Friday, December 18, 2009

Ethical gifts at the last minute

by Shae

I love the idea of making beautiful, handcrafted items for friends and family for Christmas and birthdays, I just don’t seem to get around to it. A few days before the event, I start hatching a plan that requires time and skills that are in short supply. Instead I look for things that other people have made that I can quickly send to friends and family in the US and Australia. Here are a couple of my favorite gift ideas that also support worthwhile projects.

Donation gifts

Many non-profit organisations these days have an option for you to buy donations. Oxfam Unwrapped lets you ‘purchase’ a gift, such as a cow, for your grandmother, who then receives a card (not the cow) indicating the donation made in her honour. The purchase helps support Oxfam’s advocacy and international development work.

Fair trade

Numerous websites and shops carry fair trade goods that are designed to provide income directly to the producers, bypassing middlemen. For example, check out U-Chus and Global Exchange. A few fair trade companies aim to provide fashionable, designer products that are also environmentally-friendly and made under ethical conditions. See People Tree and Indigenous Designs. If there's a particular product you want to get someone, like a pair of shoes or some clothing or a bag, you could also try searching online for that product and 'fair trade' - there are lots of great online stores out there.


The International Labor Rights Forum compiled a list of clothing and footwear manufacturers that are unionized or worker cooperatives in its Shop with a Conscience Guide. For a list of companies that have signed the Homeworkers Code of Practice in Australia, see this site. By signing the code, the company indicates its commitment to meeting standards for homeworkers that produce their goods in Australia.

Other ideas

There are also plenty of other gifts you can give that won't put a burden on the planet and will help support the workers who make them. You can give tickets to community events or concerts, handmade and hand-crafted gifts from Etsy, and locally-made gifts from markets like Unwrapped (on Dec 19th) Made on the Left and Perth Upmarket. There's also a Christmas Organic Growers Market on Wednesday 23rd at City Farm, which will have plenty of great last-minute gifts.

Whenever possible donate, recycle, upcycle, and support workers’ initiatives locally and globally. That way as well as giving gifts to your friends and family, you're also helping to make a better world.

Do you have other advice for last-minute ethical gifts? We'd love to hear your ideas and comments!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Celebrating Christmas Ethically: Do It Yourself

Christmas is a special challenge for those who are trying to live ethically. It's one thing to cut down on consumption in your own life, but quite another to skimp on others. I'm usually a fairly frugal and environmentally-conscious person (although of course there are glaring holes in my lifestyle, as with anyone). I mend my clothes, darn my socks, try to get my electronics second-hand, and generally try to think hard about any purchases that I make.

So when it comes to Christmas I always start with good intentions. But then, somehow, things get out of hand. It's hard to be frugal when it comes to the people that I love, and all my stern lectures to myself about the problems with showing love through Stuff tend to fade away as I find myself stepping out to brave the Christmas crowds.

I've been getting better: these days most of my presents come from Oxfam or other Fair Trade stores. There are some great options for buying presents ethically, which Shae's going to blog about soon.

I'm trying to be adventurous this year, though, and make as many presents as I can using recycled materials from around the house. I've been trawling the Internet for ideas that aren't too difficult and don't require that you go out and buy a heap of supplies. Here are a few:

CraftZine has some good ideas, including this run-down of a few of their easy projects. I especially liked the kids' crayon and sketchbook kit, because I think melted crayons are beautiful (image by wonderfully complex).

I also spent quite a while looking around Craft Bits: I rather like the mix-of-something-in-a-jar recipes and a few of the recycled craft ideas. If you've got a stack of old records sitting around the recycled vinyl rings and bangles might solve two problems at once.

One DIY project that I've tried out on previous Christmases is making origami boxes. There are plenty of instructions online, including on eHow and WonderHowTo. Last year I got a heap of old picture books from an op-shop and used the pages to make the boxes. You can fill the boxes with biscuits (I recommend spice cookies), handmade notebooks, re-melted crayons, or other treats (image from oschene).

If, like me, you enjoying fixing things, you might want to consider giving a coupon book. You can make coupons for servicing bicycles, darning socks, sewing on buttons, and the other little tasks that keep your things going for longer. Or for meals cooked, back massages, house-tidying, computer servicing, or whatever you can do and are happy to share. There are templates for coupon-books online, including on eHow. If you just happen to have a whole cupboard of paper scraps (luckily, I do!), you could use them to make a coupon book.

There are also some great recipes online for pickles and preserves. I'm rather partial to kimchi, and also quite like the look of Greek spoon sweets, although I'm not sure that my skills in the kitchen are up to producing edible versions of either!

Not everyone has time to make presents, but the DIY option is great if you do have the time and want to avoid the Christmas rush. It can also help make Christmas less of a burden on the environment, especially if you try to reuse and recycle rather than buying supplies new.