Chocolates and flowers and teddies, oh my!
By Amanda Taccone
This year when you hit the stores to find that perfect gift for your sweetheart, you're sure to impress if you remember to make your gift ethical and eco-chic.

Fair trade, organic and sustainable products are finally becoming more widely available. So on this romantic holiday, impress your significant other with both your good taste and your desire to make the world a better place.

Chocolate, glorious chocolate

One of the most widely available of the socially responsible gifts, fair trade chocolate ensures that farmers and producers get a fair price for their cocoa beans.

According to the Sierra Club of Canada, a "Fair Trade Certified" product guarantees a minimum price to growers, ensures no child or slave labour can be used, and farmers' groups must be democratic.

Concentrated in West Africa, where nearly half of the world's cocoa is cultivated, along with Central and South America, paying fair market price for produce can have a significant impact on reducing poverty and child labour.

You can also look for organic and chemical-free products, which the Sierra Club says "guarantees better health for both farmers, the environment, and for consumers." Keeping harmful chemicals away from the cacao trees, and the workers around them, is sure to inspire warm feelings from your recipient.

Look for chocolate made from fair trade or organic cocoa. Local supermarkets with organic sections will often carry it. Brands like La Siembra's Cocoa Camino products are widely available. You can also check Trans Fair Canada's product page for fair trade and organic retailers near you.

Fair trade and organic products are still more pricey than that big heart-shaped velvet box at the drug store, but you're guaranteed to get more bang for your buck if you buy a smaller quantity of the often high quality fair trade chocolate.

You may not want to smell the roses

Who doesn't like to receive that beautiful bouquet of long-stemmed red roses as a sign of someone's love (and the size of their wallet)?

But just the thought of underpaid Colombian women entering pesticide-laden greenhouses for $0.58 US an hour, is enough to put almost anyone off that sweet smell.

Also, since flowers are not "ingested," the Sierra Club says the flowers coming into Canada are not routinely tested for pesticide residues. So, you may not want to breathe in too deeply.

Workers who produce "Fair Trade Certified" flowers "are guaranteed a minimum wage and fair employment conditions including rigorous environmental and safety standards," according to TransFair Canada, a member of the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International.

Sierra Eco Florists lists affiliated shops in Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick that have fair trade and environmentally responsible flowers available.

If roses aren't high on your honey's wish list, consider asking your neighbourhood florist about local, greenhouse-grown flowers, or better yet, a potted plant, as both mean less fossil fuel was used for transportation.

Bringing it into the bedroom

Were you thinking teddy bears? Well, if you thought sexy lingerie couldn't possibly be eco-chic, think again. While not as widely available as chocolate and flowers, environmentally responsible underwear is out there.

British lingerie company Enamore offers a wide variety of attractive underthings made from organic and sustainable materials like hemp, cotton, silk, soya, recycled textiles and even white pine tree pruning scraps.

And these aren't your granny's big cotton bloomers. The often racy, vintage-style sets are a little pricey, but the premium isn't all that great considering it has to make its way overseas to get to you. (And yes, the use of fossil fuels to get it here is unfortunate, but one step at a time.)

Closer to home, and especially if you prefer the more "au naturel" look of organic and some sustainable cotton, the American Apparel Store offers locations in most provinces, and online shopping in Canadian dollars.

American Apparel also operates under a philosophy of "social responsibility in the workplace," paying fair wages and benefits to all employees, and producing all its garments in the U.S.

Last-minute alternatives

If it's already the big day, and life has conspired to keep you from getting the perfect fair trade chocolate or organic roses, take heart, you can still impress.

The Sierra Club suggests organic and/or locally-produced wines (beers are also available), which can be found at most liquor stores, in combination with some local organic cheese. Add in a few lead-free candles, and you have a perfect romantic evening on your hands.

You can also go homemade, by cooking a romantic meal, baking, or burning a mixed CD of your favourite romantic songs.

Still at a loss? Well, even your corner Starbucks carries some fair trade and organic coffees, which you can pair with an eco-friendly reusable travel mug.


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