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Displaying items by tag: december how to make simple changes towards an eco-friendly lifestyle? Have you wondered where to buy your organic food and goods locally? Or how to be more energy efficient? Do you know what is recyclable in Belgium? We do - or we know someone who does! This site is intended to be an information rescource and focal point for ecologically minded people living in and around Brussels. Please revisit the site often, because we update it on a regular basis. Sun, 26 Mar 2017 22:47:53 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb Reconsidering 'New': A Guide to the Best Second-Hand Clothes Shops in Brussels

Anyone who loves clothes will tell you that the feeling of buying something new and imagining the various ways you can incorporate it into your wardrobe is strangely exhilarating. Adding a beautiful piece of clothing to your fashion repertoire and feeling great in it the next day can make us all feel a little like fashionistas. But, how often are we limited to thinking that this fabulous, fashion-induced feeling can only come from purchasing something on Rue Neuve or Avenue Louise? When we think of buying something 'special' and 'new' do we think outside of the never-been-worn-before box? I would dare to say - not very often. But this thinking is a shame considering all the avant-garde gems that hang neatly on vintage store racks. And if there is ever a place to experiment with second-hand shopping, it is in Brussels.


Brussels has some of the best consignment shopping in the world. With a combination of a fashion scene dating back to the 1900's, feted designer boutiques decorating the boulevards and a transient community, the chance of finding an amazing treasure in a second-hand store is good. Sometimes, actually locating these stores is what makes vintage shopping the most daunting – but Sunbeams is here to help with this problem!

There are six great stores to start with. The first is Gabriele Vintage (rue des Chartreux 27). Gabriele specializes in eveningwear and party gear. If you are looking for something divine and original to wear to a ballet, opera or a classy dinner party, and you don't want to spend a fortune, look no further. Unless it is to Burlesque at rue du Midi 64, which is another second-hand gem offering dressier options.

If you are looking for something a little less dressy but a little more jealousy-evoking, visit Ramon & Valy Vintage Shop at rue des Teinturiers 19. This delightful store holds some of the most coveted names: Hermes, Chanel, Dior, YSL, to name some, but for affordable prices. Les Enfants d'Edouard, placed idyllically on Avenue Louise (175-177 avenue Louise), offers the same level of fashion as its retail neighbors, which include Ralph Lauren, Moschino and Alaia, but for a fraction of the cost.

Alternatively, Sussies at rue du Lombard 74 is a hub of quirky, kitschy items that diversify your wardrobe and add to the uniqueness of your overall style (and clothes are sold by the kilo!). Look, (rue du Midi 40) just down the street from Burlesque, is another low-key retro shop where you can purchase everyday attire at everyday prices.

Now - I know that there are times when we will still travel to Avenue Louise or Rue Neuve to satisfy our fashion fix. This is okay. But I challenge everyone out there who loves great clothes to give second-hand a chance and add these great stores to your shopping destination list. Most importantly, rethink what 'new' means when it comes to your wardrobe. Everyone can go buy something 'new' at H& M or Zara, but what you buy in a consignment stores is the only sure way to know that your 'new' shirt won't also be someone else's 'new' shirt at work the next day. Happy shopping!

Articles Mon, 05 Dec 2011 11:16:14 +0000
Simple Ways to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Simple Ways to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

You hear it all the time - "the three R's" in the world of everything green. But what does it really mean to "Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle?" Here, you will learn what it means to put these three terms to use. Did you know: the more you reduce, the less you need to reuse; the more you reuse, the less you need to recycle; and the more you recycle, the less waste there will be! But it all starts with reducing as much as you possibly can. Make it a game! Involve your kids, see how little waste you can have at each garbage collection. Try to have less and less each month until you reach your ultimate goal.


Reduction is easily the most important step but it is also the most challenging and time-consuming. The thought of this may be a bit overwhelming, but once you have learned to reduce the amount of waste-producing products in your household, it will be much easier to reuse what you can and recycle the rest and end up with as little rubbish as possible.

In order to properly reduce, you have to start off by purchasing less. When you are at the grocery store, consciously think - "do I really need this?" You will be surprised that many times, the answer is no. Reduction can lead to not only a more eco-friendly lifestyle, but also a healthier one as well. This is true because it will cause you to purchase healthy food that create less rubbish such as fresh fruits and vegetables and minimize the amount of pre-packaged items such as potato chips, candies, and other unhealthy snacks.

If simply having healthier foods doesn't convince you to be committed to reduction, consider this: psychologists believe that the less "stuff" we have in our households, the happier we will be. People get overwhelmed by "things." Whether this means too many "knick knacks" on your shelves or too many non-eco friendly items piling up like paper cups, napkins, paper towels, and soap bottles. So what can one do to help solve this problem? Reduce, reduce, reduce! Having less meaningless items or waste products around the house will certainly make you happier but, psychologists also believe that the simple act of clearing all that clutter will also offer a significant boost in happiness! In other words, no need to wait for spring to start that "spring cleaning." Try it right now! For more information on happiness and reduction, check out this TED talk:

Here are some more ideas for reduction:

  • Always use glass or re-usable cups
  • Drink water from a re-usable water bottle
  • Compost!
  • Don't buy paper napkins, use cloth instead
  • Avoid items that are individually wrapped such as yogurts and puddings. Instead, purchase one large tub of these items and serve them in a glass dish!

Of course, it is simply not possible to purely reduce; otherwise, you would have nothing! So, try to think about what things you have which you are not using anymore and instead of throwing them away, think about how they can be reused! This can range from refilling water or soda bottles rather than buying new ones, to using what you may think of as garbage (egg crates and crisp bags) for storage or for your children's art projects! Consider purchasing some reusable bags for grocery shopping. Or, dig up some old bags you may already have. This will not only help you to reuse but will also save you from having to purchase plastic bags!

Recycling is the last step in the three R's. Before you throw anything in the trash, think, "can this be recycled?" Paper, bottles, cans, etc. can all be put in their designated recycling bins. If you are unsure of whether something can be recycled, remember to check the packaging for the recycling symbol.

For more questions on recycling or to simply learn more about sorting and collection in your commune visit this link (you can choose the English version available). You will be able to get all the information you need right here or you will be redirected to the website of your commune where you can learn exactly what you need to do to recycle.

Articles Mon, 05 Dec 2011 11:08:09 +0000
Top 10 Tips for a Real Holiday Season Top 10 Tips for a Real Holiday Season

Champagne corks flying.... late nights out... 5 course dinners... gifts... swinging parties... tempting sweets... socializing with family and friends... piles of wrapping paper... cocktails... traveling across town (or the world)... shopping... decadent chocolates... Welcome to the Holiday Season! With all the festivities and so many things to prepare and do, the holidays can easily throw us off kilter, and lead to feeling rundown, even stressed by it all! With a little planning and positive intention, you can get through the season and come out of it feeling and looking great, and even help others and the environment along the way. To help create balance in and around your life, read on!

Grazing – eat smaller portions

As difficult as it is to resist all the holiday goodies that are out there, remember the golden rule: if you aren't hungry, stay away from the food table. While socializing, it's easy to forget how many of those cheese pastries or truffles you gulped down while sipping your drink.

One trick is to eat some healthy, fiber- rich foods before you hit the party scene. Then you can graze at leisure without the risk of overindulging from hunger. Also, try to take half portions to satisfy your sweet tooth without overburdening your body. If you are the host, be part of the solution by serving smaller portions of everything so guests can indulge without overdoing. Offer healthy alternatives such as veggie sticks with a humus dip, lots of greens, and other whole foods.

And when you are in between activities, keep your fridge stocked with healthy foods so that you aren't tempted to take in more sweets and heavy foods. Plan your grocery shopping so you can prepare lighter meals to compensate for all the rich dishes elsewhere. Eat regularly to avoid overdoing it at the next occasion. With all of this planning, how about considering these actions as the start of a healthy habit!


While on the subject of food, consider making it homemade. Leave the over packaged and processed stuff in the stores this season and go for some real food when entertaining. Have you ever thought about all the food that is inside of a grocery store? Amazingly, most of it doesn't even qualify for whole, healthy, or even real food. Nearly everything that is inside the outside aisles of the store is packaged and processed "food". Do your body and the planet a favor by buying most of your product from the perimeter and avoid the inside aisles.

Gifts – think outside the box

I love finding a great gift for giving and for me that means really nailing it when it comes to thinking of what is meaningful for the person I'm giving it to. So skip the usual trinkets and go for something really irresistible. You might be surprised to know how often the most loved gifts are the ones that recognize a creative talent, neglected interest, or a need for pampering. You can buy a gift certificate for a treatment or donate to a charity in the person's name. Or look for hidden talents yearning to come out of hiding - treat the person to a session of classes like salsa, art, cooking, or singing. Acknowledging someone's interests and aspirations can be very healing and empowering. Nice! And think of all the trees you'll be saving by avoiding all the big packaging.

Drink – get lots of H2O...

Alcohol and all of that chocolate can be very dehydrating. Too much alcohol can disrupt your sleep, inhibit your immune system, make you feel sick or sluggish the next days, dehydrate your body, and make you more susceptible to cold viruses and the flu. Here's a little trick to help keep things in check. Drink one glass of water for every alcoholic drink and you will cut down on your alcohol consumption and keep your body liquids in better balance. Water also helps to get rid of toxic waste and keeps energy in check.

Move! (And I'm not talking about away from that dessert table (a good idea nonetheless.))

It's really important to maintain some routine of exercise to keep your energy flowing, burn off those calories and relieve stress, all at the same time.

Yes, that holiday shopping can add up. Take public transport and walk around while shopping. If you are driving, park your car far from the shops and walk the extra bit, take the stairs instead of the elevators, basically take any option that offers movement.

Between all of the holiday activities, kids on school holiday, and relatives and friends visiting, it's important to keep some semblance of an exercise routine, even if Ii's only the abridged holiday version!

Release it!

Stress that is. High amounts of stress, especially prolonged stress, create a lot of havoc for your body and your mind. Stress lowers your immune system, reducing your body's capacity to react to infection. So in addition to regular exercise, ensure you are getting those adequate hours of sleep every night. Sleeping at least 8 hours a night for most people helps keep inflammation in the body down and the immune system functioning. Also consider a Vitamin C supplement that can raise the body's resistance to colds. Its powerful antioxidant effect assists to increase vital cellular processes and protect DNA from damage. Find a good source of non-acidic vitamin C supplements to help keep your health and keep away colds and the flu.

Keep breathing!

When you feel your stress level rising, try yoga breathing (ujjaiyi) to help regulate your blood pressure and calm things down. Also helpful is two for one breathing. Exhale for twice the count of your inhale. This can slow your heart rate, calm your mind, and lower your blood pressure. Try these whenever you feel your stress level rising.

Outdoor therapy

Go outside and do something fun with your family. Walk around the neighborhood to look at holiday displays or organize a walk in the park during family get-togethers. Chances are, if your family gatherings are stuffy and something you don't look forward to, the rest of the party feels the same. Put a new spin on some of the old traditions to keep the energy positive and flowing. Taking walks, hiking, and enjoying other family activities with relatives will also help use up the energy from the extra servings.

Think Zen

Take time for yourself – even if its 15 minutes a day just to relax, disconnect from all the holiday commotion, and really go into yourself. Meditation is a good way to lower stress. Choose a place where you won't be interrupted – try it first thing in the morning or before going to bed at night, or even in the car before heading somewhere. Don't know how to meditate? How about an audio guide to meditation as another great gift idea!

Make a bird feeder

While holiday gatherings tend to be focused on indulgence, you can balance them with some quality time with your family. Outdoor projects with kids are fun and educational. A bird feeder is easy to make and draws a lot of birds during the cold winter months. Another idea is to help solitary bees find more nesting places by preparing nesting tubes in hollow branches or plant stems. Go to for more information. Wait and hang them out in March to be ready for spring buzzing. Creating an eco-friendly activity can help make children more aware of our impact on the environment, and if children grow up green, they help the earth stay healthy too.

And finally... Just say Yes!

Say yes to staying home...sometimes less is more and enjoying family time can be a lot more satisfying.

Happy Holidays!

Nüket is a coach and health consultant with a holistic approach to living a healthy and fulfilling life. She lives in Brussels and works with individuals and companies, supporting them in making positive changes to create lifestyles and environments that are more balanced and healthy. If you would like more information, or a free sample session, contact her by email.

Articles Mon, 05 Dec 2011 11:03:50 +0000
Winter Conservation and Strengthening Your Immune System Winter Conservation and Strengthening Your Immune System

Conserving energy doesn't just apply to your heating and electricity. Winter is the end of an annual cycle in nature. It's also the season for quiet rest and energy conservation for our bodies. Shorter days mean less natural light and warmth – the perfect justification for going to bed earlier to get more hours of much needed sleep!


It's about this time in the year when we tend to be worn out and exhausted. The cold weather encourages us to slow down. Nature is at rest under the fallen leaves and the snow. Animals are in hibernation; plants return nutrients to their roots. We benefit from living this season in a bit of a cocoon – early to bed, late to rise and basically catching our breath from all the year's activities. Our bodies need to restore and recuperate so we are ready to start a new cycle in spring.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the energy of winter is cold and the color is black/dark blue. Winter is the season of water and the kidneys and bladder are associated with this element. We need to take special care to harmonize their functions of controlling the body's water by regulating blood pressure, hormones, etc. and separating the impure from the pure, eventually making its way to elimination via the bladder. This means keeping our kidneys and lower back, head and feet warm. Dysfunctions can lead to problems like lumbago, knee, ear and teeth pains, as well as, bladder infections.

Try this warming tea for cold hands and feet: put 2 cinnamon sticks and 1 teaspoon cloves in 3 cups water, boil for 15 minutes, strain and drink 3 cups/day – one cup before bed to sleep well.

As part of a good prevention plan to avoid illness, winter is the time to slow down, and abandon our usual rhythms. Take some time for introspection and dreaming. Enjoy this period of hibernation- you'll be running again soon enough in a few months time. Take care to avoid physical and nervous extremes and fatigue. While exercise is still important, keep it moderate. Try stretching, aqua gym and/or yoga to keep fit during this period. Deep breathing in the kidney area is also beneficial to support the governing organ. This breathing technique is most easily done by sitting in a chair, leaning forward from the waist and placing your hands flat on your back covering your kidneys ( just above your bottom rib). Inhale slowly and feel your kidneys expand, almost as if you are trying to pop off a belt. Then exhale slowly until you come back to the original position. This breathing technique also helps build self-confidence and allows you to get more in touch with your intuition.

Winter is the season when our immune system is at a low. One way to help boost your immune system is to increase your intake of natural vitamin C. A good source is the Goji Berry which can be found at most bio stores. Just a handful a day of this powerful berry goes a long way (it is the fruit with the highest source of vitamin C– even higher than acerola – and also contains flavonoids which increase its effectiveness.) You can also try 10-day treatments of Echinacea. Take a liquid extract 3 times a day and this plant will help boost your immune system. A 10-day period is the maximum dose as the plant loses effectiveness if taken continuously for a longer time period.

Finally, the real enemy of our immune system is not all the germs and bacteria around, nor is it a nasty virus. The immune system's biggest enemy is sugar! Yes, sugar. Eating sugar, whether in candies, cakes, sodas, etc. causes our white blood cell count (our internal defense team when it comes to evil foreign invaders) to drop almost instantaneously and basically puts them to sleep so they can no longer perform their jobs of defending our body. So what does the enemy do when the prey is asleep? March on in and take over! And so, our body is out of balance and illness sets in. Sugar is also especially bad for the kidney as it loosens all our tissues and makes it more difficult for the kidney to filter, which in turn increases the levels of toxins in our system.

So instead of another piece of apple pie, choose a more copious hot meal that warms you from the inside out. When cooking, leave your meal simmering to blend flavors, favor salty tastes and winter vegetables like celery, green beans, mushrooms and potatoes. Root vegetables contain the energy of the season – a good choice for soup is carrots. You can also try celery root with coconut milk and a little coriander – delicious! Soups help increase our intake of liquids – which helps our kidneys. And don't forget fruits of the season like chestnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, apples, and dried fruits.

Buckwheat and rice are good cereal alternatives and hot oatmeal with some nuts and raisins is a great way to start the day in this cold weather. Happy holidays and enjoy winter!

Nüket Veral

Nüket is a natural health coach with a background in naturopathy and a holistic approach to healthy living and disease prevention. She lives in Brussels and works with individuals and companies, supporting them in making positive changes to create lifestyles and environments that are more balanced and healthy. You can contact her by email at

This article was originally published in the December 2010 edition of the Sunbeams newsletter.

Articles Sat, 11 Dec 2010 21:28:30 +0000
Lease a Christmas Tree Lease a Christmas Tree

Like last year, the MYP students are currently involved in a project called 'Lease a Tree'. For just 35€, 48 fortunate families can enjoy me, and my pine tree friends', company for three weeks.

I am a tree in the garden of the International Montessori School (in Hof Kleinenberg). Every year, the MYP students dig me carefully out of the ground and place me in a lovely pot. Then they transport me to my new host family and after an awesome Christmas my pine needles would normally fall off but the MYP students take me back to the garden and re-plant me before that can happen. Then I share Christmas memories with my pine tree friends. I will get a new home again next year.

The aim of all this is to re-use and recycle as much as possible, starting with Christmas trees, and to make people aware that it is a matter of determination, innovation and imagination.

On behalf of the students at the International Montessori School in the IB MYP (International Baccalaureate Middle Year Program), Michelle Basson and Vilhelmina Haavisto can give you further ideas.

For further information contact Rinze Hoekstra (Head of School) by e-mail or you can phone at +32 (2) 7212111.

This article was originally published in the December 2009 edition of the Sunbeams newsletter.

Articles Sat, 11 Dec 2010 21:20:55 +0000
Christmas Gift Exchange: Old Items Only Christmas Gift Exchange: Old Items Only

Have you got things in your house that you don't need any more but which are still in good condition? Have you bought something on impulse only to realize later that you don't really want it? Do you want to get rid of clutter but can't get yourself to throw away stuff mercilessly?

Well, why not make your unwanted items the life of your Christmas party by holding an 'all-old items' gift exchange? This gift exchange can be best done by a game called White Elephant or Yankee Swap. This game is very simple yet guaranteed to be fun. This could be an additional gift exchange or even replace the gift-giving altogether.

Just tell everyone joining your party to bring an item or two that is either used, or unused but not needed anymore. The item should be something that may still be useful to someone. The item should be wrapped, preferably using old newspaper/magazine.

During the party, the gifts are placed together and the participants gather around them. Numbers will be assigned to everyone by drawing lots.

The one who has number 1 gets to pick a gift first. He/she opens the gift and shows it to everyone. The person who gets number 2 goes next and chooses to do either one of the following: get a gift from the lot and open it OR "steal" the first person's gift. If the gift is "stolen" from the first person, he can then take a new gift and open it. The third person will then choose to get an unopened gift or "steal" the gift from person 1 or 2. The person whose gift got "stolen" can choose to get an unopened gift or "steal" another gift. This process goes on until all gifts are opened. "Stealing back" from the person who "stole" the gift is not allowed.

There are many variations to this game but it is best to set a limit to the number of times a gift can be "stolen." Rolling of dice can be used instead of drawing lots. There can be different rounds with a time limit, especially if there are people who brought more than one gift.

The "stealing" of gifts definitely adds excitement to the game and helps ensure that the one who is "stealing" really wants the gift. Everything is done in the spirit of fun! And, of course, the game is also an easy and eco-friendly way for people to give new life to old and unwanted items!

Have a fun-filled Christmas!

This article was first published in the December 2010 edition of the Sunbeams Newsletter.

Articles Sat, 11 Dec 2010 21:17:36 +0000
Fake Fir: Christmas Trees

“Oh toilet brush oh toilet brush, how lovely are thy bristles...” just doesn’t have quite the same holiday ring to it as the classic carol, does it? I know I was surprised when, in the course of researching this article, I came across the humble origins of the artificial Christmas tree: in the 1930s the Addis Brush Company discovered that their toilet brush factory could produce a reasonable facsimile of a Christmas tree. The artificial tree is now firmly entrenched in the ethos of Christmas consumerism.

Boring Fake Tree by DaDaAce on flickr!Generally, chopping down trees is anathema to environmentalists. And re-use is an integral part of the green trilogy, leading one to assume that the once-every-six-to-ten-years purchase of a reusable tree would be hailed as heroism by those dedicated to the rescue of Earth’s arboreal reserves. Not so, my friends. As it so happens, the toilet-brush Christmas tree is produced with non-biodegradable plastic, usually in a factory far, far away (where respect for environmental regulations and lead levels seems as plastic as the products) and often isn’t even used for the full ten-year lifetime purchasers are banking on. The branches get all tangled, the papery ‘needles’ are eaten by the family feline, one of the essential segments is on holiday in the Bermuda Triangle… and a new tree must be bought.

In contrast, the real tree is 100% natural. When you’re done with it, you can recycle it for mulch, or even better, you can have a potted one that you re-plant outside at the end of the season. Despite the harvest and transport carbon costs, real trees have serious green credibility. One acre of douglas fir, a holiday favourite, can absorb 11,308.7 lbs of carbon dioxide. Christmas tree farmers also replace the cut trees - if they didn’t, they would go out of business after one year!

Creative souls have found that the main functionality provided by the Christmas tree (namely, a festive centerpiece under which gifts are placed) can be replicated in a variety of materials. Attractive displays of driftwood, cut boughs of evergreens, felted trees, cardboard creations, stacked books and light projections are all possibilities suggested by Google Images. Why not get the children involved and come up with your own alternative Christmas ‘tree’?

This article was originally published in the Decemeber 2010 edition of the Sunbeams newsletter.

Articles Sat, 11 Dec 2010 21:14:00 +0000
Dr. Jane in Brussels Dr. Jane in Brussels

What does the war in Congo, the chimpanzees, your mobile phone and your daily life have to do with one other? It was this strong and convincing holistic message of inter-connectedness which impressed me the most after hearing Dr. Jane Goodall speak in front of a full auditorium at the Free University of Brussels last 22 November 2010.

Dr. Jane Goodall spent most of her life observing the behaviour of chimpanzees in the rainforest and became world famous for her findings. After 26 years of research, she realized that she would need to leave the forest in order to save them. Flying over the Gombe Reserve with barren deforested hills, hearing of the alarming rates of increased trade in bush meat, seeing the war coming closer and witnessing the poverty of people living around the reserve: she knew that if she did not act, the survival of the chimpanzees as a species would become critical.

She started a development cooperation program around the reserve (TACARE) – supporting the local people and respecting the environment and animals living around them, a model which is now spreading over neighbouring countries. The grass roots model is a holistic one: e.g. they (re-)plant trees, train forest rangers, set up micro-credit programs, cultivate shade-grown organic coffee, provide reproductive health care, and school education for girls and boys.

She then became an activist, and up to this day, at the age of 76, she travels around the world 300 days a year, showing the link between our own actions as human beings (regardless of where we live on this planet), and the survival of other species, like the chimpanzees. She talks with a very clear and simple language: no fancy abbreviations, scientific terminology or concepts. This incredible, down-to-earth woman leaves no audience untouched. She speaks from the heart and combines it with her scientific knowledge and practical mind: a standing ovation is what she gets wherever she speaks. People of all ages, of all cultural or economic backgrounds, understand her message of peace and hope. She gives us courage and shows that every single individual can do something - here and right now - and that it actually can make a difference. Her latest book filled with stories of courageous individuals saving species from the brink of extinction, “Hope for Animals and Their World,” gives many hopeful examples. She argues, though, that one does not need to be a biologist or save a species to make a difference: any individual can do their share even if one starts with small steps...

Her global youth movement, Roots&Shoots, gives young people of all ages a tool to do something in their own country or neighbourhood for the environment, animals and people. At the lecture in Brussels, the Jane Goodall’s Roots&Shoots was officially re-launched in Belgium. Two schools – the International School of Brussels and the International Montessori School – as well as one university – the Boston University in Brussels – have already announced to be pilot cases for the Belgian R&S movement. Anyone can start an R&S group - families, neighbourhoods, groups of children - as long as they do some real projects around the three pillars (environment, animals and people) and with one common topic woven through it: peace and respect.

I invite you to have a look at the media coverage page on our website to catch some beautiful glimpses of this great human being. You can read more here to see what Sunbeams has done in the past to support the Jane Goodall Institute in Belgium. You will also hear more about our closer cooperation, especially with the Roots&Shoots youth program in the near future. In addition, Sunbeams decided that for every 5 trees planted at our Tree Planting Event on 20 March 2011 in Belgium, we will donate one tree to the tree planting operation of Jane Goodall’s Roots&Shoots in Central Africa.

Wishing you all a sprinkle of Dr. Jane Goodall’s magic!

Ilke Pedersen-Beyst

Founder and President of Sunbeams

Articles Fri, 10 Dec 2010 13:34:06 +0000
Eco-Presents & the Art of Giving and Receiving Eco-Presents & the Art of Giving and Receiving

This article consists of two parts: first is a list of original ideas for eco-friendly presents, followed by the art of giving and receiving. There are also some ideas for sustainable wrapping.

Some original ideas for eco-friendly presents

Just try to imagine all the waste and pollution resulting from the Christmas season - it will make you sad. But, with a little bit of imagination, you can find many original ideas for an eco-friendly Christmas! Here is a list to give you some inspiration:

  • Local products: Belgian beers, cheese, chocolates, waffles, Speculoos, wild game products, jams, honey, vinegars, crystal, crafts, lace, books with regional recipes (this way you can avoid long transport and reduce green house gases)
  • Fair trade items from Oxfam world solidarity shops
  • Fair trade or bio baskets (e.g. check out your Delhaize, Colruyt, Oxfam world solidarity shops)
  • Hand-crafted items made by you or a local craftsperson
  • Seeds, a tree or bush (local species) to plant or donate for planting (see our gardening articles or check the UN Billion tree program or a tree planting certificate for the Jane Goodall Gombe Chimpanzee Reserve)
  • Guides to ecological wine or a book on the Slow Cooking movement (e.g. Cook&Book shop, close to Woluwe Shopping)
  • a nice water jar to serve tap water at the table
  • a thermos drinking bottle and lunch box (check at A.S. Adventure or other outdoor shops)
  • invite a cook to your house
  • kitchen tools to use/enhance cooking at home
  • a caddy to shop in the neighborhood
  • Donate an amount to a charity organization or finance a child in a developing country and gift the receipt (e.g., or gift certificates for the Jane Goodall Institute)
  • charity projects for children at
  • a "Green Seat" to offset emissions (CO2 or GHG) flight of your visitors
  • adopt an animal at the zoo or abroad (e.g. a chimpanzee in Africa) or support a seal sanctuary in the Netherlands
  • adopt a goat/chicken donated to a person in a developing country (e.g. on Cows'n'Things)
  • a course in eco-driving (e.g. with Safe Drivers Plan or at a workshop of Ecolife)
  • electronic newspaper subscription or periodical membership
  • a cooking, crafts, ice skating, sports, or dancing course
  • warm socks, sweater, shawl, or blanket and an invitation to the receiver to turn their thermostat down by two degrees
  • an electronic use (watt measurement) meter
  • a pedometer or speedometer (with calorie counter!) to encourage walking or cycling
  • a bicycle basket and/or panniers or cycling lights and a reflective vest
  • personalized service coupons for mowing the lawn, doing the shopping, preparing a dessert, a home-made bread or meal once a month for a set number of months over the year (especially wonderful for the older person who has everything)
  • make coupons for biking tours, theatre evenings or massage for members of your family
  • solar chargers for iPods and mobile phones
  • membership card to download music from a website (such as the iTunes gift card which is available almost everywhere)
  • a book of cinema passes and public transport passes to get there (great for teens)
  • bikes, roller skates, a public transport membership or a Cambio (carsharing) membership
  • a membership card or tickets to the theatre, opera, movies, museums
  • Have a look at Nature et Decouvertes for young and old: parts of their turnover are donated to different projects)
  • Basket or box of second-hand books
  • a membership for an organic fruit and/or vegetable basket (see our article on organic baskets)
  • A composter and a kitchen container for collection of scraps
  • Make a basket for the avid gardener with ecological products.
  • Give a certificate for an ecological gardener/horticulturalist (see our gardening info).
  • Give a coupon to assist in the setup of an ecologically sound garden
  • Bird feeders or houses, beneficial insect or bat houses, hedgehog houses, frog and toad houses (see our section on Presents for ordering online)
  • A chicken, feed, and a chicken house to start someone on the way to their own free-range, organic eggs and garden fertilizer.

What to avoid

  • Plastic
  • Batteries
  • new paper wrappings
  • exotic food from far, far away
  • Purchasing food or drink in non-recyclable containers for your consumption while shopping.

What to do

  • Use your own reusable bag to carry home any purchases.
  • Consider purchasing online and saving on international shipping costs.
  • Try to be creative with wrapping using reusable materials such as clothing, towels, sheets blankets, previously used paper, flower pots, baskets. Or look into Furoshiki.

The Art of Giving and Receiving

The other day, one of my friends shared with me that she would be knitting a scarf as a gift for her sister this year. She and her husband live quite comfortably, but she acknowledged that the state of the world economy gave her a moment to pause and think about what she might do rather than buy. Admittedly she is skilled in hand-crafts and naturally derives pleasure from her skill in the art of knitting, but economy aside I found myself reflecting upon her desire to make a gift versus purchasing one. Is it better to make than buy or the reverse? Is it better to buy something made locally than made a long distance from home?

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Two styrofoam meat containers hinged together and then wrapped. The container can then be used to carry hot or cold foods to parties.
Alternatively it can be use as a reusable, protective gift box.

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Shoebox: lid and bottom wrapped separately to allow for reuse.

It would be so easy to be judgemental as to what is better when considering the environment, but I think it is healthier to evaluate the art of giving and receiving and not critique the actions. It has been relatively easy in Western cultures over the years of plenty to give because we can give, and because media has driven us to believe that we must give. We give to family, we give to friends, we give to neighbours, we give and we give, and we give more especially during the season of giving. As a result, there has been pressure to buy more, buy bigger, and spend to the point where we feel undue stress and panic. Often we are unable to take comfort, pleasure, or satisfaction in what we are doing. Was it the right gift? Will he or she like it? Will he or she think what I’ve made is ugly, silly, or cheap? Do they already have one? Is it the right colour? Did I spend as much on him as on her? Is it just going to be returned and exchanged? Should I just have bought a gift card, which is easier for me and the recipient can pick out what they want?

I have had many of these thoughts in the past at one time or another, but have come to realize there is more to giving than just buying something. There is an art to giving and receiving and it doesn’t require a specialist to practice it. Economics and marketing, nor the environment need drive our act of giving or receiving; they may play a part in the final decisions, but need not drive it. I would offer as food for thought that giving and receiving is an art form as easily practiced by a child or an adult – no age discrimination, no gender discrimination, no economic discrimination. Simply, it takes practice. Trust your own abilities to know the receiver of the gift (this may include their cultural background) and stick to your values and your budget no matter what. Give yourself permission to be a creative thinker and escape the confines of the media and monetary-driven gift giving.

Think outside the box. It may take more time than usual, but when practiced will creatively express the sentiments for giving. Perhaps it is time to break out of an old pattern that keeps you locked in traditional gift giving. Art has been defined as an “undertaking of a creative activity or type of artistic expression that is intended to be beautiful or thought-provoking; an undertaking or activity enhanced by a high level of skill or refinement”. Presenting or receiving a gift is all of this and more. Do consider the presentation. Must it be wrapped in paper? Can gifts be presented in reusable containers? Can gift tags be reused on travel bags, backpacks, or could you possibly make ones that are edible by birds and can be placed on an exterior tree afterwards for their enjoyment? Give your mind the space and freedom to think creatively.

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Reusable wrapped Christmas Gift Boxes made by children under 10. Mark the inside of boxes with years when wrapped
and in future years enjoy remembering the children's handiwork and possibly the gifts in them.

Have a look at ideas for environmentally sound gifts listed below. Develop your own art of giving and add to this list by sending us an email Remember that the art of receiving falls hand in hand with the art of giving as you open up your heart and mind and reflect upon what the giver was thinking about you with their choice of gift. You might like to consider the following:

This article can be found in the December 2010 edition of the Sunbeams Newsletter.

Articles Wed, 17 Mar 2010 15:55:52 +0000