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

TEXT OF STORY

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 the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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