Christmas gifts


Christmas is rapidly approaching so we thought it would be a good idea to give you some green inspiration for presents this year.

So we’ll start with “that” person. Every family has one – the relative who is almost impossible to buy for at Christmas.

This year, instead of trudging the high street hoping for inspiration, why not give them a gift from Oxfam Unwrapped?  It’s a great idea which involves buying a gift for those who really need it.

Your friend or relative receives a gift card and magnet, telling them how their “gift” has been used and there’s a huge range of ideas to choose from.  

According to Oxfam, 967 million people in the world are hungry, and a child dies every five seconds of hunger-related causes. A gift of just £10 can feed a hungry family for a month – or you can choose from other options such as the planting of 25 trees (£8), tools for farming (£30) or school books (£8).

If your Unwrapped gift costs more than £50, your relative also receives a free gift box and celebrity DVD.

There are gifts in the range to suit people of all tastes from bookworms or animal lovers to DIY fans or eco-warriors.  You can see the full range here.

Oxfam also has a range of “real” gifts for family and friends, including fairtrade items, energy saving gifts or gifts from sustainable sources. For example, you could buy a solar battery charger for £12.71 or a wind-up torch at £19.56.


There’s a good range of food gifts from Fairtrade luxury chocolates to Christmas puddings and stocking fillers such as Fairtrade chocolate coins (£1.95).

Children’s gifts include the top-selling cardboard rocket, made from recycled cardboard (£29.35) and the Doll’s House (£26.42) which has an eco-friendly twist for a favourite toy.


Before the dolls move in, the whole thing needs to be decorated so it’s great for those who love paint and crayons.  It’s made from at least 75% recycled cardboard and can be folded away for easy storage.


Or how about buying a child the Best Eco Book Ever – an activity book which explores topics like recycling, ecology and the environment in a fun way. (£4.95)

If you are buying for people who aren’t averse to charity shop finds, then the Oxfam site is brimming with second-hand ideas.  Items from Oxfam shops all over the UK are available online and you can pick up anything from pre-owned Playstation games to Spiderman toys.

For example, a keen stamp collector would love a First Day Cover envelope with stamps – some are available from as far back as the World Cup in 1966.

People interested in living a greener lifestyle would probably appreciate a copy of one of the Green Guide range of books.  You can browse the titles here, including the Green Guide for Christmas (£4.99) and the Green Guide for Home and Household which is available at a special offer price of  £7.49 for Christmas.

 Green Guide - the directory for planet-friendly l

The range also includes Pocket Green Guides to England, Scotland and Wales for only £1.49 and EcoEscape UK (with free cyclometer) which includes green places to stay, eco days out and local food and drink (£8.99).

Staying with the green bookworm theme, I’m hoping someone will buy me Tamsin Blanchard’s book, ‘Green Is the New Black’. It’s a must-have and is available brand new from Amazon at £6.74, although personally, I’d rather be given a pre-owned copy. These start from only £1.07 – and it’s much more planet friendly to extend the life of someone’s discarded book 🙂


Many online retailers now have a range of eco-gifts, including top retailer, I Want One of  (IWOOT)

Their wind-up phone charger (£4.99) provides up to 8 minutes of talk time from a 3 minute wind – a lifesaver when you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere and your phone has died.  

I also love their Sun Jar – an ingenious and pretty lighting concept from designer Tobias Wong. Instead of storing  traditional jam, this jam jar stores sunshine – and automatically turns itself on when it gets dark.  You just sit it on your windowsill to soak up the sun and its solar charging panel and low voltage bulb do the rest! 


IWOOT is also stocking a Mini Kin green power generator for Christmas. It costs £30 but sounds great. A wind-powered battery charger, it straps to your arm or your bike (or pretty much anything really!) and its propeller powers a turbine which creates enough energy to power up a variety of gadgets. You can plug the battery unit into your iPod, mobile phone or PDA. It also has a back up battery pack with USB connector – but cycling in the wind is so much more planet friendly 🙂

IWOOT has a wide range of unusual gifts for the friend who has everything. I think the keyring featuring “permanent” bubble wrap sounds great – an ideal stocking filler for someone who just loves to pop bubble wrap. (It’s highly addictive as all true-poppers know only too well!)

The Friends of the Earth website has a range of eco books, including bargain basement books which start from just £1.99.  (I’ve already put their How to Grow Organic Vegetables and Herbs (£8.99) on my wishlist.)

Or how about buying someone the Friends of the Earth fundraising calendar, which features images from around the world (£7.50).

And when it comes to wrapping up all your gifts, remember to use alternatives to traditional gift wrap whenever you can. For example, the glossy pages of an unwanted magazine are great (you can use car magazines or fashion magazines for adults and old comics for children’s gifts.)

Some gifts look lovely without any wrapping at all – or you could recycle gift bags from previous pressies. (We have a couple of bottle bags in our family that have been doing the rounds for at least three years :))

And, when thinking green, remember that you need to go beyond the gift-giving. I love outdoor Christmas lights but we ditched ours a couple of years ago because of the energy they wasted. 

This year, we’re switching on again – but we’re using outdoor solar lights. The Eco-Savers lights (a string of 50) are £19.25 from Amazon and you won’t need to feel guilty about lighting up your house.

Special note – I’m excited about a new environmental website that I’m involved in called The Big Green Guide. Eventually, we hope The Big Green will be a one-stop shop for everything eco – from advice on renewable energy and greening your home to news on inspiring projects from around the globe.

It’s early days at the moment and we’re just starting to add content but we’ve started things off with a Cut the Christmas Carbon Campaign, which includes lots of ideas on making your Christmas greener this year, so we’d love you to join in. 🙂






As more and more people begin to use computers and the internet, the amount of energy needed to power them all is growing on a daily basis.

So it’s good to hear that the UK government is supporting a new European code of conduct for Data Centres.

Many organisations now have data centres – rooms or building where their computer servers are based – and they are used for everything from websites to financial transactions or online gaming. 

Currently, data centres account for almost three per cent of total electricity used in the UK – and this figure is expected to double within the next few years.

Ministers are urging data centre operators to adopt the code and Lord Hunt, Minister for Sustainable Development and Energy Innovation, says: “If we are to tackle dangerous climate change, we need to reduce emissions and the decision businesses make plays a key role in meeting this challenge. 

By signing up to the code, companies can save energy and save money too, which goes to show that what’s good for the environment is good for business.”

The code was developed in collaboration with industry bodies including the British Computer Society (BCS). 

Those signing up to it will have to implement best practice for energy efficiency, put minimum purchasing standards into place and report their energy use each year.  It is likely to lead to actions like the decommissioning of older servers, reducing air conditioning and maximising server use by running  multiple applications.

It is hoped the code will help to save almost five million tonnes of C02 over the next six years –  equivalent to taking more than a million cars off the road.

Already, a number of major organisations have hinted that they plan to adopt the code – including BT, Microsoft and Quest Software.

More information on the new code is available from Defra here.





Christmas is coming – and although most of us love the festive season,  it’s traditionally bad news for the planet.

December brings with it increased product buying, more packaging, more commercial transport – and vast amounts of rubbish afterwards.

It is estimated that wrapping paper alone used in the UK at Christmas, would cover the whole of Guernsey – and gifts aside, we will use around 750 million EXTRA bottles or glass containers and 500 million more drinks cans.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be bringing you some suggestions for a Greener Christmas and tips on reducing the amount of festive waste.

In the meantime, you could consider

Sending  an e-card rather than a traditional Christmas card to internet-savvy friends

Buying as local as possible – often a small games shop in town will cost little more than a chainstore outlet – and you’ll be supporting your local economy

Buying real charity Christmas cards – rather than those sold by many retailers which sometimes offer only a tiny donation to charity. Get them direct from Oxfam or your favourite charity instead

Planning your Christmas menu in advance so that you don’t buy much more food than you really need

Taking reusable bags on your shopping trips. (If you forget, it doesn’t mean to have to accept a bag in every store. Smaller items will often fit into a bag that you’re already carrying

Checking the energy rating on any large appliances or electrical items that you intend to buy

You could also try to buy children’s toys that don’t need up to six batteries at a time. I’ve already bought traditional tiddly-winks for my little one. I used to be quite an expert so we’ll see if I’ve still got the knack 

And if you work with more than a couple of people, suggest a Secret Santa this year where you put names in a hat and buy a gift for just the person whose name you pull out.  It not only saves unnecessary (and often unwanted) gifts but cuts down on your shopping – and saves everyone money!





Plans for new wind farms to help the UK to meet its renewable energy targets are under threat because of the credit crunch.

Centrica, which owns British Gas, said it is now looking again at proposals for three new farms which it had planned in addition to those off the east coast of England which are due to be in full production by the end of this year.

At the moment, a wind farm can cost up to £3 billion per gigawatt of capacity to build – compared with a gas-fired power station at only £600 million and the cost of a wind farm is even more per gigawatt than a nuclear plant.





NASA environmental expert, James Hansen, has warned that we must phase out coal within the next 20 years – or the climate might never recover.

His comments provide extra ammunition – if any is needed – for the current Greenpeace campaign to prevent the building of more coal-fired power stations in Britain.

Greenpeace is asking the public to get behind its protest by signing up to its Give Coal the Boot campaign.

You can add your signature – or rather your footprint – to its map of the UK here and leave your own personal message.

There’s also an animated Greenpeace video, CoalFinger, which spells out the dangers of our continued use of coal. You can view it at





There’s probably little left to be said about the historic American presidential election – after all, it has dominated the news over the past few days.

However, environmentalists all over the world are waiting with bated breath to see if Barack Obama comes through on his green promises.

Obama claims to be committed to fighting climate change – and if this turns out to be the case then the USA could make a MASSIVE difference to the planetary effort.

There’s certainly reason for excitement – if he stands by his word, Obama could make the UK’s contribution to the fight against global warming look like peanuts.

At the moment, our annual emissions stand at an estimated 500 million tonnes of CO2 – while the USA is currently held responsible for over 5,000 million – almost a quarter of all global emissions!

(Taken as a whole,  the countries of the EU account for 3171 million metric tons of C02 per year –  still almost 2000 million less than America.)

And it is looking hopeful at this stage.  An organisation called Environmentalists for Obama claims that his dedication to the environment has already been well-established during his time as a senator. 

And while the Republicans were talking of offshore drilling and nuclear power as the answer to energy independence, Obama was instead talking of plans to encourage energy efficiency and support for renewal energy.

Experts say that climate change did not play a big part in voting – except amongst the youngest voters – but the Worldwatch Institute says Americans did broadly support candidates who were advocating greater action on climate change.

And US environmental group, LCV, says with Obama at the helm, it is hoping for “significant global warming and clean energy legislation in the next year.” 

Meanwhile, the Worldwatch Institute believes that with a Democrat in the White House, a cap on greenhouse gas emissions, energy-efficient building codes and an extension of renewable energy tax credits are all on the cards. 

Already, the election result has affected the alternative energy market with stock market increases in share prices for a number of “green” corporations such as the Renewable Energy Corporation.   

And on his campaign website, Obama has already promised to:

Create five million new jobs by investing $15 billion per year over the next decade “to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future”

To save more oil in the next 10 years than the USA currently imports from the Middle East and Venezuela 

Put 1 million Plug-In Hybrid cars on the road by 2015

Ensure that 10 percent of America’s  electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012 (only four years away!) 

And, wait for it – reduce the USA’s greenhouse gas emissions by an incredible 80 per cent by 2050 – although of course he won’t be in office to take responsibility if that doesn’t happen 

In fact, he has promised to  “make the US a leader on climate change” … so, watch this space as they say.

You can listen to his Blueprint for Energy Change here:




As regular readers will know, I’m a tree person 🙂

And although I must admit that I rarely hug them, a forest walk is a great delight.  I’m lucky to live in an area with lots of trees – and they provide an ever-changing picture from virtually every window in our house.

(Sadly of course that does mean non-stop collection of fallen leaves at this time of year but I’m bagging them this time and saving them to use in the garden).

Trees play a huge part in the life of our planet  – from offsetting carbon emissions and helping in the fight against climate change, to providing shelter for birds and animals and producing fruit, medicines and food.

And in the words of Archie Miles (author of The Trees that Made Britain), trees provided the foundation of our nation’s heritage.

So I was really concerned to read the results of a survey carried out by the Woodland Trust which shows that over the past decade, we’ve lost 100 square miles of ancient woodland in the UK.

That’s the equivalent of an area around the size of Birmingham – and represents 5 per cent of the remaining ancient woodland we have left.

Following 12 months of research, the trust has discovered that half of the ancient woodland we had in the 1930s has already been destroyed or degraded. HALF of our traditional woodlands – gone!

Ed Pomfret from the Woodland Trust says the UK’s ancient woodland is our equivalent of the rainforest – and irreplaceable. 

Some woodlands have been around since the Ice Age and woolands are the most valuable space for wildlife – and home to more threatened species than any other habitat.

And although in theory, ancient woodlands are protected, there are loopholdes in the system that allow them to be destroyed if a developer can prove “economic need.”  That would never happen with a building of architectural importance – and preserving our trees is just as important. (Many woodlands were around long before any of the buildings that we now describe as ancient.)

The trust’s research shows that the biggest threat is from new roads, followed by utilities and power lines but airport expansion and leisure facilities also pose a threat.

And it says we need to protect our woodlands from further damage because we can’t rely on official bodies to do it for us. So it has set up a campaign called WoodWatch which uses the eyes and ears of the public to stop the destruction.

WoodWatch provides people with information and resources to help save threatened woodland in their area. You can find out more here. You can also locate and update the trust on threats to trees through its interactive map and you can find out about wood under treat NOW in your area by following this link. 

At the moment, the Woodland Trust is involved in over 400 cases of trees under threat in Britain.

Do what you can – trees are SO important 🙂