Searching for a green holiday gift

The cash register at a Buffalo Exchange in Los Angeles, Calif., with "Get Green" stickers.


TESS VIGELAND: Happy to say I've got almost all of my holiday shopping done at this point, which is more than some folks around our office can say, including self-admitted gift-slacker Adriene Hill. But to be fair, she's got more to think about than I do. She's a member of our sustainability desk, with no small pressure to figure out how to give "green" this holiday. Here's her story.

ADRIENE HILL: Argh. Somehow it's already the middle of December and I don't have gifts for either of my sisters. Alex, a college senior, wants a dress.

ALEX: I'm looking for something that I can wear to work and to class.

She points me to a dress from the online retailer ModCloth. It's on sale for $25 and was "imported" -- it doesn't say from where.

And I need a present for Alison -- an early-30s professional who travels a lot.

ALISON: Some jewelry that is simple, vlassy.

I'm thinking earrings. I'd typically spend $50 to $75. This year, I've decided to try to give green. I mean I am a sustainability reporter. My first stop: a resale store called Buffalo Exchange, where people buy and sell used clothes and jewelry. I bring along my colleague Angela Kim to help me hunt. There's no jewelry that stands out, but the dress rack is more promising.

ANGELA KIM: Oh wow, there's a Juicy Couture dress here. It's only $38.

Hill: It's super cute.

KIM: This would be $100 easy at the store.

I'm pretty amped. Could it really be this easy? I head to the fitting room to try it on, to get a sense of it.

Nope. No thank you. It looks more Michelin Man than college cutie. It might look better on her, but I don't know. Which is part of the problem with buying one-of-a-kind used -- It can be cheaper than new, but it can take a while to find the right thing. And, it can be hard or impossible to take mistake purchases back. So on to the Internet.

Summer Bowen runs an eco-focused boutique called BTC Elements.

SUMMER BOWEN: It's an online boutique where everything you purchase is both eco-friendly and fairly made.

Well on our way, we start by looking at earrings for Alison. Bowen sells some lovely earnings that are up-cycled -- made with tin from old cans -- for around $30.

BOWEN: One of the cool things about up-cycled materials is that you can get a good price point because basically, what the materials are, they used to be waste materials.

She also has a pair of gold earrings made by a San Francisco designer from recycled gold. They cost about $60, which is just what I was expecting to pay. Alison will love these. Mission one -- accomplished!

The dress for my little sister is going to be harder. Bowen says new, environmentally-friendly clothing often costs a lot.

BOWEN: It is more expensive to manufacture an organic piece of clothing than it is to manufacture a conventional piece of clothing.

Dresses on Bowen's website run from about $50 for a dress on sale to a few hundred dollars. I don't see anything for Alex...

I could get crafty and sew. That would cost about $30, depending on my fabric choice. But I'm out of time, so I decide to ask for help. I meet up at a mall with Jessica Lass from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

HILL: What makes a good green holiday gift?

LASS: You know, what we're seeing is people buying experiences for each other.

HILL: She suggests taking a friend out to dinner, spending time together.

LASS: That's really the best green gift that you can possibly give someone.

Which has me thinking that I should take Alex shopping for a dress she'll like -- ideally one made locally, one that will last her a long time. That sounds fun and green, or at least greener than buying the $25 imported dress that probably won't last more than a season. It'll cost me more, but I can be sure she'll like it and won't spend the time and energy to return it.

I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace Money.

About the author

Adriene Hill is a correspondent covering the business of entertainment.


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