Shrink your environmental footprint
By LISA STIFFLERP-I REPORTER
With all of the attention being paid to global warming and environmental issues this past year, are consumers dreaming of a green Christmas, decking the halls with Trex composite lumber and searching for a free-range partridge for their pesticide-free pear tree?
"So far we're just buying what we need for the best price," said Janet Robinson of Valley Center, Kan., taking a breather on one of the benches outside Westlake Center on Friday afternoon. Robinson and her daughter, Lindsay Goode of Seattle, were toting numerous Macy's shopping bags.
For Pat Evans of Chattaroy, in Spokane County, fulfilling the wish lists of her grown children was challenging enough without focusing on Earth-friendly presents.
"As far as going green, it's not going that way right now," said Evans.
Environmentalists and solid-waste officials are urging shoppers to consider the ecological effects of their purchases. They're trying to cut down on the amount of trash going to landfills, whether it's packaging and wrapping paper or unwanted gifts. They're concerned about the resources used to make the products and transport them to the stores and then on to homes. The resources include greenhouse gas-producing fossil fuels and petroleum-based plastics.
"Our first tip really is to go for a stuff-free holiday," said Sarah van Schagen, assistant editor for Grist, an online environmental magazine.
That might mean giving gift certificates for "experiences" instead of presents or IOUs for chores. Other low-impact ideas include shopping for locally produced goods and buying items made from environmentally safe materials.
Now in its 12th year, King County's "waste free holidays" program offers certificates to more than 130 restaurants, spas, theaters, sports teams and museums. Participants must offer discounts of 15 percent or more.
"We really like to say it's not this kind of Grinch thing where we're saying don't buy anything for the holidays," said Tom Watson, a project manager for King County's Solid Waste Division. "But this is an alterative to reduce your environmental footprint during the holidays."
Other participating governments include Seattle and Tacoma, plus Kitsap and Thurston counties.
Shopping for greener versions of regular gifts can be tricky. As eco-friendliness becomes an ever stronger marketing tool, some companies are resorting to "green-washing" to give their goods a faux environmental finish.
A Canadian company called TerraChoice Environmental Marketing recently surveyed more than 1,000 consumer items, including beauty products, cleaners, paper products and electronics.
Nearly all hyped one green attribute -- for example that they included recycled materials or were energy-efficient -- while ignoring the fact that they might contain toxic chemicals or were produced in environmentally harmful ways.
About half made vague or unsupported claims such as being "certified organic" without saying who certified it, or praised a product as "all natural" -- a somewhat meaningless claim because undesirables such as lead, mercury and arsenic fall into that category. Others made empty boasts, such as being chlorofluorocarbon-free though CFCs were banned decades ago.
Some shoppers turn to brands they trust as legitimately green.
That's one reason Ellie Owen and Patricia Elliott of Groveland, Calif., stopped at Patagonia on Friday afternoon. Patagonia invests in conservation and environmental grants and tries to use raw materials that are the least harmful to the environment. The women also like to buy American-made items when they can to reduce the amount of fuel spent importing foreign goods.
"Global warming is the ultimate concern," Elliott said.
Strategies for a more ecologically sound holiday season:
End the paper vs. plastic debate with the gift of a tote bag.
Buy a subscription for fruit and veggie deliveries from a local community-supported agricultural group (And no, Bacon of the Month gift certificates don't really count as green): pugetsoundfresh.org.
Give a bit of yourself with vouchers for baby-sitting, gardening and other chores.
Give a subscription to "41 Pounds," which will contact marketers to stop junk mail for five years: 41pounds.org.
P-I reporter Lisa Stiffler can be reached at 206-448-8042 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog on the environment at datelineearth.com.