Send all your eco-inquiries to Jennifer Grayson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.
My husband and I just got invited to spend the weekend at our friends' (solar-powered!) summer cabin. Needless to say, they're very eco-minded and I'm wondering if you had any ideas for a great host/hostess gift. I don't want to insult them by picking something that's not "green."
First off, don't stress. As a (hopefully) gracious green hostess who's often on the receiving end of such gifts, I can tell you that the sustainability-minded are not nearly as snobbish as you might think: I always appreciate such a thoughtful gesture, even if the item isn't something I would have normally bought for myself. If it's something I truly can't live with (say, a subscription to Polluting Today or a chinchilla throw pillow), I can always "recycle" it by passing it off to a less judgmental pal.
But clearly you'd like to avoid such a green gaffe, or you wouldn't have written me for advice. So what can you bring that would truly knock their Birkenstocks off?
Let me preface this by saying (obvious though it may seem) that showing up empty-handed in the name of curbing consumption is not an option. Whether you're invited to a dinner party or a weeklong stay at a friend's home, eco etiquette is no different than regular etiquette: You must acknowledge your host's efforts with a small token of your gratitude.
That being said, you don't have to buy something just for the sake of buying (even if it is eco-friendly) or even buy any thing at all; there are plenty of useful green gifts that you can make yourself, or that were produced with minimal resources or energy.
Here, 16 sure picks -- in a range of categories and at every budget level -- for eco-friendly host and hostess gifts.
For the foodie
1. Go granola. OK, so it's a bit on the nose, but you can't go wrong with a batch of homemade granola in a beautiful glass jar.
2. Sustainable suds. Green beer isn't just for St. Patrick's Day. Assemble a brewers dozen of local and/or organic beers and box them up with a raffia bow.
3. Tree-hugging truffles. Vegan, organic, fair-trade, and made with natural sweeteners, Nicobella dark chocolate truffles are a practically guilt-free green indulgence.
4. A memorable meal. Do your hosts have a favorite restaurant near their summer hideaway? Surprise them with a gift certificate for a romantic dinner.
For the cook
5. Hand-potted herbs. Buy a few flavorful varieties at your local grocery store or nursery, then repot them in a vintage or antique planter.
6. BPA-free bowls. This set of colorful Preserve mixing bowls will brighten up any kitchen without putting on the planet, thanks to 100 percent recycled and recyclable, non-toxic plastic.
7. Cast-iron cookery. A cast-iron skillet -- made to last a lifetime, and a healthy alternative to Teflon cookware -- is a must-have addition to any caring cook's kitchen.
8. Countertop composter. This mini ceramic compost pail is so darn cute, even a non-greenie would welcome it on her kitchen countertop (though she might not know what it's for).
For the spa lover
9. Conscientious candle. An artificially scented gift candle is tacky and toxic, but a sustainable soy and essential oil–imbued version is a perennial eco-luxe favorite.
10. Totable towels. Bring the spa to your hosts wherever they are with a stylish set of PeopleTowel reusable personal hand towels.
11. DIY day spa. Help your hosts unwind after you leave by gifting them a homemade sugar scrub, packaged in an elegant apothecary jar.
12. DFY (done for you) day spa. Got a bigger budget? Curb consumption and have someone else give them the spa treatment by sending them a gift certificate for a couples massage.
For the little ones
13. Artistic green genius. Keep kids eco-occupied while the grown-ups play with a set of 20 non-toxic, star-shaped recycled crayons from Crazy Crayons.
14. Responsible reading. Inspire youngsters to follow in their parents' footsteps, with a copy of an eco-classic like 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth.
15. Sweet speakers. A must-give gift for the iPod generation: A set of TerraCycle portable speakers made from upcycled M&M wrappers.
And remember: Regardless of what gift you end up choosing, it's never bad form to follow up with a proper paperless thank-you note after your stay.