Need a romantic gift idea for your loved one but want to stay sustainable? Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered! These gifts are great for Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, birthdays, etc. (hint, hint).
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Okay, so chocolate is the classic romantic gift. Unfortunately, it can also be incredibly destructive to the environment and to human communities. Cocoa production often involves clearing tropical forest to plant cocoa trees. In West Africa, where the majority of cocoa is grown, it’s estimated that 70% of illegal deforestation is to clear land for cocoa (WWF). Cocoa farming also relies on a lot of child labor. In Ghana and the Ivory coast around 2 million children were involved in dangerous labor to produce cocoa – in just one growing season (WWF)! Climate Change is also predicted to threaten cocoa farms as the area gets both hotter and drier (NOAA).
But it’s not all doom and gloom! One technique that can help cocoa be better for the environment is growing chocolate in the shade of the natural forest. This reduces deforestation and allows the cocoa trees to survive better in hotter and drier conditions (NOAA). Some suppliers are making sustainability one of their main goals. For example, Barry Callebaut is striving for zero child labor, zero deforestation, 100% sustainable products, and more by 2025 (WWF).
So how can you give chocolate and stay sustainable too? It’s all about what chocolate you choose. One great way to ensure your chocolate is sustainable is to buy chocolate that is certified. One great certification is the Rainforest Alliance’s seal. Farms certified by the Rainforest Alliance have to meet environmental, social, and economic standards. These standards include things like preserving wildlife habitat, reducing water pollution and water use, and good conditions for farm workers (Rainforest Alliance). Another way to make sure you are buying sustainable chocolate is to choose chocolate from a company that provides a report on how they source their chocolate like Dandelion Chocolates.
You can find Rainforest Alliance certified chocolate at your local grocery store (even some Dove chocolates) or order fancier bars that are organic as well like Newman’s Own online. You can even find exotic flavors like Lavender Blueberry from Dagoba so you can have fun, and be sustainable.
Cut flowers are also a classic romantic gift with a dark side. Most of the cut flowers sold in the US are imported. Colombia is the number one source for cut flowers, providing 60% of cut flowers in the US (U.S./Labor Education in the Americas Project and The International Labor Rights Fund). A 2007 report found that in Colombia 20% of the pesticides used to produce flowers are known to cause cancer or be toxic and were banned or restricted in North America and Europe. This causes obvious problems for the workers and for the surrounding environment. Pesticides can be extremely hazardous to non-target insects (like bees), birds, and aquatic plants and animals. But there is hope for sustainable cut flowers too!
Like chocolate, you can also buy certified sustainable flowers. One good certification program is Veriflora Sustainably Grown. This program focuses on environmental, social, and economic factors. Veriflora certified growers have to protect water and soil, use chemicals responsibly, reduce climate impact, and provide safe and fair working conditions. You can find certified bouquets in stores or online.
Another way to get more sustainable flowers is to choose flowers grown in the US on eco-friendly farms. Even better is to support local flower growers near you. You can often find beautiful bouquets at a farmer’s market near you. Make sure you ask the grower how they grow their flowers, but many do grow flowers sustainably even if they can’t afford a certification. I used to get great bouquets from our local flower grower when I worked at a farmer’s market in New Orleans. I used flowers from a farmer’s market and a friends yard for my bouquet for my wedding. It was beautiful and so much fun to put together with my mom and bridesmaids. But even better than cut flowers is #3…
3. Plants instead of cut flowers
Plants are a great romantic gift instead of cut flowers. Your loved one can enjoy the plant all season or even for years to come! We no longer buy any cut flowers (though I do grow some and cut them for inside). You can stick with a flowering plant or go edible. Of course you can go with the classic and get a sustainable, organically grown rose plant that will bloom for years. Orchids are also a beautiful option if you are looking for an indoor plant. Look for one from a farm that is family-owned and uses sustainable greenhouses and pest management.
Looking for something a little less ordinary? If your loved one likes to cook try an organically grown herb plant collection. You could also try something more exotic like a collection of sustainably grown air plants. Or you can go all out with a chocolate tree and your loved one can grow their own chocolate! I would suggest making sure you are getting plants that fit your planting zone if you think it will need to go outside.
Look for plants that are organically grown or that uses sustainable pest management instead of lots of chemical sprays. Local nurseries and farmer’s markets are great places to get plants that will work well in your area. I used to have a great plant supplier at the market I worked at. You could tell him what space you wanted to fill in your yard, that you wanted a certain color of flowers, and how big you wanted it to get and he would tell you the perfect plant. It was awesome!
4. Sustainable jewelry
Going the classic jewelry route? Unfortunately lots of jewelry is harmful to the environment. For example, in addition to the social cost of diamond mining, diamond mining is also horrible for the environment. Most companies get their diamonds through pit mining. Pit mining destroys the ecosystem directly when land is cleared. Indirectly, pit mining can also lead to acid drainage from the mining into local waterways (The Environmental Literacy Council). In many places where diamonds are mined there are few regulations about restoring the ecosystem after mining, so the area is left devastated.
Companies also mine gold in pit mines so gold has some of the same negative environmental impacts. Additionally, cyanide is often used to separate the small amounts of gold from the surrounding rock (New York Times). In same areas it can take up to 100 tons of rock to harvest one ounce of gold (New York Times). Companies often dump waste rock in local waterways, contaminating local rivers and lakes.
So what can you do? One solution is to buy jewelry made of sustainable materials. If you want to stick with classic diamonds you can opt for diamonds from a brand that upholds environmental and social standards like Brilliant Earth’s Beyond Conflict Free diamonds. You can also choose recycled diamonds or jewelry made from lab grown diamonds like this engagement ring. Look for metals that are also recycled. Dogeared makes beautiful jewelry out of recycled silver and are certified as a B Corp business that has strict social and environmental standards. Is your loved one a bit less traditional? Then there are lots of options for a sustainable, romantic gift. Jewelry made from sustainably harvested tagua nuts are one option. Jewelry from recycled magazine paper is also a great way to give new life to what might otherwise become trash. This bracelet also supports medical care for children in Africa.
5. An experience
Need a romantic gift for someone who doesn’t want any more “stuff”? Another great sustainable romantic gift is some sort of experience. Massages, cooking their favorite dinner, or bringing them breakfast in bed is always a great gift (for anyone). But try thinking outside of the box too! I gave Marc flying lessons once – he loved it! He once planned a picnic with local strawberries, organic bread and homemade jam, and wine out in our pasture. The horses crashed the date, but it was lots of fun. Giving an experience means less accumulated “stuff” – and thus less resources used and less waste. Being creative is part of the fun! Giving an experience you enjoy too is just bonus.