Mother's Day has become a gigantic shopping event. Next to Christmas and Valentine's Day, consumers spend more money for Mother's Day than they do for any other holiday in the year. This year, according to the National Retail Federation's annual Mother's Day survey, Americans will spend $20.7 billion! That amounts to an average of almost $170 per mom, an 11% increase over last year.
As a mom myself, I love the attention I get on Mother's Day. Who wouldn't want to be surrounded by family, showered with love, and coddled with breakfast in bed, a luxurious morning just reading the paper, and no rushing around to do chores?
But as the founder of Big Green Purse, where I advocate using consumer clout to change the world, I consider Mother's Day a tremendous opportunity – not to buy a lot of stuff, but to take a stand against excessive consumerism and in favor of the products and services that offer the greatest environmental benefit.
DOES YOUR MOM REALLY NEED MORE STUFF?
One of the most powerful and eco ways to use your money is to keep it in your purse or pocket! Most people have enough "stuff" – in fact, many of us are so overwhelmed by clutter that it adds to the stress of managing our households when we get more things we have to find a place for.
Years ago, when our two children were still toddlers, we established a "no gifts on Mother's Day" rule (we do the same thing on Father's Day). I truly appreciate my kids' desire to treat me special on Mother's Day, but for me that means that we have brunch or dinner together, maybe go for a hike or have some other family outing, and tell funny stories about my most memorable/ridiculous "mom moments." When my son and daughter were in elementary and middle school, Mother's Day was also a "no bickering" day. There was no better gift than the 24 conflict-free hours they gave me that one day of the year!
Now that my "kids" are young adults (seen above, with me in the middle in case you can't tell who the 20 somethings are!), we continue to enjoy this same tradition (well, minus the "no bickering" rule, since they don't bicker much any more). We will have a relaxing day, enjoy dinner together, and tell "mom stories." Simple, sweet, and definitely not stressful. I can't imagine anything better.
IF YOU WANT TO GIVE A GIFT, CHOOSE THE GREENEST OPTION
Still, there are millions of people who can't NOT give a gift on Mother's Day. And there are plenty of moms who want to receive an actual present. According to the same National Retail Federation survey, two of the most common gifts given this Sunday will be electronics, and flowers.
If you're giving electronics, check this valuable Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics before you buy. The Guide evaluates leading consumer electronics companies based on their commitment and progress in three environmental areas: Energy and Climate, Greener Products, and Sustainable Operations. The Guide scores companies on overall policies and practices – not on specific products – to provide consumers with a snapshot of the sustainability of the largest electronics companies, looking at the way companies use (or phase out) toxic chemicals, save energy, promote recycling, and help reduce climate change.The Guide does not endorse one company over another.
The most recent Guide was published in November 2012. The Indian company Wipro ranks highest in all categories; the way this business operates provides a useful point of comparison to the other companies Greenpeace evaluated. Wipro may not be easily available at Best Buy or other stores where you shop – but HP, the next highest ranking manufacturer, is.
Of course, you don't necessarily have to buy new. "The most sustainable devices are the ones you don't actually buy," notes Greenpeace. "Work to extend the life of your existing electronic gadgets, buy used products, and purchase what you truly need."
Whether you buy new or used, recycle Mom's old equipment as part of your present to her. Discarded electronics are the fastest growing segment of the waste stream, but they add more than metal trash to the garbage. Most electronics contain circuits made from heavy metals that can contaminate the groundwater and soil. You can recycle pretty much any phone, tablet, monitor, hard drive, laptop, and fax machine at Best Buy, Staples, and Office Depot.
I'm a sucker for beautiful bouquets of cut flowers. But I've learned to value flowers that are locally grown and seasonal over blooms that have been imported from abroad. Why?
Seventy percent of U.S. flowers are imported from Latin America, where growers in Columbia, Ecuador and other countries use pesticides that have long been banned in the U.S. A 2002 survey of 8,000 Colombian flower workers revealed exposure to 25 carcinogenic or highly toxic pesticides that are not used in the United States.
Often, women flower growers suffer impaired vision, asthma, and miscarriage or give birth to babies marked by lower birth weights and higher blood pressure. Thirty-five out of 72 Ecuadoran children tested by the Harvard School of Public Health experienced organophosphate pesticides in the womb while their mothers grew flowers. These children later suffered both higher blood pressure and poorer spatial ability than kids who escaped prenatal exposures. Overall, according to a study by the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF), two-thirds of Colombian and Ecuadorian flower workers suffer work-related health problems ranging from impaired vision and neurological problems Some women give birth to stillborn infants, or see their children die within a month after birth.
Meanwhile, the International Labor Organization estimates that 20 percent of flower workers in Ecuador are children, who are more vulnerable to chemical hazards than adults because their immune systems and vital organs are still immature. According to Environmental News Network, imported roses can contain as much as 50 times the amount of pesticides that are legally allowed on the food we eat. The U.S. requires imported flowers to be bug-free, but unlike edible fruits and vegetables they are not tested for chemical residues. So even if you’re not growing these flowers yourselves, you may still be bringing the chemicals used on them into your home.
If you have the option, buy flowers that are locally grown by American farmers who must obey U.S. regulations about pesticide use and application.
If you prefer to order flowers online, shop at Organic Bouquet, whose EcoBloom Certified roses will also be delivered with free bars of Endangered Species chocolate.
California Organic Flowers offers another online option. Stores like Whole Foods, food coops, natural food stores, and conventional grocery stores that have made a commitment to going green may also carry organically grown buds. If you don't see them, ask for them.
You can also make a beautiful bouquet to give to Mom yourself. Even if the flowers haven't started blooming in your part of the country yet, take a pair of clippers out to the yard and snip off a variety of different kinds of leaves. Mix light and dark greens, oval leaves with those that are spiky, long fronds with shorter sprouts. Place them in a tall vase, if you have it, or wrap a juice bottle with a decorative towel and ribbon to make a festive container.
THREE LITTLE WORDS
Regardless of what you give, tell your Mom you love her. All else pales compared to the gift of telling Mom exactly what she wants to hear!
Happy Mother's Day.