Connected \\ December 8, 2021

Eco-friendly holiday gift ideas

This past year many of us have grown more sensitive to the environmental impact of our shopping habits. A shortage of toilet paper and flour will do that to a person. The pandemic offered an opportunity to witness firsthand how crucial it is to shop local and think more purposefully about how and where we spend our money.

This holiday season many people are seeking ways to give gifts that leave less of an imprint on the planet. Now more than ever, it’s in our collective interest to protect it as best we can. Inspired by the museum’s ongoing Climate + Environment Initiative, Museum Shop Director Victor Oliveira offers us his top six ideas for eco-friendly gifts for all to enjoy.

1. Free from plastics. Kids’ toys are synonymous with cumbersome packaging and tiny plastic pieces. But Oliveira suggests looking toward safer products free from plastic and toxins. At the Museum Shop, he fills the shelves with natural wooden Eco-Bricks (a good alternative to Legos), Little Hero action figures named after trees (think birch and spruce instead of Batman or Iron Man), and plush nature-related toys from Wild Republic. There’s also bold-colored Eco-Crayon beeswax sticks and football and soccer balls made from natural jute and rubber tree fibers to keep little ones occupied.

Eco-friendly holiday gift ideas
Onsie Queen Adeline

2. Clothing made with care. Look at the quality of fabric and consider the manufacturing process. Ask yourself: who is making this? Where is it being made? And how is it made? Scanning the racks, he pulls out all-natural made onesies from Milk Barn and colorful Alpaca shawls from Peru. His eyes then travel to a collection of organic cotton zkano socks sourced from Alabama, the former sock capital of the world. “These are the pair of socks to have for the holiday,” he says, holding up a colorful zig-zag printed pair. For the more daring on your shopping list, the vibrant patterns of Queen Adeline’s organic fashion line is the perfect fit. You may remember her from last month’s Trunk Show.

Eco-friendly holiday gift ideas

3. Can’t go wrong with chocolate. For those with a sweet tooth, there’s no better gift than a homemade box of chocolates from Harbor Sweets. Made in Salem, the chocolate shop still uses copper kettles and wooden paddles to create its artisanal chocolates by hand. The company has been a source of pride for local residents for nearly four decades. Popular items include the almond buttercrunch sailboat-shaped Sweet Sloops. Plus, Oliveira says deliveries to the Museum Shop are made on foot. It’s as sustainable as it gets.

Eco-friendly holiday gift ideas

4. Grow your own tree. For those looking to get their hands a little dirty, consider the seed growing kits from the Jonsteen Company. Packaged in small canisters and reasonably priced at $11, these great stocking stuffers contain everything you need to grow a Giant Sequioa, Bonsai flowering cherry tree, or even next year’s Douglas fir Christmas tree from home.

5. (K)not your average wreath. You might remember these from the summer, but the best-selling sailors’ wreaths return this holiday season with new styles and color schemes. Handcrafted in Nova Scotia, Canada, on the shores of the Bay of Fundy, these durable wreaths from All For Knot Rope Weaving Inc. are made from recycled lobsterman rope and are resistant to mildew and fading. Shop the exclusive holiday line here.

Sailors’ wreath on PEM’s Daniel Bray House. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM

6. Gift an experience. For others on your holiday shopping list, giving the gift of an experience might be a better fit. Consider purchasing tickets to an upcoming concert, movie, ballet, sports game or dinner for two. Give the gift of a PEM membership to someone who’s never visited the museum. Or suggest a time when you and a friend might spend the day volunteering at a local animal shelter or food pantry. These memories will stay with you long after the holidays.

PEM Gift Membership
Eco-friendly holiday gift ideas

Or take the advice of Bernie Krause, the artist behind The Great Animal Orchestra. In September, his book The Power of Tranquility in a Very Noisy World was published and is now sold at the Museum Shop or wherever you buy books. Krause tells us to go outside and listen to the noises of the natural world. Record them on your phone and bring home the benefits of birdsong.

An appetite for more

As customers flood into stores and shopping malls this month, Oliveira says they are the ones with the power to determine the direction of retailers. If they’re searching for more eco-friendly products and less single-use items — stores will listen. But it's his job to ask manufacturers the right questions and to know when to say no to items that he describes as harmful for the environment. A plastic watercolor painting set was taken off the Museum Shop shelves until the company came back with degradable packaging. It’s now a popular-selling item.

These decisions, small as they might seem, play a part in the museum’s Climate + Environment initiative, an ongoing effort to prompt discussions about our relationship with the natural world. Thinking of exhibitions like The Great Animal Orchestra or upcoming ones like Down to the Bone and Climate Action, Oliveira says he wants to reflect the museum’s direction in the Museum Shop. “We’re hoping art has the power to shift people’s minds on this,” he says. “It’s not about one movement. We want this to be across everything we do. My hope is that visitors come in and challenge us and want more of this.”

Visit the Museum Shop online at or stop by the next time you’re in Salem. The shop is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 am–4 pm for the month of December in addition to regular hours.

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