Valentine's Day is almost here, and if you're like a lot of people, you might be scrambling to find the perfect gift to express your undying love to whomever is expecting to be your Valentine this year.
But what if it's important to you - or more significantly, to that special someone - to keep things as ethically sound and environmentally responsible as possible? Canadians spend an estimated $1.5 billion on Valentine's gifts each year, but the holiday's traditional gifts of jewellery, flowers and chocolate can be a minefield of ethical and environmental concerns.
The good news is, it's possible to stay true to your ethical and environmental principles and STILL make sure you're not sleeping alone on the couch Tuesday night. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
DO IT YOURSELF
First thing to remember is that Valentine's Day is all about showing how much you care. This is both a challenge and an opportunity: Nothing demonstrates love and devotion like slaving away to make something of your own. Conveniently, creating your own gifts means you can avoid all sorts of excess packaging, transportation costs, child labour, cheap plastics and many other environmental and ethical no-nos -- which in turn can give you a lot of Valentine points.
Make your own card: Why help companies chop down thousands of trees for shiny, new and cheesy cards when you can grab some recycled paper (or better yet, used paper that's just lying around) and make your own? Tape, paper, markers and old magazines are all handy ingredients for a successful card, and the end product is virtually guaranteed to better express your feelings for that special someone than something grabbed off the rack at a drugstore.
Make a special dinner: Treating your Valentine to a night out at some fabulous locavore hotspot - where everything is ethically and locally sourced, not to mention lovingly created and served by unexploited foodie types (who can be tipped generously should you feel so inclined) - is one way to keep Valentine's Day environmentally sound, but it can also hit you in the pocketbook. Why not pick up your own certified and verifiable ingredients, and whip up something in your own kitchen? You won't have to wait in line, and you can always set the ambience to maximum romantic lighting - and feel good about your social impact at the same time.
Flowers make for a particularly challenging case. People LOVE getting them, but how do you avoid flowers grown with damaging pesticides, or in flower sweatshops in developing countries? And what about the carbon footprint involved in buying flowers from, say, South America, which get trucked all the way here?
The obvious way to mitigate the negative effects of flower-giving is to keep it local: Pick flowers from your own garden, or buy a bouquet made from local plants. This, however, is Canada, and there aren't too many places where flowers grow in February - although it's worth seeing what your local greenhouse has available for Valentine's Day.
Your best bet is to get in touch with an ethical or organic florist - or better yet, to simply talk to your local florist about what they have available. Ask them where their flowers come from and whether or not they're ethically sourced; if they can't help you, they can probably direct to someone who can, and will have their own set of questions to keep in mind when they place their next orders.
A box of chocolates is one of the most reliable ways to win a lover's heart, but it can also backfire - especially if the first thing your Valentine wonders when he or she sees the box is how many children were exploited to produce it.
John Robbins, the founder of the NGO EarthSave, (and son of Baskin-Robbins co-founder Irv Robbins) has described the plight of children working at some of the cocoa plantations in West Africa: "These children, usually 12-to-14-years-old but sometimes younger, are forced to do hard manual labor 80 to 100 hours a week. They are paid nothing, are barely fed, are beaten regularly, and are often viciously beaten if they try to escape. Most will never see their families again."
While it's obviously worth talking about such things with the important people in your life, it's probably not the way you want to say "I love you" on Valentine's Day. Fortunately, when it comes to ethical chocolate, there are a wide variety options. Simply look for chocolates that bear the FairTrade logo, which should be available in most major stores across Canada - there are many brands that make sure they source their chocolates from fair trade sources, and a number of organic options as well.
It's as easy as reading the packaging on whatever box of chocolates you're picking out, or simply asking your local chocolatier to provide you with fair trade options - not to mention organic and locally made, just to add that extra feel-good layer.
When it comes to general gift-giving, there are literally thousands of options for products that reflect your concerns about sustainability, social justice and all-around not-badness. A trip to any fair-trade or environmentally minded store will yield all sorts of possibilities, as will a simple online search.
For product suggestions and possible purchases check out some the links below.
You also don't actually have to offer your Valentine an actual wrapped, material gift item to show them how much you care. There's a reason all those singles ads involve walks on the beach, right? Why not to suggest a similar stroll to your loved one (cold Canadian winter notwithstanding), or any other kind of romantic outing? Time spent together is maybe even more valuable than a bunch of purchased stuff - and if you take in a concert, show or movie, you can still demonstrate a willingness to spend where it counts.
Fairtrade Canada Guide to Flowers
Fairtrade Canada Guide to Cocoa
Care 2's Guide to Ethical Valentine's Day Treats
Ethical Ocean's Guide to Ethical Valentine's Day Gifts
VegNews Ethical Valentine's Gifts
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