present wrapped in kraft paper, tied with red and white twine on wood plank

Photo: Anna-Mari West/Shutterstock


It’s that time again …


Like in years past, we at MNN are more than happy to lend a helping holiday hand by offering a few — 15, to be exact — festive gift ideas for just about everyone on your seasonal shopping list: science-minded tykes, jewelry-lovin’ grannies, globe-trotting great aunts and handbag-collecting sisters included. And although our top picks are mostly planet-friendly, American-crafted and/or humanitarian-minded in nature, you’ll surely find something for just about everyone. And, yes, that includes the uber-picky and impossible-to-please (that’s why Santa made gift cards, after all).


Without further ado, here are our picks for 15 unique, thoughtful and smile-inducing holiday gifts, many of which retail for under $50. Happy gifting!


Market Tote

Market Tote

For your sister Laura, the bag-toting vagabond: Handsome, rugged and fitting for all sorts of excursions into the urban — and suburban — wilderness, the Market Tote from ocean-saving outfitter United By Blue features a durable 100 percent organic cotton canvas exterior, soft cotton interior, leather straps, brass hardware and roomy inside zipper pocket. Like with all United by Blue merch, for each bag sold the company pledges to remove a pound of trash through ocean and waterway cleanup initiatives. Recent volunteer-driven UBB cleanup efforts have included post-Superstorm Sandy cleanup missions in both Staten Island and Ocean City, N.J., and the removal of 230 pounds of litter from the banks of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. Available in moss, khaki, navy and nutmeg. $68 at United by Blue.




“I Still Love NY” Hurricane Sandy Relief T-Shirts

I love NY Hurricane Sandy relief T-shirts

For Nate, your proud New Yorker of a BFF: Designed by Sebastian Errazuriz, a renowned Chilean-born artist and designer whose own New York studio was paralyzed in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, this blue dye-dipped cotton T-shirt — itself a spin on the Milton Glaser’s ubiquitous “I Love New York” logo T-shirts that are hawked at tourist-snaring gift shops across the city — was inspired by the water lines marked on the walls of flooded galleries in Chelsea’s arts district. A generous 100 percent of profits from the sale of Errazuriz’s shirt — and its sibling, the “Manhattan Blackout” shirt — are donated to Sandy relief efforts. $40 at Grey Area.




Wild West Bamboo Skin for iPhone 4/4S

Clint Eastwood bamboo iPhone skin

For your Clint Eastwood-idolizing brother, Jeff: Please, make someone’s day this holiday season, won’t you? This fierce, spaghetti western-inspired protective back skin for the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S is about as rough 'n' tumble as they come. Just ask the steely-eyed, cig-smoking gunslinger whose laser-engraved mug stares the user down each and every time they reach for their phone (perhaps he’ll scare off iPhone-snatching miscreants, too). Now all that’s needed is a “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” ringtone. Produced in Elkhart, Ind., with real, hand-finished bamboo, the easily removable and reusable skin from Carved is a notable alternative to plastic, mass-produced-in-China smartphone accessories. $29 at Carved.




Soda Stream Source Metal Edition Starter Kits

SodaStream models

For your mother Wendy, the recovering store-bought soda guzzler: Pretty much everything — ergonomic office chairs, underpants, laptops — that planet-improving designer Yves Béhar touches seems to be transformed into green-tinted gold. And Béhar’s tradition of future-friendly product design continues with his collaboration with the fizzy water wizards at SodaStream. With regular use, the SodaStream Source — a lean, mean, countertop soda-making machine with an intuitive LED interface, redesigned carbonating bottle and sleek, stainless steel-accented good looks — will prevent the average household from buying and discarding 550 plastic soda bottles per year. Kit includes soda maker, 60-liter CO2 carbonator, 1-liter BPA-free carbonating bottle, and a Sodamix sampler with six flavors. $149.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond.


*** gift certificate

circuit board frame, fair trade coffee

For Pam, your notoriously hard-to-shop-for sister-in-law: For impossible-to-shop-for gift recipients, sometimes a gift certificate is the safest — and most practical — option. Launched with the aid of erstwhile “Lazy Environmentalist” and former MNN columnist Josh Dorfman, is a new, one-stop shopping destination featuring a wide — yet carefully vetted — selection of planet-friendly products across a range of categories including Pets, Beauty, Grocery, Household and Babies & Kids. That said, there are so many green goodies ripe for picking on, we think a gift certificate is the best way to go. Our ideal shopping basket? Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Oil Castile Liquid Soap, Terracycle’s picture frame made from upcycled circuit boards, and a big ol’ bag of Fair Trade coffee. Available in denominations up to $1,500 at




Adelaide Tree Bookend

tree bookend

For your niece Jill, the perpetually disorganized bookworm: Handcrafted from Baltic birch and FSC-certified walnut by sustainability-minded, Los Angeles-based designer Annabel Inganni, this bold and beautiful bookend injects a splash of personality to any home library. Sold individually, the Tree Bookend looks absolutely fabulous when paired with Wolfum’s array of animal-shaped bookends or other home accessories such as wall hooks and picture frames that also sport the cheerful Adelaide print. Although bookends are generally glanced over, considered to be quotidian domestic objects that serve one purpose and one purpose only, this is a functional piece of home décor that was lovingly built to last and designed to inspire. $62 at Wolfum.




Nest Learning Thermostat — 2nd Generation

Nest thermostat

For Chet, your gadget hound fiancé who worships at the altar of Apple: Although a programmable thermostat may seem like the most blah, borderline-offensive item to bestow upon someone during the holidays, the Nest Learning Thermostat is a special case … a very special case. Birthed by the “Father of the iPod” himself, Tony Faddell, the second-gen Nest is slimmer, sleeker and boasts increased capability allowing it to work with an array of residential HVAC systems. Like its predecessor, the super-intuitive, easy-to-install gizmo can be controlled remotely via PC, tablet or smartphone with the ultimate goal of helping users take control of  — and better understand — household energy usage. And because there’s nothing more wasteful than heating or cooling an empty home, we’re particularly keen on the Auto-Away feature in which the Nest goes into energy-conserving mode each time that you step out of the house. $249.95 at Apple Store.




Juniper Ridge Wild Harvested Trail Crew Soap

Trail Crew Soap

For your hike-happy, well-groomed cousin Tony: Although there’s nothing quite as glorious as inhaling the sense-stimulating fragrance of a real forest or alpine meadow during a day hike or overnight expedition, Wild Harvested Trail Crew Soap from Juniper Ridge closely replicates that invigorating olfactory experience … in the shower. Handcrafted with old-school distilling techniques (think juice presses and converted whisky stills) using real plant trimmings and tree boughs sustainably harvested from the Pacific Northwest, Big Sur and California’s central coastal woodlands, this liquid soap is available from Poketo in two heady scents: Big Sur (wild honey, wild ginger, salt, damp ground) and Cascade Glacier (ginger, wool blanket, deep forest). Ten percent of proceeds from the sale of Juniper Ridge products are donated to organizations dedicated to protecting the Western wilderness. $36 at Poketo.




The North Face Women’s Tadasana Wrap

Tadasana Wrap

For your wife Anya, the multi-tasking yogi: A highlight of The North Face’s Tadasana line of yoga apparel and gear, this plush cotton French terry wrap features 5 percent elastane stretch so that the fabric won’t restrict while positioning into Adho Mukha Svanasana or Bhujangasana. Helpful! Outside of deep breathing and asanas, we can imagine wearing this super-comfy cover-up pretty much anywhere — the supermarket, a tailgate party, a PTA meeting, you name it. Available in TNF Black and Graphite Grey, the Tadasana Wrap features a drop-tail hem and an attached tie at the waist. As always, The North Face continues its commitment to various sustainability initiatives. $65 at The North Face.




'Neue Welt' by Wolfgang Tillmans

Neue Welt

For your great aunt Ingrid, the consummate armchair traveler: In “Neue Welt” (“New World”), the latest coffee table-appropriate tome from Turner Prize-winning German photographer and artist Wolfgang Tillmans, the environment, both natural and built, is presented in all of its mysterious, majestic and bucket list-worthy glory. Somewhat of a departure for the traditionally self-reflexive photographer, just a few of the far-flung locales captured within the 216-page book include Tasmania, Papua New Guinea, Saudi Arabia and Tierra del Fuego. Explains Tillmans: “My travels are aimless as such, not looking for predetermined results, but hoping to find subject matter that in some way or other speaks about the time I'm in.” $39.99 at Taschen.




The Neighbors Have Better Stuff Doormat

Neighbors Have Better Stuff door mat

For your home-security boyfriend Tim who staunchly buys “all-American”: Although the American Design Club — a Brooklyn-based organization that “exists to encourage and promote the efforts of emerging designers in the United States” — has been around since 2008, it wasn’t until this past fall that the AmDC launched a proper online store where its members’ wares are sold under one virtual roof. There’s a ton of great, gift-worthy items up for grabs, but we have our eyes on Reed Wilson’s cheeky/utilitarian The Neighbors Have Better Stuff Doormat. The mat is made from natural coco fibers and can be used in covered areas both indoors and out. $50 at American Design Club Shop.




The Garden Deck

Garden Deck

For your best friend Phil, who’s just aching to flex his green thumbs: Sure, there are more than a few websites out there that cater to novice gardeners looking to harvest their own grub. However, hauling an iPad or laptop out to the backyard or community plot to follow step-by-step growing instructions isn’t exactly always an option. Taking the familiar — and portable — shape of a deck of playing cards, each of the 48 plants — everything from asparagus to zucchini — included in this handy-dandy set of cards is represented by a vintage-inspired illustration. On the flipside, each card includes invaluable harvest and care information along with assorted growing tips and requirements specific to each plant. $18 at Terrain.




Fabric Origami Necklace

Fabric Origami Necklace

For your fashionable grandma Adele, who could go for a little spicing up in the accessories department: In crafting this fetching, hand-sewn necklace, Los Angeles-based jewelry designer Yoko Minemura works origami magic with pieces of solid-hued stretch cotton fabric instead of the medium usually associated with the craft: paper. Once the fabric is intricately folded in traditional origami style, Minemura then suspends it from a lightweight gold chain. Versatile, eye-catching and a highly original nod to an art form that dates back to the 17th century, the Fabric Origami Necklace is available in two different solid colors — black or dove grey — that lend themselves to both dressing up or down. $54 at Poketo.




Periodic Table Building Blocks

Periodic table building blocks

For Teddy, your precocious 5-year-old godson whose knowledge of science already surpasses everything you learned in high school: A shoo-in for young Einsteins who aren’t quite ready to graduate to those potentially messy home chemistry lab sets, this set of 20 six-sided colored blocks contain all 118 elements found on the periodic table. Each side lists an element's name, symbol and atomic number (but seriously, we’re hard pressed to remember more than six of them). The blocks are handmade in Grand Rapids, Mich. $33 at Uncommon Goods.




Seven Year Bike Pen

7-year pen

For you, to write thoughtful thank-you notes to everyone who has made your holidays a bit merrier: Now here’s a pen with a serious lifespan: Made in Switzerland and designed to last seven years — provided that you keep your missive-writing activities down to 1.7 meters per day — landfill avoidance is the raison d'être of this medium-tip pen from Seltzer Goods that conceals one heck of a black ink cartridge (over 100 million disposable pens are discarded each day). Although we’re partial to the super-cute bike design, other meme-y prints are available such as mustaches and bacon. In addition to selling long-lasting pens and greeting cards printed on 100 post-consumer recycled paper, a portion of Brooklyn-based Seltzer Goods’ profits are donated to nonprofit environmental law firm Earth Justice on an annual basis. $7.50 at Seltzer Goods.


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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

2012 MNN holiday gift guide: The festive 15
We've rounded up goodies for everyone on your holiday shopping list.