I am a freelance journalist. I have been since October 16, 1999. My income is based on my good ideas, talent, and a little luck. There’s one more component, too: The kindness of relative strangers — the editors, producers, and project managers who give me assignments. That’s why, every year, I take the time to thank my clients. Typically, I send out cards and delectable items. In past years I have sent boxes of chocolate, towers of fruit and nuts, and gift cards. This year, however, even as my bags of chocolates and candy sit waiting to be wrapped and sent, I am feeling very conflicted. On one hand I want to thank the people who I work with and who work with me. On the other, I hate the fact that I am increasing my carbon footprint by doing so.
I came to my current gift decision after weeks of research and thinking. I needed to figure out what to send, and how to send it. I mulled over questions such as which delivery method would be the greenest. As for my gift choice: Would it be better to buy something locally or order from Hickory Farms as I have in past years? What would create the smallest carbon footprint? Would it be fruit, which almost always flies to its destination in a refrigerated container, or a box of chocolate or candy? If I wanted boxed treats, how could I be sure they didn’t come a long way or create their own huge footprint on their way to my office?
I decided to first take on the idea of which shipping method would be better. That might educate my gift choice, I thought. While looking around for information about calculating carbon footprints, I found a really nice resource in GreenShipping.com, a site created by the founder of HitchSource.com. The site lets you log in, enter tracking numbers from UPS, FedEx, and USPS, and see the carbon footprint of your shipping activities. Once you know, it lets you buy carbon offsets — purchases that fund new emissions-reducing projects such as wind power, solar energy, and reforestation projects — so you can become a zero footprint shipper. Since I didn’t know what I would be sending out, I used two packages I had recently sent as my control group: A 1 pound, 5 ounce book I sent from New York to Utah, and a 2.6 ounce bath seat that went from New York to Texas. My carbon footprint on the book was less than a pound. It traveled via truck, I found out from the site, and it was only transferred once during the process. Not so bad. The bath seat went Priority. It flew to its destination, racking up seven pounds of CO2. Okay, so I’d be shipping whatever I was sending via USPS, and I’d probably do best sending it myself. I’d cut down on carbon released during flights, and I could make sure that I kept the packaging levels down — no nasty foam peanuts, no extra gift wrap, no plastic bubble wrap.
Then came the gift decision. I wanted to send candy. Something light and delicious. Something that would make people happy, and look like I took some care when purchasing it. The problem, however, is that all the good candy I found at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods came from France and Hungary and Germany. When I tried to find local chocolate — most of the gifts are going to people in New York, Pennsylvania, California, or Illinois — I got major sticker shock. One local NYC company wanted $85 for the tiniest basket! I really needed to keep the gifts under $40 because the IRS only allows me to write off $25, and most companies don’t allow their employees to accept gifts that cost more than $25-ish.
By now you are wondering: Did I go with the amazing truffles and chocolates in minimal packaging that had already flown in from Europe, or go with gifts purchased locally that would undoubtedly come packaged with plenty of waste, which would end up in landfills? Such a tough decision. In the end, I decided to pack my own gift boxes, using the imported chocolates. A wise move? Who knows? For me, the decision came down to the packaging. Sure, I could buy something that came from a closer vendor, but I knew from previous experience that I would rather create less waste and offset the flights used to bring my chocolate gifts in than send something that would end up in a landfill. And next year? I’m going to do something that I’ve heard other freelancers do: Make my own chocolates, and hand-deliver them to all my NYC clients, mailing the rest.
Did I make the right decision? What did you do about vendor and client gifts this year? Did you do anything differently this year than you did in past years? I’d love to hear about it.