by Larry Plesant
During a stint teaching entrepreneuring skills to women’s co-ops and small businesses in West Africa years ago, I saw a group of some thirty children racing through the village laughing and screaming and falling over one and other. One of the boys had been given a small toy car made of wood. It was hand carved by the boy’s grandfather and had four little wheels that actually turned! For the rest of the morning that model car captivated and entertained a classroom-sized happy mob of children as they squealed their way joyfully through the village.
All but the poorest, most broken among us here in developed countries lives far better than kings and queens of the past could ever dream about. Near universal indoor plumbing with safe water and waste disposal, electricity and indoor lighting, wood and other mediums for heating , food from around the planet and a worldwide communications system with access to the equivalent of the Library of Congress on a device that fits in your pocket. Paved roads, fire departments and animal and child cruelty laws. We live safer, longer, healthier and, potentially, more educated, broad minded and self-fulfilled lives than any generation before. AND THAT my friends is very, very cool.
At its most primitive level, food is priceless when we are hungry and nearly valueless when we are full. It is this casualness with our abundance (“What mastodon again?”) that led us to our single-use throw away culture, and its many unintended consequences. Not to be a Debbie Downer here, but we really blew it on this one.
If Confucius were alive today, he might have said,” It is better to own one good bowl than a thousand paper plates and plastic sporks.”
No one (and by that I mean statistically no one) in this country wants or needs another useless gift. Seriously. If you are totally stuck on what to do, then send a card that supports a local artist and include a couple of dollars, some photographs or dried flowers or a nice personal handwritten note.
So in essence a green gift is a good gift. It is a real, solid, useful, long lasting and aesthetic gift. It should solve or attempt to solve an issue for the recipient. Nothing shows that you care like a small gift to help ease a problem for its receiver. Think organic salve for your itchy-skin friend or a LED clip-on light for your read-in-the-dark friend; maybe a quality multi-tool for your wants-to-be-handier friend or a quality cloth wallet for your no-leather friend or a used copy of that book you really liked.
Often a green gift comes with a story about the crafts person who made it, and who is grateful for your business, the material it was created from, or the good works that the company supports. Green is a process not a result and there is a spectrum of opinion about the subject. Here to aid your holiday sanity program is a quick guide to identifying green:
Local: Supporting local artists and craftspeople is totally green.
Organic: The USDA organic program builds soils whose microbes make the ground more self-fertile over time. These are soils that hold water and thus require less irrigation. They are soils (and the food from them) that hold nutrients and aren’t full of pesticides and herbicides for us and the children to consume. Organic is audited green.
Compassionate: Many people have a highly developed sense of empathy towards the suffering of humans and many other species that we share this planet with. Non-exploitive products (i.e. animal free, cruelty free, child labor free, planet raping practices free) are definitely green unless cancelled out by another factor.
Safe, nontoxic and natural: This speaks for itself or would if these were not also claims made by shysters clear around the world. Know your supplier. Read the ingredients and look up the names of the ingredients that you don’t know. Certified organic means audited natural. This is still your best bet for not getting greenwashed by Fast Buck Freddies and their seemingly endless lines of fake natural products.
Good Works: Products that support Good Works like feeding the hungry and clothing the bare. Or feeding the bears. Or not feeding the bears as the case may be. Besides being a big fan of organics, tree planting in vulnerable areas is a cause I will always champion. And of course, there are many worthy causes and many worthy projects for one to champion.
Do you know that the most powerful votes we ever make are the decisions we make as to how we spend our money every day? Conscious consuming creates a chain of good; an oasis effect of positivity that counters the divisive negativity of much of the daily dialog. Buying green is investing our collective sustainable future. It shows that you believe that we can create that future.
Green is voting for hope. It is saying that we can live well and also live peacefully with other people who may not look exactly like us. Green is a way of saying that we can share the beautiful gift of this planet with all the variety of life on it. And that together we can create a future worth living in. Because it all starts with each one of us.
This is the Soapman wishing you and yours a happy and green holiday season.