Shopping strop

Moroccan beads. Photo: Catherine Mack
Moroccan beads. Photo: Catherine Mack

At the risk of biting the hand that feeds me,  Go’s ‘Shop through the drop’ article (14.11.09) about the ‘great’ return of Irish women to the New York shopping trip,

in search of a credit crunch bargain, took me on a nostalgia trip. I did exactly that in my youth, which was also back in the last century. But I thought we had all moved on a bit since then.  Consumer excess is a personal choice, I guess, but carbon excess in order to feed that frenzy is just not on anymore. I am not against flying per se, but there are limits, and chasing the SJP lifestyle in Barney’s is verging on carbon trashy these days.  


If you have signed up for Ireland’s 10:10 challenge ( where people are committing to cut their personal carbon emissions by 10% in a year, you will have noticed that the first tip is ‘Fly Less, Holiday More’, encouraging us to take fewer but longer trips. The sixth tip is “Buy Good Stuff”, and think about waste and ethics on our shopping trips.


So if, for example, you are limiting your flights to one a year, and your Christmas shopping trip is it, use the Carbon Friendly Flight Search tool on, which finds the cheapest flight as well as the greenest. It does this by assessing the carbon efficiency of each fleet and whether the route is direct or not. It shows that a return flight from Dublin to New York, 10209.56 kms, emits1.25 tonnes of carbon per person.


For about the same price, and half the amount of carbon, you can get a real bargain in the markets of Marrakech, and keep money in the local economy, with grotto after grotto of gorgeous artisan jewellery, leather, rugs and, of course, spices.  Morocco’s argan oil, for example, has to be one of the finest beauty products, and now sought after by those in the know.  And no over-heated malls, over-packaged goods, and over-loaded plates of food either. Take a local guide around the souks, such as one recommended on (share the cost with a group of girls) to find all the best bargains and get your head around haggling. You will have to swap the Margharitas for mint tea though.


Even strolling the streets of Istanbul is half the carbon cost of fighting your way along Fifth Avenue. Choose a locally owned accommodation, treat yourself to a Turkish Bath, and bring back a load of Turkish Delight for granny. You can book a great short trip, with use of local guide, on


Staying closer to home, take the boat and train to Edinburgh or Glasgow, where you can buy plenty of local crafts or produce, not only in some superb boutiques, but also at the capital’s Ethical Christmas Fair from 12-20 December ( will feel as if you have walked onto a set of Sex In The City in Glasgow’s Che Chamille (, which works with young designers directly, using ethically sourced materials. There are lots of other ways to enjoy Scotland in winter while you are there, as seen at which has taken a whole white theme this year.


Or just stay at home, and support some of Ireland’s local producers. Take the train or bus to a town you don’t normally visit and stock up on local produce. The choice is endless, such as The Burren Perfumery, Sligo’s Voya seaweed products or Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway. The list is endless. Please feel free to send me all other suggestions as a comment to this article on my website, and I will add them to the list.


An edited version of this article was published in The Irish Times, 28 November 2009






Top shops for Eco travel gifts

There are green gifts galore out there for ethically minded travellers. From mags to bags here are a few of the things that I would be over the moon to find under my sustainable Christmas tree.


Top of my list is the solar powered backpack, which sounds more like something Buzz Lightyear would wear on his travels. Unfortunately it won’t zap you across the planet using solar power, but it will power all the gadgets you want to take with you on your travels. It comes in three different sizes, all with mini solar panels on the front. One hour in direct sun will power your iPod for 3 hours, and your mobile for an over an hour. You can leave it by a sunny window to this, but this is really a bag for the beach or going on a hike, charging your MP3 as you doze or dander.  There is a backup system to plug into a cigarette lighter socket in case of no sun, although you can leave it by a sunny window to charge it. This is not an eco-gimmick. It does what it says on the panel and has been brilliantly reviewed by all the gadget experts (from $199,  

Ecoshop in Greystones, County Wicklow (shop online at, stocks most of Terence Baylis’ s fantastic eco-inventions. Famous for his wind-up radio, he now has a range of wind-up gadgets, from a wind-up light (€44.95)  to a wind-up media player (on offer at €245). The latter does too many things for me to get my head around, bar makng me a cup of tea. One Irish invention which does make cup of tea, however, is the Kelly Kettle, and my favourite purchase of the year. Invented by Mayo fishing enthusiasts, this inspired lightweight water boiler has your cup of tea ready in minutes by just burning a few sticks. You can even put a mini-frying pan on top and fry an egg at the same time. Campers’ heaven. From €42,

For outdoor travel gear, Patagonia is hard to beat. With an exemplary environmental policy, they measure the carbon footprint of their products, use organic cottons, make fleeces out of recycled plastic bottles, use hemp and chlorine-free wool, and are generally my ‘top’ shop.  You can shop online at or visit their shop in Exchequer St., Dublin.  

If I could pack any scarf into my backpack, it would be Ali Hewson’s ethical clothing company Edun’s double layer white cotton one, with their trademark Rilke poem design (€70, Her collection of jeans and t-shirts, and easy-to-throw-in-a-bag dresses are pretty much top of my wish list too.

Shoes are always hard when packing. For New Year’s Day head-clearing beach walks check out the natural felt lace-up boots at Natural Collection’s website. Easier to pack than wellies, and more on trend, for sure. The same company has the best eco-beach sandals around too, made out of cars’ bits and pieces like seat belts, tyres and reused canvas ( You’ll also find the best range of Fairtrade organic canvas Converse-style sneakers at one of my top ecogift websites

One of my other indispensable travel items is a pashmina, for cosy naps, wrapping up on a beach, or dressing up in the evening. You can buy a Fairtrade mohair one, handloomed and hand-dyed in South Africa, from for £45. Or Oxfam also sells a black wool mix chunky shawl for keeping out the chills on the hills (currently reduced from €29.99 to €9.99,

For reading material, I have to push ecoescape:Ireland, because I wrote it, and people seem to like it. Available from most good bookshops I hope, or you can order it, and the UK version, from Alastair Sawday’s Green Places to Stay is also excellent, ( Another idea is to buy a subscription to a magazine. I love Wanderlust for detailed and brilliantly written travel articles, and an editorial team which is wholly committed to ecotourism principles (£22.80 for NI or £30 or Euro equivalent for European countries, For younger travellers getting a subscription to National Geographic Kids magazine is a great Grandparent sort of present, and is available from their UK website, at £35.88 for twelve monthly issues (


My favourite smellies on the market at the moment have to be those made by Voya, the famous seaweed bathhouse in Strandhill Sligo. They have developed an organic seaweed product range, using sustainable and organic seaweed from across the road, and they are simply gorgeous. They have a travel pack of the softest shampoo, shower gel, moisturiser, packed in an organic cotton travel bag (, €40). Mind you, nothing beats the real thing, so a train ticket to Sligo, and a voucher for one of their heavenly organic seaweed baths would make my Christmas anytime. If you haven’t tried one yet, you are missing out. 


(This article was first published in The Irish Times, 27 November 2008)