9 Holiday Gifts That Give Back

Ideas for great eco-conscious gifts this season that support elephants in Kenya, provide microloans to entrepreneurs in developing countries, adopt olive trees in Italy and more.

Getting tired of hitting the mall for the same old gifts every year? Want to find a great way to give your friends eco-conscious gifts that give back to the earth, animals or people? Here are nine of our favorites:


Have a friend who pines for Italy and wishes she could own her own Tuscan villa with endless gardens and a grove of olive trees? Give the gift of an adopted olive tree from a small artisan grove on the foothills of the Italian Apennines, and she can enjoy the oil from her tree’s harvest. Packages come twice yearly, with extra virgin olive oil, both plain and flavored. She can even visit the grove and hug the tree on her next Italian vacation. Just remember to ask if you can go too. ($81)


David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
The Trust raises orphaned infant elephants and Black Rhinos with the interest of releasing them to the wild in Tsavo East National Park. Give an animal-loving friend the opportunity to foster elephant or rhino calves, and they’ll receive a certificate with a photo and profile of the animal, a map showing where the orphan was found, monthly updates highlighting events in the orphanage (as well as a Keeper’s Diary for the fostered orphan), and a monthly digital collectable watercolor. Since it’s possible to visit the orphanage in Nairobi, it’s a great gift for a friend who’s planning a trip to Kenya. I’m fostering five elephant orphans, and I can’t wait to see them up close! ($50 minimum per orphan.)


Rent Mother Nature
It’s hard to get close to the land when you live in a city. For friends who yearn for the farm every time they go to a local farmers’ market, consider giving them a lease to reap the benefits of a family farm harvest without doing any of the work. Pick from 20 different leases—wheat fields to wild rice, lobsters to oysters, maple trees to cocoa trees—and get a lease certificate plus the harvest delivered straight to their door. Perhaps a dinner party will be in order. (Prices vary from $39.95 to $219.95, depending on lease chosen.)


This popular trading card game sends kids (ages 8 and up) on eco-friendly missions to Madagascar, Costa Rica, Indonesia, and now China. The newest game’s briefing package and mission details are hidden in a “magical pagoda box.” Xeko donates part of the proceeds to efforts in biodiversity hot spots through Conservation International. On top of that, the game (including its packaging) is made from 100 percent recycled materials. ($26.99)

Pacific Ocean

Pacific Whale Foundation
Get your water-loving friend the gift of an adopted whale or dolphin in the Pacific Ocean. Your buddy will get a certificate, the life history of his adoptee, a full-color whale watching guide and Pacific Whale Foundation newsletters. The donation helps support the Foundation’s research, conservation and education programs. The Maui–based organization also gives eco-adventure cruises to watch whales and dolphins in the Hawaiian Islands, so you can always follow up your gift with a trip to Hawaii. ($35)


This organization takes a traditional Argentinean shoe, and makes life more comfortable for children around the world. For every pair of shoes purchased, TOMS gives away a pair to a child in need. Since May 2006, that’s amounted to more than 10,000 pairs of shoes to children in Argentina and 50,000 pairs in South Africa. Their 2008 goal? To give away 200,000 pairs of shoes. Find your style and help make it happen. (Shoes range from $34 to $70.)

Global Exchange
The Fair Trade Store has something for everyone on your list, whether it’s hand-beaded African bangles ($12.50) or a copper teapot from Nepal ($59). Shop for coffee, crafts, clothing, jewelry or books—or even shop by country, to give a pre-vacation incentive.

Art for the Animals
Here’s a great way to teach children about endangered animals, while getting a gift in the process as well. Choose from a variety of animal conservation organizations (from Project Seahorse to the African Wildlife Foundation) or specific animals or habitats (including primates, butterflies, rain forests and marine life) for your donation, and get folk arts and crafts from around the world. The kids can play with their new beanbags, finger puppets or wood carvings (there are bags, jewelry, hammocks and more for adults) and learn more about the conservation of their special habitat or animal. (From $10 and up.)

Give a microloan to help alleviate poverty and change a life somewhere in the world. Entrepreneurs need help opening small shops and beauty salons, providing taxi services, making furniture and textiles—and a small loan can help make the difference. Choose anywhere in the world, from Peru to Cambodia to Uganda. I like to find entrepreneurs from countries I’ve just visited, or from destinations where friends will soon travel. It’s nice to have a connection beyond just being a tourist. Once the loan is paid off, you can pick another entrepreneur whose story or location speaks to you, and start all over again. (From $25 and up.)

Themes: Ecotourism, Shopping

Activities: Shopping