February 11, 2010


Valentine's Day giving typically consists of cards, chocolate, roses, & jewelry. While nice, those items can have a pretty serious environmental impact when done en masse. Here are some environmentally friendly and socially conscious alternate suggestions to make your Vday non- corporate and meaningful.


"The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately one billion valentines are sent each year worldwide, making the day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year, behind Christmas." [source ] That's an enormous amount of paper used, and subsequent trash created. So instead of sending a card, plant a tree. Tree Greetings has an ecard that plants a tree per sale [link has sound]. Arbor Day also plants a tree for cards, even though it does offer a paper card.

Or go to your local nursery and pick up a tree to plant.
On my parent’s first anniversary, my dad gave my mom a baby tree to plant in the yard; when they moved, 25 years later, it was the tallest tree in the neighbourhood. That tree represented their relationship and growing love. How's that for a love metaphor? Advice on how to plant a tree can be found at Tree People.

100% post-consumer waste paper is also an option if you want to send a card, but a lot of that paper is bleached using chlorine. So look for cards labeled PCW [post-consumer waste] and PCF [processed chlorine free].


Unfortunately for chocolate lovers, according to Tree Hugger, "most chocolate sold in the U.S. comes from cocoa farms where farmers work in unsafe conditions, receive below poverty wages, many of them children under 14 years old who are forced to work and denied education". Typically, any factory that does not respect workers, does not respect the environment. Make sure any chocolate you buy is certified fair trade. Global Exchange has several fair trade boxes here and I have heard wonderful things about Equal Exchanges chocolate, but I am not a huge chocolate lover so I don't have any personal recommendations, so please leave yours in the comments.


Flowers are tough- I love cut flowers and I love a good flower arrangement. Unfortunately flowers have 50-1,000 [In California!] times the pesticide use allowed in food. The Environmental Working Group reports "There are no regulations in the U.S. governing the use of pesticides on cut flowers, and therefore, importers are not required to monitor pesticide levels." Since flowers are not food [to humans], they are completely unregulated; flowers are expected to be "pretty" and bug-free making the use of pesticides rampant. Not a very rosy situation. What makes it worse is that "Studies show that women -- who represent 70 percent of all rose workers - - have more health problems since many sort the flowers without wearing masks or latex gloves. Children under 18, who make up more than a fifth of the workforce, display signs of neurological damage at 22 percent above average." From Organic Consumers. And that pesticide flows right into groundwater and air- spreading through ecological systems before it gets passed on to the consumer.

Solution? Buy organic flowers. I found a few venders here, here and here. You can also go to your local nursery and pick up seeds to plant your own organic flowers that can be enjoyed all year.
Or you can you join a CSA and enjoy edible plants all year long. That is a delicious & healthy gift that keeps on giving.


Diamonds are extremely controversial. From Amnesty International: "Some diamonds have helped fund devastating civil wars in Africa, destroying the lives of millions. Conflict diamonds are those sold in order to fund armed conflict and civil war. ...Wars that have cost an estimated 3.7 million lives." Right now there is no safe way to guarantee that a new diamond is not a conflict diamond. Here are some alternative suggestions:
Vintage jewelry- Vintage pieces are gorgeous and have a history [hopefully unlike the conflict diamond]. If you can keep it in the family even better. Not only green & sentimental- but the vintage styles are classic and gorgeous. Try your local thrift or antique store to find the perfect piece.

Etsy has tons of handmade jewelry- and a lot that use recycled materials. I started searching and got lost in a web of awesomeness. Again, leave any specific recommendations in the comments. To do:

Now that gifts are covered, here are some suggestions for you and you loved one [inlcudes pets & children] to do:

Donate your bras. Instead of buying new lingerie clean out your bra drawer and send them off to be donated and repurpurposed with The Bosom Buddy Program. I have always been wary of donated bras to thrift stores since I feel that they will get tossed and not sold. With this program you are sure that your ill-fitting, or nursing bras will go to someone in need.

Give Blood. You can save a life by donating blood. Make this an annual v-day tradition, and replenish with some fair-trade chocolate afterwards.

Find a local V-Day theater performance. The proceeds from your ticket supports local anti-domestic violence organization. "V-Day is a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. Through V-Day campaigns, local volunteers and college students produce annual benefit performances of The Vagina Monologues, A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer, and screenings of V-Day's documentary Until The Violence Stops, to raise awareness and funds for anti-violence groups within their own communities." Visit the website for performances in your area, or start your own.

And finally, volunteer or donate money that would have been spent on flowers or gifts. Domestic violence is the opposite of love and this is a perfect time to volunteer at a local shelter or donate. From the American Bar Association, "Approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the United States." The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers a Valentine's Card for a donation; you can always donate and skip the card. Find a local shelter in your area and see if they need volunteers. You can also volunteer for a local V-Day performance [see above].

So that was an exhaustive list but I hope you are inspired to make this Valentine's day more green & sustainable.

*Images of hearts cut from my daughter's drawings.


Julia said...

great list! i love the blood donation idea too, it's been too long since i've donated.

Shannon said...

I loved this post. Not only did it touch on the environmental issues with the traditional gifts, which is something many of us seem to forget on V-day, but your suggestions for alternative gifts were perfect. I love the idea of turning Valentine's day into a day to combat domestic violence and save lives.

Hayley said...

Thanks Julia & Shannon! It's challenging to look at the actual environmental impact of a "fun" tradition without coming off as a big bummer. I hope that changing tradition to something equally fun & rewarding combats the buzz kill and makes a difference.


Julie said...

Excellent list!!

Anonymous said...

I really apprecaited the list you put together here! I especially like your idea to use the day to volunteer. Love, which is suppossed to be the essence of Valentine's Day is in great demand around the world, and can be expressed in so many little ways - thank you for reminding us of that!

lisa s said...

ah... the repercussions for a generated holiday. thanks for all the great info and ideas here!