By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

This year, when it’s abundantly clear that we in the developed world need to consume responsibly, and there are more green gift options than ever — so many sustainable goods are hitting their stride — it makes sense to consider eco-friendly gifts, whenever and wherever possible.

Look for items that are made from renewable, recycled or reclaimed materials; for products that last and regenerate or even create their own energy (eco- can be eco-nomical); for things that sustain people in disadvantaged situations and for stuff that’s practical, even edible.

Your family may just discover that their eco-gifts are some of the most unique and wonderful surprises under the tree (or near the Menorah or whatever).

A model wears a Cambodian silk scarf woven by the Heng family.

Cambodian Threads Scarf

Almost any woman (and some men) can appreciate a fine scarf. Well, meet the Heng family, whose members hand weave beautiful scarves that  you can buy through  Cambodian Threads, a Boston-based business that distributes the scarves to local retailers and online.

Sok Eang Heng, her four children and relatives, pose with Steve Patton of Cambodian Threads.

Cambodian Threads helps the Heng family, who live in a village not far from Phnom Pehn, across the Mekong River, continue to make a living with the craft of their forebears and preserve their artisan ways. The children of the clan are in high school and college, but also work on the looms with their widowed mother and aunts.

Their enterprise also helps many other Cambodian school children.

For each scarf sold — they range from $15 to $26 and come in a rainbow of colors — the company purchases basic school supplies for 10 Cambodian children.

Build a Dream Playhouses

Build a Dream, with less energy intense materials.

Building on the premise that kids like the box better anyway, Build A Dream ran with it. The result: A car, a kitchen, a castle and several other play items constructed with good old sturdy cardboard, but in this case with a more polished shiny white exterior that munchkins can color and call their own.

The creativity of the concept won us over. The biodegradability and simplicity of the materials sealed the deal.

Build A Dream assures us that all their products meet Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) and each play item is made from 80 percent recycled materials, and is completely recyclable. Shipping costs are lowered because the playhouses are lightweight and foldable. Prices range from $39.95 for the Cosmic Cruiser to $69.95 for the Snack Shack. See the collection online.

Build A Dream Playhouses was founded by a Cleveland, Ohio dad who wanted to give kids a fresh toy and encourage imaginative play.

The Solar Voltaic Messenger Bag

Recharge your phone and computer while on the go with this tough messenger bag.

This solar messenger bag sold by The Ultimate Green Store ($199 to $229) can replenish your small electronics while you’re on the road or any day with built in 1.5 watt solar panels that are “built to withstand abuse,” according to the company.

Its battery pack is able to store power until you need it, and then provide 4 watts of solar power for fast charging — about 1 hour in the sun will provide 3 hours of talk time on a recharged mobile phone. It comes with 9 standard adapters that can be used to plug in various electronics, and has a padded laptop sleeve.

The shell of this charcoal or silver back is made from recycled PET plastic from soda bottles, making it tough and waterproof (we can vouch for the PET fabric; it can take a beating).

Cuisinart GreenGourmet® Cookware

Cuisinart's Green Gourmet series replaces potentially harmful coatings with safer surfaces.

Here’s a big gift that’s gone greener than ever before, mainly because Cuisinart has replaced the problematic (some would say toxic) non-stick surfaces found on so many sauce and frying pans. Gone is the non-stick surface you know it as Teflon, which emits PFC pollutants at high temperatures.

The new ceramic coating does not contain the PTFEs or PFOAs (which are specific PFCs) that can contaminate indoor air and were exposed as dangerous when they caused pet birds to keel over (really, not urban legend). We don’t want to get stuck in this debate at the holidays, but suffice it to say, if your current cookware scares you, this is one way out.

Even Cuisinart (and other cookware makers) have acknowledged the problem with old-style non-stick cookware, which Cuisinart delicately describes as having “raised health concerns over the years.” (See Pollution in People for more info).

Cuisinart’s GreenGourmet® Cookware helps consumers lower their carbon footprint in other ways. Its new ceramic surface consumes less energy and doesn’t use petroleum products during manufacture. Cuisinart says the “scratch-resistant nonstick surface that won’t peel off” the pans, which conform to FDA and European RoHS standards for environmentally sound products. The 10-piece set is priced at around $125 on sale.

Those who are still suspicious of any non-stick pan can opt for Cuisinart’s pristine Stainless Steel cookware. You’ll just have to learn to poach eggs like a chef.

Boogie Board™ Paperless LCD Writing Tablet

The Boogie Board is LCD powered, but only uses energy when it's erased.

Look no paper! This deluxe reminder board may just be an upscale version of a chalk board (but less messy) or white board (which we all know would be unusable in a year) and it validates itself day after day by saving on paper.

While the Boogie Board does use a small amount of energy, the offset in paper makes this one a green contributor. From innovation experts, it’s listed at $39.95.

Prints in Reclaimed Wood (and other local finds)

The reclaimed frame perfectly suits this vintage print sold by Green Sky in Chicago.

This print sold by Green Sky, an adorable new green shop tucked away in an historic building in Andersonville in Chicago, reminds us that a lot of green finds are right around the corner. Windy City residents can shop locally here. The rest of us can call if we see something we’d like. Green Sky is online, though you’ll have to call to place an order. The shop offers a celebration of recycled art, like vases crafted from old silverware, whimsical “scavenger art” and prints, like the one above in a recycled frame by Jim Bodine. Shop also for organic household gifts and gourmet food items. Prices available in person or over the phone.

If you don’t live in Chicago, chances are someone has set up a shop near you that’s bringing green goods to the forefront. We’re thinking of One Green Street in Houston (which is having a “Green Friday” event; the Green Living Store in Dallas and the Green Depot in New York City, to name a fraction of what’s out there. These stores also have online ordering options.

RSVP Stainless Steel Compost Pail

A lovely stainless cannister can keep the decaying organic matter under wraps until it's conveyed to the compost pile.

Yes, a compost pail. Granted, this isn’t everyone’s idea of a gift. But we would argue that compost pails and jewelry are not mutually exclusive, and also plead that some of us (not saying who) have been waiting for three or four years for someone to clue in that I, uh, some people would like something a little more elegant than a Rubbermaid lid heaped with rotting vegetable peelings to grace the end of their kitchen counter! And, one with two charcoal filters, included with the one pictured above, in case anyone’s wondering, would keep the entire operation bug and odor free.

So, if you’ve got a deeply green or gardening type to shop for, put this bucket on your list. Here’s a Mnemonic reminder: Bucket. List.  Find it at the aforementioned Green Depot in New York City (in person and online), for $37.95

GAIAM’S Balance Ball Chair System

Gaiam's Balance Ball chair comes with no pesky phthalates.

This is a perennial favorite with people who want to mitigate the de-conditioning effects of working in an office all day long. We noticed that this year, the yoga ball is phthalate free, which seems like laudable progress because phthalates in plastic (which add pliability) have been blamed for acting as endocrine disruptors, and are being investigated for contributing to a host of ills.

Given that people have an intimate relationship with their office chair, this lessening of risk, is not trivial. The new chair also comes with bands for exercising flabby arms while plopped before our desks, another healthy change. (Now if only they’d thought of this two years ago when we bought ours!)

Comes from Gaiam, which has it on sale for $99.

Bamboo Remote Holder

Bamboo remote control holder contains the chaos.

This little item isn’t all that funky, but we like it because it’s made from renewable bamboo and it’s a Force for Sanity! Imagine, you might be able to find the remote on the first try. And look, it spins around so you can grab that Nook or Kindle.

Barnes and Noble offers several other eco-caddies, zip bags and carry-alls in its stores and online, a development we hope continues.

Slim Straight 514 Jeans

Classy, durable and getting greener.

Levis. They’re ageless.  We like the Slim Straights, but you can get your own style. Pour yourself into some super skinnys if you have a death wish. Fine. But here’s what we really like: Levi’s has announced they’ll be reducing the water it uses to wash and prep a new line of Water<Less jeans.

Green Biz reported this month that the jeans manufacturer will cut the water used in the washing process by about 28 percent on average, and in some cases, by a lot more.

The new line won’t be out until spring 2011. But if the news causes green consumers to take a fresh look at an old friend this holiday season, we’re glad for it.

Organic Cotton Lace Back T-shirt by Threads4Thought

Wanderlust lace top by Threads4Thought.

Who says sustainable dressing has to be boring? This lace-back “Wanderlust” top by Threads4Thought is more than just an afterthought, and would make a precious piece of party wear for the holidays. (Price tag: $38.)

Threads4Thought, which partners with two charities, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the International Rescue Committee, makes a lot more stuff out of organic cotton and other sustainable fabrics.  In addition to a host of rangy hoodies, they’ve got some shiny, tailored and blingy tops and bottoms.

The company aims for style, with sustainability, because: “Style can’t be traded for sustainability, nor can sustainability be traded for style. At Threads for Thought we know that neither is exclusive, and work to lead the world in both.”

OK, then. We just really like the T4T hoodie we’ve got. Very comfy.

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