'Green' gifts top Christmas lists
By Camille Feanny
CNN -- Christmas Eve is one of the biggest shopping days of the year. As many last-minute shoppers scramble to the stores, some people are opting for a more "colorful" choice this holiday season. They're buying green gifts.
From appliances to automobiles and computers to clothing, cool gifts with an eco-twist are a growing trend, experts say.
They cite high energy costs, record gas prices and scarce natural resources as growing proof that an eco-gift is a natural choice.
Thousands of items on the market that offer a green alternative to conventional products.
"You can get a green version of almost anything," says Jeanie Pyun, editor of Organic Style Magazine. "You can get gifts for the home, beauty products, clothing for kids and adults. And green gifts are really great because they are gifts that give back to either the environment, or communities, or people, or causes."
For a walk on the wild side -- environment groups such as Defenders of Wildlife ("Adopt-An-Animal") and the Nature Conservancy ("Adopt-An-Acre") have programs that help conserve endangered species and forests around the world.
Businesses like American Forest Historic Tree Company and Trees For Life give people the opportunity to help save a natural habitat overseas by planting a tree closer to home. And part of the proceeds from your purchase helps fund tree-planting programs in countries around the world.
For those on the run -- companies such as Eclipse Solar Gear and Voltaic Systems -- have brought a bright new idea to light. Their solar backpacks let you store energy to recharge cell phones, PDAs and other electronics without missing a step.
Let's not forget the food lover on your list. "You can get pre-made or custom-made gift baskets that contain a combination of gourmet and organic items," says Cyd Crouse of Whole Foods.
She says there's a surprising selection of green gift items on the market. And your neighborhood farmer's market, local grocers like Whole Foods, and even online vendors such as Eco Express now feature full lines of organic treats, wines and beauty products that can satisfy even your most finicky friend or family member.
Pampered pets can also get in on the green action. From organic cotton beds, to leashes, treats, and cool hemp collars, e-stores like Abundant Earth give animal lovers a mountain of eco-friendly gift options.
How about an organic outfit? From outdoor apparel stores like Patagonia to shoe brands like Nike, many businesses are now seeing the green benefits of offering customers eco-based items.
Many clothing companies have complete lines that feature organic wool, cotton, hemp, and other environmentally friendly products.
"We have jackets that are made completely out of recycled materials inside and out," says Hal Griffin of Patagonia. "All cotton items in the store are made out of organic cotton." And Patagonia also gives 1 percent of its profit to help preserve the environment.
Starting something new
Know someone with a need for speed? Many car companies now offer energy-saving selections like hybrid (gas and electric), hydrogen fuel cell, or natural gas vehicles that feature similar style and comfort as standard models -- with the added bonus of amazing fuel economy.
And even with the advanced pollution controls, many vehicles are priced in range of their gas-drinking cousins -- without sacrificing performance.
Some popular models include the Honda Insight, Toyota Prius and the Ford Escape Hybrid SUV. And in 2005, Lexus revs up the competition into high gear by introducing the first Luxury Hybrid SUV. The Lexus RX 400h is set to launch April 15.
There are smaller pollution-free choices for quick in-town trips. The Zappy Smart Cars and Electric Scooters provide a quiet, comfortable, clean-commute option. Or you can ride around at 14 mph on the Voy battery-powered scooter featured at Target. Proceeds from each purchase goes toward supporting K-12 schools across the United States.
For the high-tech toy fan, e-stores like PhysLink.com offer cool science-based experiment kits geared to inspire curious kids of all ages.
PhysLink CEO Anton Skorucak says the company's products "provide a fun way to learn about energy and the environment" -- from fuel cell model cars, solar robotic vehicles and other alternative energy science projects.
On the home front -- the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says consumers who switched to more efficient Energy Star appliances and electronics saved $9 billion in utility costs in 2004.
Vendors like Best Buy and the Home Depot say consumer demand is driving their bid to offer more natural selections, and that a growing population is choosing to spend their greenbacks on green gifts.
"Energy Star compliant is actually a selling point with many customers who are coming in more educated," says Travis Salley of Best Buy.
Dave White, a home energy expert with Home Depot, agrees.
"There's a move towards the greener products, because consumers are demanding it," he says. "So we're seeing a lot more sales on the greener items."
So if you are still looking for that special item, magazines such as Organic Style, Tree Hugger.com, and The Green Guide offer lots of unique green gift ideas for any occasion.
Most of the online vendors interviewed by CNN said they can still ship gifts to reach recipients in time for Christmas.