deal, and eggs and dairy may bring along as baggage saturated fat, cholesterol, and hormones. The easiest and cheapest way to get our B12 is to take at least 2,500 mcg (µg) cyanocobalamin once each week, ideally as a chewable, sublingual, or liquid supplement.” Let’s examine some truths and myths surrounding this important vitamin.
There is such thing as vitamin B12 deficiency. TRUTH. The symptoms include memory loss, confusion, upset stomach, weight loss, very pale skin, stomach issues, exhaustion, and diarrhea. Vitamin B12 Deficiency does exist, but it’s not caused by veganism. It’s not caused from a plant-based lifestyle but usually is a sign of non-related digestive problems where the body has a problem absorbing nutrients from food. Crohn’s disease, pernicious anemia, celiac disease, and other digestive disorders are the usual problems. There are over 5000 possible causes of digestive disorders—and enjoying a healthy, plant-based lifestyle isn’t one of them. Vitamin B12 is present naturally in humans, so those with digestive-related deficiencies usually can’t even be cured by simply in-taking additional vitamin B12 from any source.
People don’t have to eat meat or other animal products to survive and thrive with B12. TRUTH. Both humans and animals eat food from the soil that contain B12. However since most food animals today aren’t even fed their proper diets, farmers actually inject their livestock with B12 in order to say animal products contain B12.
Vegans need to start taking special supplements or eat nutritional yeast because the only source of vitamin B12 is through animal-based foods (meat, dairy products, etc.) MYTH … and TRUTH. Even if a person only eats plant foods, vitamin B12 actually comes from coenzymes, which are already present in bacteria found on the human body (in and around the mouth, for example). We all should take in Vitamin B12 daily, in small doses.
People need B12 supplements not because of lack of meat or animal products, but because of poor soil in much of the world today that our food is grown in. Even the animals aren’t naturally getting what is needed anymore. All people, not just vegans, should be concerned about proper vitamin B12 intake. And it does not have to come from animal sources injected with it.
There are vegan sources of vitamin B12. TRUTH. Outside of B12-injected animals, B12 fortified foods and supplements are available. According to the Vegan Society, the best thing to do is to look for plant milks, plant yoghurts, breakfast cereals, spreads, yeast extracts, and nutritional yeast products that are fortified with vitamin B12. Or try fortified yeast extract with fortified spread on whole-wheat toast, or macaroni with fortified nutritional yeast “cheezy sauce”. See www.AnythingVegan.com for O’So Cheesy, a delicious plant-based cheese alternative containing Vitamin B12 packed nutritional yeast as well as plant-based protein! You can also chew a reliable vitamin B12 supplement to enable you to absorb as much as possible.
Your doctor can check your blood homocysteine levels to see if you’re obtaining enough vitamin B12. Always seek prompt professional medical advice about the cause of any symptom. And don’t just accept the quick and easy answer from traditional schools of American medicine. Seek out the medical advisors that have gone above the medical school curriculum and learned the benefits of plant-based nutrition over pills, surgeries, and eating animals. This is not the primary focus in traditional medical schools, so you have to be as proactive with your health as you are with other areas of your life to seek the doctors that have this knowledge.
Vitamin B12 intake should be a small part of your daily decisions. Focus on being a healthy plant eater with lots of water, raw foods, whole plant-based foods, nuts, seeds, grains, fruits, and vegetables. And get outside and exercise in nature for at least 30 minutes a day to help your body operate in its most optimal state.
—Jasmine Simon and Marjorie Simon-Meinefeld
Sources for this article:
GMO sugar beets have only been on the market since 2008, but their market share grew rapidly, with over 90% of sugar beets being genetically modified by 2009. Now, the tide is starting to turn against GMO sugar beets, with the percentage of all U.S. sugar derived from GMO sugar beets dropping from 47 percent to 41 percent in just one year.
GMO sugar beets were opposed from day one by food advocates, who pointed out that the technology was not adequately tested before launch. The Center for Food Safety sued the USDA for approving the new technology without performing required environmental testing, and won. However, the USDA let GMO sugar beets go forward despite the ruling. USDA ultimately issued an environmental report, but that report ignored the broad environmental impacts of GMO sugar beets, including the likelihood that glyphosate-resistant beets would ultimately lead to superweeds that are themselves resistant to glyphosate, resulting in even more toxic pesticides being applied, as well as the spread of GMO beets to non-GMO fields.
In the intervening years, we’ve seen all the downsides of GMO beets, with growing pesticide use and contamination of non-GMO crops. What wasn’t predicted back in 2008, was the amazing consumer backlash against GMOs that has grown in just a few short years. GMO Insiders have been a big part of that backlash, creating the pressure on companies like Unilever, Hershey, and General Mills. GMO Insiders were the driving force in getting Hershey to shift to non-GMO sugar for it Hershey Bars and Kisses, Unilever to launch non-GMO Mayo, and General Mills to introduce non-GMO Cheerios.
We’ve proven that consumers increasingly don’t want GMOs, which in turn puts pressure on packaged goods companies to reject GMO ingredients from suppliers. Ultimately, this means that more and more farmers will be moving away from GMOs, and in some cases, they are moving towards organics to meet growing consumer demand.
Thanks to all the GMO Insiders who are taking action with us to persuade the world’s largest food companies to move away from GMOs. Together, we’re having a huge impact and turning the tide against GMOs. Together, we can shift U.S. agriculture away from GMOs and toxins, and grow the market for organics.
With the holidays around the corner, you are likely starting to think about ways to appreciate friends and family by giving them a gift. Like many Americans—if you choose to purchase gifts—you are likely to buy some online. Consumer surveys indicate 46 percent of Americans plan to shop online this year. Amazon.com is the world’s largest retailer and is synonymous with online shopping. Over 40 percent of online shoppers in the U.S. turn to Amazon as their first stop.
Last year, we dug into the company’s record on environmental and social responsibility and found Amazon.com to be performing poorly across the board–from dirty energy to worker exploitation.
With Amazon’s most important time of the year for sales on the horizon, we’re taking another look at Amazon’s sustainability practices and have also updated our popular Alternatives to Amazon Guide to Online Shopping. Choosing to spend money wisely, in ways that support our value, can have a major impact. This year, if you are shopping online, consider one of these alternatives.
Amazon Alternatives Holiday Shopping Guide
Amazon’s 2015 Sustainability Report Card:
Amazon uses huge amounts of electricity and most of the company’s energy comes from coal-fired power plants. In 2015, in response to mounting public pressure, including our Build A Cleaner Cloud campaign, Amazon’s hosting company, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced it would invest in both solar and wind energy projects. As these projects come online, AWS will be able to use greater amounts of renewable energy to power its massive network of data centers, which currently run on a steady diet of mostly fossil fuels.
The company has committed to move to 100% renewable energy, however, it has yet to announce a deadline for this goal. Amazon is also still stalling in terms of transparency, refusing to report its energy usage to the Carbon Disclosure Project
The New York Times’ explosive expose on Amazon’s white-collar workers revealed that while employees at Amazon’s Headquarters may earn a great deal, they are often subjected to a ruthless working environment. Current and former employees conveyed tales of working for four days without sleeping, developing ulcers from stress, never seeing their families, even being fired for having cancer or a miscarriage and needing time to recover.
Beyond the individuals working at Amazon’s HQ in Seattle, a massive global network of people support Amazon’s operations around the word as contractors and temporary workers. Workers in Amazon’s “Fulfillment Centers” (warehouses) have been found to work non-stop on their feet in non-air conditioned buildings. These same workers are now being forced to sign 18-month non-compete agreements, which prevent them from finding other similar work, should they be let go. The author Simon Head concluded when it comes to labor practices, “Amazon is worse than Walmart.”
Like many corporate behemoths, Amazon has a history of shielding profits overseas, and for years, it fought against charging sales tax on its products. These are just two ways that the Amazon has benefited against brick and mortar companies and small businesses. Just last week, after years of under-cutting the prices of independent, local book stores and driving many out of business, Amazon announced its first ever brick-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle. This may seem like an odd move for an online company, but then again, as the movement for buying local is growing in the US, and as Amazon faces much less competition in the bookstore business thanks to its own success at selling books online, it’s actually a no-brainer. The Huffington Post shares more about Amazon’s ironic move and its history of undercutting other business.
The shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy continues. Last week Citigroup, the parent company of Citibank, committed to cut financing for coal mining. In the same week, one of Australia’s biggest banks – ANZ – pledged not to finance traditional coal mining projects and to provide at least $10bn in funding for renewable energy, reforestation and energy efficiency.
In May, Bank of America started the trend with their announcement to drop funding of coal mining, and Crédit Agricole closely followed with the same.
This shift is thanks to the work of everyone building a clean energy industry and pushing money away from destructive, polluting fuels.
You too can make the shift from fossil fuels in your investments to clean, renewable energy. Here is a list of investment products that are free from fossil fuels.
We’re calling on consumers to choose chocolate for visiting goblins and witches that supports cocoa farmers and their families! That means buying from a chocolate company that has a direct and long-term relationship with the farmers it purchases from.
Along with our partner, the International Labor Rights Forum, we’ve developed an informational card which can be printed and handed out along with the treats, so you can help spread the word about the injustices of the cocoa sector!
How it works:
1. Download our quarter-page flyer and print out as many as you like for your trick-or-treaters
2. Order or buy direct trade or fair trade chocolate minis*
3. Attach 1 mini to each card with double sided tape or non-toxic glue
4. Share with your visitors and their parents
Over 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, where cocoa farming families, with an average of 6 people, live on roughly just $2 per day. As a result, over 2 million children are relied on to harvest the cocoa crop each year. For years, Green Americans have campaigned to put an end to hazardous child labor in the cocoa fields.
The good news is that consumer pressure works. Major chocolate companies have started to take action to address the problems in their supply chains. The bad news is that many of the company solutions are too small and slow to really fix the problem.
We need to keep up the pressure on companies, and in the meantime we need to support the chocolate companies that are doing it right.
*Where to find Better Chocolate:
- Equal Exchange offers milk and dark chocolate fair trade minis
- Divine Chocolate offers 1.4 oz fair trade snack bars
Support cocoa farmers this year by choosing better chocolate for your trick-or-treaters. Download our informational cards now!
Guest post from Alexandra Beane, Wheels For Wishes
The United States is the world’s largest consumer of bottled water. In 2011, the United States set a record for purchasing 9.1 billion gallons of bottled water nationwide, which is equal to 29.2 gallons per person. Unfortunately, only 27 percent of plastic water bottles are recycled in the United States, and they are 100 percent recyclable. Each year, 35 billion plastic water bottles are thrown in the trash in the United States alone. The total carbon footprint of one 500 ml (16.9 oz) bottle of water is 828g of carbon dioxide. Water transported from overseas can have an even higher footprint! Fiji water travels up to 5,000 miles to reach San Francisco, and French brands travel up to 6,200 miles to get there.
Choosing to drink from reusable water bottles instead of plastic water bottles is a small change that can make a huge difference for the environment, and it also saves you money in the long run. Bottled water can be up to 500 times more expensive as tap water, so you’d save plenty of money if you switched to a BPA-free reusable water bottle.
Even if you can’t do everything possible to reduce your carbon footprint, drinking local is a good place to start. Other ways to make a difference are to cut back on showers or reduce the amount of time you spend in the shower, and don’t let the water run while you’re brushing your teeth.
Instead of driving everywhere, walk, carpool, bike, or use public transportation whenever possible. Each and every little change you make will help to reduce your carbon footprint.
Solar Energy Is on the Rise!
The solar energy industry in the United States is exploding! According to the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), the number of solar installations grew by 34% in 2014. Residential installations accounted for a large part of that growth, increasing by 51% from 2013 to 2014. 2015 is growing at even higher rates. SEIA’s research shows that in the first quarter of 2015, the amount of installed solar power in the U.S. grew by 76% as compared to the first quarter in 2014, and the second quarter of 2015 set a new record for residential rooftop solar installations in particular, a category that saw 70 percent year-over-year growth.
What Is Driving All the Demand for Solar?
Prices for solar energy systems have fallen over 80% in the last five years alone! When combined with attractive federal and local incentives, the financial benefits of going solar a quite staggering! In many parts of the country, homeowners are enjoying a five to seven year payback on a solar energy system investment – driven by the electricity cost savings and other incentives for solar energy production. To put that into finance terms, that represents a 14% to 20% annual return on your money! Hard to beat! (See how much solar can save you!)
For those who would rather not shell out the cash for a solar system, a bunch of attractive financing solutions have emerged that allow homeowners to go solar with no money down and still enjoy significant financial savings! These financing arrangements – ranging from zero down loans to leases or power purchase agreements (PPAs) – make solar much more affordable and have helped over 70% of the nearly 650,000 solar customers to go solar on a budget. (Learn more about solar financing options)
Solar Helps the Economy Too!
The increase in demand for solar has also had a very positive impact on our economy by creating jobs! In many cases, these are high paying jobs, including sales, marketing, engineering and management positions. In its most recent survey from 2014, The Solar Foundation (TSF) estimated that the US solar industry employed nearly 175,000 people, over double what it was in 2010! According to Fortune Magazine, the solar industry now employs more people than coal mining! You can help contribute to the solar wave and protect our planet by going solar today!
For more than 30 years, Green America has worked to expose social and environmental injustices that occur around the world, especially along the supply chains of products American consumers enjoy, like electronics, clothing, chocolate, and other food.
Our work is often possible because of committed individuals on the ground, working to shed light on some of the worst human rights abuses—such as the forced labor and human trafficking that has been happening for years in Thailand’s seafood sector.
Andy Hall, a human rights researcher and activist based in Bangkok, has worked to shed light not only on the seafood sector, but also the fruit industry in Thailand. His reporting on Natural Fruit, a pineapple processing company, uncovered serious labor right abuses including use of child labor, unlawfully low wages, confiscation of workers’ official documents, excessive overtime and poor conditions. It also resulted in Andy’s being charged with defamation by the company under investigation. In Thailand, defamation is a criminal offense, meaning that Andy is facing jail time for blowing the whistle on a company that was breaking the law.
Andy’s case was already tried once and he won. However, the Attorney General in Thailand appealed the case and Andy is once again going to trial on October 19th 2015. If he is found guilty he could be imprisoned for seven years.
Today, Green America and our allies presented a letter to the Thai Embassy in DC, in support of Andy Hall and all whistle blowers. The letter was signed by 44 international organizations, and we presented it with the International Labor Rights Forum, Greenpeace, Humanity United, and the Child Labor Coalition.
You can read the full letter here.
by Beth Porter, Better Paper Project Director
Hundreds of cities and towns across the country now offer big blue bins for recycling, about the size of large trash cans, to be collected weekly. While the increase in size is a great reflection of how eager people are to recycle, some problems can arise when that big blue bin is filled with incorrect items…
The Washington Post reported that recycling was once a profitable business for cities, not to mention the environmental benefits. However, recently those profits have vastly decreased to the point where now many counties are contributing up to millions of dollars each year to maintain operation of recycling facilities. Why the change? There are a few international reasons, including:
- Falling oil prices – oil is a key ingredient in new plastic and is now cheaper to make than to recycle.
- A stronger dollar – which means US businesses are less incentivized to be thrifty.
- And a weakened economy in China – our largest buyer of recycled materials.These have caused a direct nosedive in the value for American recyclables.
More local challenges point right back to the first phase of consumer recycling – the big blue bin.
The answer to how to incentivize people to recycle seemed perfectly obvious – make recycling easier. Duplicate the process of tossing a can in the trash, but just toss it into a bin with all sorts of other recyclable items – paper mixed with glass mixed with old plastic bottles. The increase in technology available to facilities gave the appearance that companies could recycle everything at once, a process referred to as single-stream recycling. Single-stream is great in theory, but in practice has shown problems with contamination. Glass can more easily be broken on the conveyor belts, and being comingled with the other recyclables, can contaminate paper bales and plastic with shards of glass.
With the introduction of the big blue bin and single-stream recycling, people in many cities are increasing the volume and size of items they attempt to recycle. These good intentions can lead to trying out a variety of items in the bins…including old garden hoses, shopping bags, Christmas lights, and even shoes. Needless to say, these items are not recyclable. When unfit items are put into the blue bins the cost of the entire recycling process goes up, including transportation and time spent sorting and re-routing these incorrect items to their actual end point (the trash incinerator or landfill).
Waste management facilities want to appease their customers but at the end of the day, will do what produces a profit.
They will not remain in the recycling industry if profits continue to be low or nonexistent. The very first way to reverse the recent problems? Make the most of your big blue bin.
In just a few steps, you can be certain that your items are truly recyclable and being sent to the right facility…check out these steps below and share with your friends and family to help continue the positive influence of the big blue bin!
- Don’t grab that bag…
Putting your recyclables into a bag before sending them to the big blue bin might seem easier, but every bag has to be opened by the recyclers…that time crunch often ends in the bag being tossed in the trash pile.
Instead: Try carrying them out to the bin in a box that you can easily break down and add to the bin after!
- Play the sorting game
See if your city has nearby drop off locations for glass and paper (these are the most vulnerable to being ruined in the blue bins!) and adapt your at home recycling area to keep paper in its own container – better paper means arriving to be recycled…not ripped up or covered in water!
- Check up on your city’s rules
What might seem ready for the bin doesn’t always match with what your city has the capacity to recycle. On the other hand, you might be surprised at things you thought weren’t okay, but that your city is actually eager to recycle!
Click here to look up your area’s rules of recycling and keep the big blue bin full of approved items: http://www.wm.com/thinkgreen/what-can-i-recycle.jsp