Every holiday season, instead of a Tickle Me Elmo or an iPod or an Xbox 360, Pat Kipping offers the Gift of Peace. The giver makes a donation to Oxfam Canada on behalf of the receiver, and the receiver gets a small card informing them of the donation. It’s not flashy, it’s not commercial and it supports humanitarian programs all over the world. In other words, it’s the ultimate ethical gift.
“People are becoming very conscious of their conspicuous consumption,” says Kipping, a major donation officer with Oxfam Canada. “A lot of people these days are looking for a more meaningful gift.”
Fortunately, there are plenty of options. Thanks to growing consumer consciousness, ethical gifts have become widely available.
Ethical shopping isn’t a complicated philosophy. Essentially, an ethical shopper makes a decision not to buy products that exploit humans, animals or the natural environment. This can be achieved passively, by boycotting harmful products, or actively, by making positive purchases.
Still, for the uninitiated, coming up with gift ideas may seem intimidating—ethical shopping is often perceived as more time consuming and expensive than a typical holiday shopping spree. To prove otherwise, we’ve compiled a list of ethical gifts that won’t blow your holiday budget.
“No sweat” sneakers
Bob Haywood loves his red high-tops. Casual and comfy, they look like a pair of Chuck Taylor All Stars—you know, those old-school canvas sneakers. They are similar, but with one important distinction. “I was looking around for sweatshop-free sneakers,” says Haywood, who sells the kicks at his bookstore, Outside the Lines. “And I came across these guys.”
“These guys” would be No Sweat Apparel, an online retailer and distributor of sweatshop-free clothing. No Sweat supports independent trade unions in the US, Canada and the developing world, ensuring that all of the workers who produce No Sweat products are paid a fair wage for their labour. And you’ll look cool too.
Outside the Lines, 6297 Quinpool (422-3544). nosweatshop.com. $56
’Tis the season to adopt something
Original gift ideas are tricky—but what could be more original than giving someone a whale? Or a polar bear? Adopt-a-something programs usually involve saving an endangered piece of wilderness or helping out a creature in need, making it a perfect gift for the nature lover on your list.
The Canadian branch of the World Wildlife Fund currently operates an adopt-a-polar bear program, which comes with an adoption certificate, a $30 tax receipt, and a cuddly plush polar bear—all for $40. The adopter also receives information on the threats that currently face the polar bear population—like a shrinking habitat and toxic pollution—and how proceeds from their adoption will help.
Sticking with large mammals, whales could use some love too. Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises, based way out on the end of Digby Neck, run an adopt-a-whale program to help support their research on humpback whales in the Bay of Fundy.
Program coordinator Shelley Barnaby says the program is perfect for the person who has everything. There are currently 10 whales up for adoption, and all come with a full adoption package. “You would receive a certificate, as well as a 5”x7” of your whale—a photograph of the most recent sighting of your whale—as well as a short biography, a sighting history of your whale and our newsletter,” says Barnaby.
Visit www.wwf.ca or call the Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises at 1-800-656-3660. $25-$40
Bottle serving plates
The best gift ideas are always so simple. Take these funky serving plates from P’lovers. They look like a bunch of flattened beer and wine bottles—which is exactly what they are. The glass is melted into a smooth surface, and a tiny cheese knife comes attached to the neck of the bottle. Voila! Your very own recycled serving plate, and a guaranteed conversation piece at your next wine-and-cheese’r.
P’lovers, Park Lane Shopping Centre (422-6060). $10
Sierra Eco flowers
With such beautiful products, it’s unfortunate that the commercial flower industry can sometimes be so ugly. Workers, especially in developing countries, can find themselves exposed to harmful pesticides or victims of wage discrimination.
In contrast, Sierra Eco offers the “green” flower, available at My Mother’s Bloomers. Sierra Eco imports all of their flowers from South America, but they pride themselves on following ethical standards. The company only deals with farms that support responsible social programs for their workers, and they practise environmentally friendly growing techniques by limiting their use of pesticides, maintaining a clean water supply for the local community and recycling some of their soil. According to Neville MacKay, owner of My Mother’s Bloomers, “We have other ethical distributors as well, but Sierra Eco are certainly the most vocal about it.”
My Mother’s Bloomers, 5640 Spring Garden (422-2700). Various prices
The fair trade coffee movement has received more attention, but chocolate is also building momentum as a fairly traded commodity. Just Us! Coffee Roasters now offer fair trade chocolate, just in time to satisfy all of those seasonal sugar junkies.
“We’ve just opened up our own chocolate factory about a month and a half ago,” says cafe manager Sue Moore. The organic chocolate arrives in large, unrefined blocks from a German supplier. “When it arrives, it’s gone through the first tempering phase. We take it through three more levels of tempering, which basically takes out any crystallization that has occurred,” says Moore. Fair trade chocolate is now available in tiny holiday shapes, and sells for roughly the same price as other gourmet chocolates—about $6 for a fist-sized Santa.
The Heartwood Cafe also offers organic, gift-appropriate goodies. Heartwood is in the organic baking business year-round, but they always trot out a few holiday specialties. “Closer to Christmas, we have things like apple-cranberry muffins or orange-pecan-cardamom muffins,” says owner Laura Bishop. “This time of year, we also make almond-carob balls, which are sort of like a vegan, healthy rum ball.” Also, check out their maple-walnut shortbread. Yummy, yummy.
Just Us! Coffee Roasters, 1678 Barrington (422-5651) and Heartwood Bakery & Cafe, 6250 Quinpool (425-2808). Various prices
While you’re checking out the chocolate, do some browsing at Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade chain located within the Just Us! cafe. In particular, check out their battery-free toys, unique musical instruments and jewellery. “We try not to get any jewellery where the price is too high, because we’re trying to keep things in people’s gift range,” says manager Sue Moore. Many of the jewellery items on display are available for less than $20.
Ten Thousand Villages, 1678 Barrington (422-5651). $5-$20
The Tired Horse
Tire swings have always been a great ethical product. Long before recycling was trendy, tire swings were turning old tires into brand-new toys.
If you have a little extra holiday cash, try this new twist on an old ethical idea. 3R Martock Crafters in Windsor, Nova Scotia, assemble The Tired Horse, a horse-shaped swing, out of new, factory-reject tires.
“Each swing takes one tire to make, no waste,” says company owner Norman Hogue. With help from seasonal staff, Hogue estimates that he can make about three tire horses an hour. “Most of the people find it pretty cute.”
The tires—which would otherwise be discarded—are completely reworked to resemble a horse. The sides of the tire create a circular body, while the tread is separated and shaped into the saddle/head. Hogue and company add eyes, stirrups, mane and a tail to complete the equine transformation, which ultimately looks nothing like a traditional tire swing.
P’lovers, Park Lane Shopping Centre (422-6060). Pumpkin Village, Sunnyside Mall (835-8678). $59.95
Darned Pit Socks
Based in Cape Breton, Centsable.ca offers a number of ethically sound gift ideas. One example is the Darned Pit Sock: a pair of woolly Stanfield socks with a large black number stitched on their sides. It’s the same sock used by Cape Breton coal miners for most of the 20th century. There are three numbers to choose from, each representing a different Cape Breton coal mine. “By taking the actual sock and putting a pit number right on it, it’s basically to signify that this is the sock that went down underground for all those shifts, for all those years, with all those men,” says Censable.ca founder Suzanne Spencer. “And by wearing the sock, you’re honouring all those men who went down underground.” Best of all, 50 percent of profits are donated to The Miners’ Museum national fundraising campaign.
www.centsable.ca $11, plus shipping