Green gifting or greenwashing?


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    This Nordstrom tote bag ($21.95) is made from recycled water bottles--better than stuffing them into a landfill. A reusable bag means you don't have to choose between paper or plastic anymore. But, if you're like us, you might want to stop and consider whether or not you actually need yet another (non-public radio) tote.

    - Angela Kim/Marketplace

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    The Laguiole® Natura Knife Set ($39.95) at Crate and Barrel is made from recycled stainless steel and corn starch. These French knives are advertised as "100% compostable/biodegradable." If you don't have a set of knives, this could be a good choice. If you already have a set, it's more eco-friendly to get them sharpened. And anyway, who puts knives in the compost bin?

    - Angela Kim/Marketplace

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    Looking for a classy way to compost? Crate and Barrel sells a 1.5 gallon stainless steel compost pail ($54.95). It might be a good way to entice your fancy-pants friends to the greener side of things, but you might want to drop some hints before you buy to make sure it'll get used.

    - Angela Kim/Marketplace

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    Organic cotton t-shirt (on sale for $39). This t-shirt is made from organic cotton by the company Loomstate--which says it's dedicated to using socially and environmentally responsible methods of production. It could be a good choice, IF you or the person you're buying for needs another t-shirt.

    - Angela Kim/Marketplace

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    We found these scarves ($95) at Barney's Co-op. They're made by weavers in Ethiopia for a company called Sammy: Hand Made in Ethiopia. Sammy says it showcases "stylish products that are created with care in a manner that improves the lives of the artisans we employ." Of course, you could also give a contribution to a well-regarded non-profit organization.

    - Angela Kim/Marketplace

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    In Anthropologie's home, we found the book "Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It And Other Cooking Projects" by Karen Solomon ($24.99). The book has 75 recipes from making your own lemon curd to making potato chips. The recipes are not intimidating, so this could be a good choice--if you're really ready to spend some time in the kitchen.

    - Angela Kim/Marketplace

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    The Roberts Revival Radio ($328) boasts that it's eco-friendly--it even has a little eco-check-mark on the box. This brand new radio is made to look vintage and promises to play up to 120 hours after a single battery charge. But eco-friendly? Hmmm. Before you buy, think about the energy and resources used to make it and decide if a cuter radio is really worth the environmental and economic investment.

    - Angela Kim/Marketplace

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    Of course the greenest gifts are often recycled. Check out this one-of-a-kind tea set for under five dollars we found at a local Goodwill in Los Angeles. With a good washing and a nice wrapping job, you're all set. Like tea set. FYI, you have to find your own.

    - Angela Kim/Marketplace

TEXT OF STORY

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: This holiday, stores are full of bright new gadgets. And soft sweaters. And shiny jewelry. And then there are some gifts you'll perhaps be looking for for your eco-minded friends.

Marketplace's Adrienne Hill now, from the Sustainability desk, and how to spot "green" from "green washing" when you're buying your presents.


Adriene Hill: I'm here at the Century City mall in Los Angeles with Jessica Lass from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Jessica Lass: Hi there.

Hill: Hi, and we're here at this mall, where they are encouraging us to buy our way to happy holidays. The question is can we do that and stay green, what do you think?

Lass: I think there are possibilities out there, but definitely buyer beware on a few items.

Hill: Let's go see what we find.

We spot a lot of clothes made in China. A lot of plastic toys. Not a lot that would count as green.

Hill: The rhinestone Hello Kitty do you think?

Lass: Probably not.

Some companies try to help out eco-minded shoppers by slapping "green" labels on products. At the Origins counter, they're selling plastic water bottles and are promising to plant a tree, but Lass wonders where are they planting those trees? Is the plastic safe for drinking out of? Will it last?

Actual green shopping requires a whole lot of questions and skepticism of environmental claims -- some of them don't mean what you think they do, and are rarely enforced.

Scott McDougal: It's important when you see language that appears to be loose.

Scott McDougal heads Terra Choice, a group that released a report called the "Sins of Green Washing."

McDougal: To see if the manufacturer, the marketer, or the store is providing a good explanation of exactly what they actually mean.

The word "eco," McDougal points out, describes our ecology, which includes things like oil and petroleum.

McDougal: Natural is a good example. There are plenty of things that are natural that aren't necessarily good for us; I mean arsenic and lead and cyanide and mercury are all natural.

The important thing, he says, is to dig into the green claims. Don't dismiss them, seek them out, but try to understand them better.

Back at the mall, Jessica Lass comes up with another way to give green that doesn't require as much investigation.

Lass: You can take a friend out for dinner and spend a few hours catching up, reminiscing about the year or really just sharing your time with them.

Sounds a little nicer than fighting crowds at the mall.

I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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