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Dec 122013

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Looking for USA-made green gifts? It’s still possible to find them, though it helps to know where to look.

US manufacturing has hung on in select areas, keeping a few venerable firms going in the cookware and shoe-making industries for example, and it’s springing back in other areas as new companies innovate and keep their operations stay stateside.

Here are a couple companies to know as you consider keeping your gift-buying where it supports US labor and businesses.

Lodge Iron Cookware

Lodge cookware. Durable and enduring.

Lodge iron cookware

Lodge cookware is a throwback, but one that many people will appreciate, because it delivers a cooking surface that’s free of harmful chemicals, such as the PFOA compounds in Teflon and related non-stick surfaces.  (Many brands have eliminated Teflon).

Lodge is time-tested, and the company has continued to evolve since its founding in 1896 in Tennesseee. The new Lodge Logic line offers pre-seasoned cookware that’s easier to maintain that the old-style iron pans. Treat this new iron cookware right by seasoning it with oil and not using soap, and it will last.

Cooking in iron pots can be helpful for those who want to make sure they’re getting enough iron; when heated the pans impart a little bit of the nutritionally vital metal. Here is one Lodge set; you can find individual pieces in many stores, even some grocery stores carry this longtime US product.

American Apparel

American Apparel Striped unisex sweater

Terry cloth sweaters.

Their website has gotten a little too sexy for family-moderated tastes, but their clothes are sturdy and modern, and often made out of cotton. Aside from a few Canadian sweaters and handful of vintage rags, American Apparel clothing is stitched up right in the heart of Los Angeles.

The lost city, fashion-conscious and innovative, seems like an obvious place for the 21st Century US textile industry to re-root. And American Apparel appears determined to do just that, creating an array of looks that seem to hit just the right vibe with its intended audience (not you, mom and dad).

American Apparel wear can be oh-so classic. Witness the pouty models posturing against the factory’s red brick walls in practical unisex Oxford button downs and stretchy cotton cardigans.  Yet many of the clothes have a free-wheeling appeal that’s completely unique, unmoored even. AA designers seem to find fresh ways to use stripes, polka dots and houndstooth for mis-matchy layerings that create that cute, disheveled (but carefully planned) Millennial look. Their coffee high must last all day, because they’re simultaneously spewing caps and tights in eye-popping bursts of Green Apple or Golden Poppy, the better to spice up those black-and-white staples. We don’t even have time to talk about the many ways they’ve invigorated the little black and many other dresses, launching little swingy, clingy, sophisticated-to-casual girlie wear.

These fun, but sturdy togs (we’ve been buying from them for awhile) can cost more. But they hold up.

AjMoss Sheets made in USA

AJ Moss bedding

OK, these sheets don’t come in Green Apple or Golden Poppy, but they’re made in the US, and this is what it comes down to, green, blue, ivory, white and whatever that other color is.

Even The Company Store, known for the quality construction of quilts and comforters that are assembled in Wisconsin (they’re making an effort), isn’t selling domestically made sheet sets. (In fact, a lot of TCS stuff seems to be imported). So get over it, if you want to buy domestically sourced and sewn sheets, it boils down to AJMoss, still stitching in the Northeast USA, onetime home to the world’s most robust textile industry.

As noted, you can choose from five colors. This is New England, you were wanting what, cheetah patterns?

One caveat. We haven’t used these personally. Also, we’re thinking that this product could be greener if they used organic cotton.  But we know that organic cotton is often in short supply, and so we won’t quibble. (The Company Store offers some sheets in organic cotton, but they’re imported.)

Regalware 7 piece TriPly Stainless

Regalware’s Tri-ply features an aluminum core, with a covered saute pan, two saucepans and a skillet.

Regal Ware Stainless Steel Pans

Regalware 6 piece triply pans

Regalware stainless. Simple and no PFOAs.

It can be a sticky venture looking for American-made cookware, especially if you’re  trying to replace your old Teflon-lined pans with something slick, but non-toxic. Companies have been promoting stainless steel pans (recyclable and beloved by chefs) as well as newly fabricated, omelet-worthy ceramic surface cookware. Both can get the job done.

Regalware Worldwide, based in Wisconsin, offers a wide array of stainless steel pans that are made, as ever, at its domestic plants. The company also has imported some pans for sale, so one must read the descriptions to be sure the set is USA-made. Helpfully, Regal discloses when it  imports. The company also aims for transparency in sustainability, and has reduced the energy and water is consumes.

Regalware’s  MasterClad brand offers premium, pans that would please most home chefs. This line is made in the USA and those with non-stick surfaces are PFOA-free, meaning you don’t have to worry about the toxic air pollution produced by Teflon when used at high temperatures. They also sell a Tri-Ply aluminum core line, configured in various sets, such as the  6 piece Tri-ply Stainless Steel cookware set , which includes a saucepan, double boiler inset, nonstick fry pan and a 3-quart saucepan, and the 7-piece Tri-ply Stainless set (above). Both are on sale for Christmas.

Watch out for the similarly named Regalware Food Service brand, which is completely different company spun off in a corporate sale. Regalware Food Service sells cheaper, imported pans sold to  extended stay hotels and consumers who aren’t paying close attention. To add to the confusion, this is the line you’ll find on Amazon. The original Regalware pans are sold directly by Regalware Worldwide.



Red Wing Boots

If someone on your Christmas list needs work boots, either for work or just to look cool, you’ll have an easier time of finding USA-made products. For some reason, several brands of boots are still made here. And these are not your fashion store knock-offs. You’ll spend more money, but get incredible durability (comparatively). Some are pretty darn handsome too, if you like this authentic look or own a ranch or ride a Harley.

Check out their motorcycle boots and you’ll see what we mean. Also the white-soled mocs known as Style 875 from the company’s Heritage line (shown above, and if you have to ask the price…). Don’t say manly, we think women might like these too. Find Red Wings at Brooks Brothers, Nordstrom’s and a variety of boot and shoe stores.


Get them recycling early with this truck from Green Toys.

Green Toys

These thoughtful toys, made from recycled plastic without BPA, phthalates or PVC, are produced in California. They promise durability and come without the sharp edges and creaky gears of so many mass-produced toys. They’re also gender-aware. The dump truck is available in pink and there’s a recycling truck.

A full listing of the company’s play toys is on their website.

Green Toys sources its plastic from recycled milk jugs. This HDPE plastic is safe and continues to be recyclable. Green Toys says its recycled plastic saves energy — for each pound of plastic it uses, it conserves enough electricity to power a TV for three weeks. Not having to ship the toys from overseas saves additional fossil fuel emissions. Finally, the toys are packaged in environmentally friendly recycled cardboard, which is also recyclable.

Several Green Toys are available on Amazon, such as this bathtub-ready Ferry Boat, this blue airplane and this tea set.

Copyright © 2013 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Nov 212011

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

If you’ve got a bird lover on your holiday list, there are many great ways to feather their nest this season.

And we’re not just talking about bird motif coasters or dust-collecting figurines. No, there’s much more you can do to satisfy the bird lovers desire to honor and save our avian friends. Here are a few ideas:

Shade-Grown Coffee

Shade-grown coffee supports bird habitat.

Buy a bag of gourmet, Fair Trade shade-grown coffee, like that sold by Strongtree Organic Coffee Roasters in Hudson N.Y. (available online). When you buy from American coffee roasters who source their beans from ethical suppliers, you are supporting a style of farming that preserves the tropical forests that song birds and other animal life depend upon.

Strongtree’s coffee is freshly ground in the U.S., and conscientiously sourced in Africa, Central and South America — and it carries the certifications to prove it. A 2.5 pound bag of “Bulk Uprising,” a shade-grown Viennese roast blend certified by Transfair, is a reasonable $30.

Traditional farmers grow coffee plants beneath the tropical canopy because the plants thrive there, the soil is regenerated and the forest preserved. Industrial methods clear forests to grow more crops, risking the health of the soil and wildlife in their pursuit of maximal yields. One method is sustainable, the other goes for short-term profits.

The Audubon Society supports shade-grown coffee, because it retains sanctuary for vast bird species, including many North American song birds that winter in Central and South America.

The venerable advocate for birds also reminds us that shade-growing is good for humans as well: “Savoring a cup of certified sustainable coffee can improve livelihoods for farm families and conserve wildlife and tropical ecosystems – a rare “win-win” opportunity. So the next time you see a Baltimore Oriole, Sharp-shinned Hawk or other Neotropic migrant, raise a mug of shade-grown joe and celebrate the at-home contribution you’ve made to their survival.”

Eco-Friendly Bird Feeders

Simple gourd bird feeders make affordable gifts.

Gourd Bird Feeder. This is eco-ethical gifting at its best. The bird feeder is made of a natural gourds by artisans in Peru. It is constructed to resist weather, but at the end of its life cycle, it’s more likely to degrade than the plastic used on so many other bird feeders.

It’s also a reasonably affordable gift you can buy from Sanyork Fair Trade, via Amazon $21.95

For durability you can’t beat the many bird feeders made from recycled milk jug plastic. Here’s just one example, the Fly Through Cardinal feeder featured at Bird-House-Bath.com.  Buy it at Duncraft Supply’s online store for $39.95.  Duncraft, based in New Hampshire, also sells a variety of seed mixes for feeding birds in winter.

Bird motif plate works as a serving tray.

If you’re shopping locally, look for similar bird feeders made from recycled plastic at your local nursery. We found several at The Natural Gardener in Austin.

Bird motif Fair Trade items

Bird lovers generally don’t mind bird motif gifts, but to avoid overloading them with useless trinkets, focus on art with a purpose.

This hand-painted glass tray ($80.99) suitable for wall art or as serving tray, comes from World of Good at Ebay by way of Novica, a program that brings traditional art and craft works to market. Novica typically features Fair Trade items or buys from native collectives, so the profits get back to the artisans.

This tray, made in Peru by Edmundo Contreras Aquise, showcases a traditional Andean art style. It’s certified by World of Good and Green America as exceeding fair wage standards, supporting family life and sustainable practices.

Nepal artisans hand hammer the designs on these Fair Trade, sterling silver bird earrings ($30), using traditional crafting methods cultivated by generations of a clans involved in jewelry making. They are similarly certified by the Fair Trade Federation and Green America.

World of Good also features earrings from Mexico and many other bird-related items many of metals, carved wood or blown glass.

Many of these items honor nature in ways that are worth sharing, like this table carved into the shape of the Ghanaian symbol, the Sankofa bird ($127.95). The Sankofa is known as the “reach back” bird, because it can look back into the past for values that can help people now.

Copyright © 2011 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Nov 242010

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 Playhouses.com 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 Brookstone.com, 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.

Copyright © 2010 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Nov 252009

By Melissa Segrest
Green Right Now

Men and women who are big on green style and earth-friendly substance have discovered that the Web is littered with natural and free-trade clothes and accessories. You can get vegan shoes for hundreds of dollars, or hoodies and Ts for a lot less.

We’ve combed through online shops to create a very merry Green His and Hers Gift Guide.

Deborah Lundquist dress and T


Deborah Lindquist uses both  “reincarnated” and new Earth-friendly fabrics for her creations. From her current collection, “Goth Girl Goes to the Country, ” is a vintage cashmere crewneck floor sweeping dress, $394, and silk long-sleeve T-shirt underneath, $185 (above).  You can buy Lindquist’s edgy styles in stores, or directly on her Web site.

Linda Loudermilk, another hot natural designer, offers a striking organic cotton long jacket for him (below). It looks like leather, but it’s not – because the fabric is cured with mud. It has top-quality styling and details, which is good since it costs $2,350. You can take solace knowing that it will last a lifetime.

Juno and Jove Loudermilk trench

Nov 232009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Let’s shop green without being obvious about it, OK? You can, you know. There are many ways to tweak the holiday list this year to skew it toward recycled, socially conscious, energy-conserving goods. Of course, we don’t like to advocate lots of consuming. We definitely don’t buy that theory that it’s our patriotic duty to purchase our way out of the recession.

On the other hand, we are going to exchange gifts this holiday season. With that in mind, here are a few humble suggestions for keeping it green (and affordable), subtly:


Black and Decker CTO6301 convection toaster oven

Black and Decker CTO6301 convection toaster oven

Mom, dad, a kid on her way to college. Lots of people can appreciate the utility and electricity savings of a toaster oven. Did you know that the average 1500 watts used by a toaster/convection oven is less than half, or even more, than that used by a full-size oven? How many times have you heated the entire oven just to warm rolls for dinner? Or to bake a couple ramekins of dessert? Or broil a tuna melt? Or brown a small brushetta?

Turn that big oven off, and use a tool that’s sized-right for the job. That’s the very sound idea behind this “smart” appliance. There are dozens to choose from. The Black & Decker one shown here can be had at Amazon and other stores for around $60. It gets good reviews for durability, space and function.


THe wovel uses see-saw action to shove snow.

THe wovel uses see-saw action to shovel snow.

This goofy looking simple machine just might keep some snow blowers off the road. It’s unique enough to keep the relatives marveling about the weird gift Aunt Sally got Uncle Mel, but it’s got its serious side: It powers through snow without using fossil fuels.  More importantly to most users, it makes the job of shoveling the white stuff, pound per pound, easier. Easier on the back, mainly, because the motion of pushing and then “throwing” the snow engages leg and arm muscles.

We don’t actually have one, and we wonder if it’s quite as easy as it looks, but the see-saw action does appear to take a load off the back, a victory over bending, raising and twisting to shovel snow the old-fashioned way. The Wovel has made several YouTube appearances since being named on Time’s Best Inventions List in 2006. Check out this video by a convinced user.

It is expensive for a shovel ($119.95 retail), but it solves a problem, without adding another pollution-spewing machine to the household arsenal.


Recycled Tire Wallet made by artisans in El Salvador

Recycled Tire Wallet made by artisans in El Salvador

Number three on our list is black, but so very green. This completely recycled, vegan friendly wallet is made from discarded tires. But it looks so much like the standard leather version we thought it would qualify as a green gift that doesn’t stand out as different. Each 9 x 3.5 inch wallet has a slot for money and six slots for credit cards, just like you’d expect. A Fair Trade artisan group in El Salvador makes these wallets, helping provide jobs and living wages in their community. You can buy it ($30)  through the GreenHeartShop in Chicago, at their online store.

Green Heart helps promote artisan craft goods, clothing and food from around the world and in the U.S.

Dec 112008

By Diane Porter
Green Right Now

Really, we shouldn’t think of them as gift baskets. We should think of them as stockings for adults, overflowing with fabulous presents for good girls and boys who have been green all year.

Slideshow: green gifts for baskets

There are plenty of pre-made gift baskets, and sure, that is easier on you. But if you like being one of Santa’s elves, if you like filling the sleigh with cool green gifts that pre-made baskets can only dream of – and being sure of their content and origins – then you are in the right place. (Elves wear green, you know. It’s documented.)

A spa basket fit for Mother Earth

You know exactly who you’d give this to. The woman in your life who makes time for others (but not always for herself); who thinks of the extras (and acts like it’s nothing special); who gives and gives (yet rarely takes). She needs a reason to stop and breathe. Let’s put an assortment of those reasons into an eco-friendly gift basket that will soothe her skin, tickle her senses and tell her you’ve noticed.

The healing properties of a good long bath are nothing new – ancient peoples and modern marketers alike have rhapsodized about it. Bubble bath or bath salts make the water spa-worthy, and these products make it organic as well. Nimli’s In the Raw Bubble Bath ($38, pictured above) is infused with oils in seven scents (mango, lemongrass and sage, lavender and orange, grapefruit and tangerine, creamsicle, coco mango, and ginger and lime). The cork-stoppered bottle holds a generous 18 ounces. Continue reading »

Nov 242008

By Barbara Kessler and Julie Bonnin
Green Right Now

Tis’ the season to be…conservative? Afraid so. As the economic downturn and the need to better care for our planet converge into a new aesthetic, we are facing an unusual holiday season. We can show we care with holiday gifts that help us all to consume less.

More from GRN

This might seem the antithesis of consumerism, too bah humbug to be any fun. But we think you’ll see that we’re talking about smarter consuming; buying durable goods that cut out the disposables, forsaking chemical-laden items and making some of your own stuff, whether its soda or energy. Read on:

The Sodastream Penguin – make your own soda, bypass plastic bottles

We admit we were easily sold on the idea of making our own soda because it cuts down on plastic proliferation. Even a family that recycles #1 and #2 beverage bottles, could reduce their carbon imprint by cutting out the purchase of petroleum-based plastic bottles.

So the key question was not whether the Sodastream Penguin was environmentally friendly, but did the thing work? (And would it be a cool gift?)
We eagerly set up the inaugural trial at the kitchen table. The 13-year-old did the honors — and let’s face it, figured it all out quicker than his elders would have. But then as our most avid soda consumer he was the most motivated.

Turns out that making one’s own bubbly is no more difficult than making chocolate chip cookies, and a good bit quicker. After loading the carbonation canister inside the appliance, you fill the glass carafe with tap water and lock it in on the opposite side of Mr. Penguin; a couple pushes on the button, a whistle, and you’ve carbonated the water. Add flavoring and you’ve got soda. We tried several of our sample flavorings over the next two days, finding that we liked Lemon Lime and Root Beer the best.

However – and here was the biggest stumbling block – we didn’t like the extra sweet taste or aftertaste of the sucralose that had been added to even the regular drinks. Perhaps we were a skewed lot because we avoid faux sweeteners such as aspartame and Splenda and are unaccustomed to the taste of sucralose. A spokeswoman for the company told us that the sucralose is less bulky than sugar, and that’s why it’s added. But whatever the reason, we found its inclusion to be not so refreshing.

Happily, the Lemon-Lime, Orange and Berry all-natural flavor essences that Soda Club sells do not have any sucralose baggage. They are not sweetened and add just a hint of flavor to make a fun seltzer. The flavor and the fizz was as good as we’d been buying, and this being our drink of choice anyway, we began churning out carafes of these sparkling waters. The economics of this look pretty sweet, actually: Each small bottle of essence makes 40 liters of flavored seltzer, meaning that a variety three pack (retail $9.99) would make 120 liters, enough to hold our family for months. Add about $25 for the cost of carbonating the water for those 120 liters and you’re talking about 30 cents a carafe, not counting the overhead cost of the machine. (I’m not sure how to amortize that.)

Picture too the environmental savings of 120 plastic bottles subtracted from the waste equation, or about four recycle bins that your family didn’t fill.

Which reminds me. Those carbonation canisters do not go in the trash! You send them in to be refilled at a cost of about $12.50 per canister. (See the Soda Club website for details.) A word about the carbonation: Home soda makers have received mixed reviews on the consistency and durability of their bubbles. Consumer Reports, though, found that homemade soda held its carbonation for 10 days in the refrigerator just as well as the manufactured controls.

And we discovered another healthier drink to make, celebratory sparkling juice. Just mix juice with the seltzer. We’ve found it’s best to use grape juice, which could stand to be diluted anyway, or real juice concentrates, sold in many health food markets. Our kids have come to expect their bubbly at holidays (in wine glasses of course), and now that we have the Penguin, they can make their own varietals!

So if you’re looking for a “conservative” gift that’s also got pizazz, no easy trick, the Penguin should make a splash.The Penguin retails for $199.95 (and includes a starter pack of 2 60-carafe carbonators and two glass carafes). It is available at Williams Sonoma stores, and online at the Sodastream store.
A soda maker called the “Design” is available at Sam’s Club stores for $79.99, with a starter carbonator and two BPA-free reusable bottles.