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• I'm wondering what I can do to make a difference in terms of environmental impact when it comes to upcoming holiday gift purchases.

- J. Sanders, Cedar Hills

Consumption, particularly in the form of gifts of things that aren't necessarily essential to living, always has an impact. The challenge is to choose goods and services that get your message across (that you care, etc.) but don't add to the recipients' pile of possessions.

Look for things that restore and maintain the ability to thrive and flourish, and even encourage responsible use (a gift certificate for a book, an entry into a bike tour or a pound of Fair Trade Certified organic coffee).

When it comes to gifts for children, in particular, you can make a difference by letting packaging drive your purchasing decision. Most of the stuff shipped from Asia comes with an excessive wad of twisted wires and plastic reinforcements that end up in the waste stream (not to mention the environmental impact of high-seas shipping).

The sustainability ideal reminds us that consumers are human beings whose needs aren't just fulfilled by acquiring things or having the latest gadget.

• Is organic coffee the most sustainable choice?

- S. Tyler, North Portland

Certified organic coffee is an excellent choice if you want chemical-free coffee. But organic coffee alone is not particularly sustainable.

Certified Fair Trade trumps organic in that department, and the best is Certified Fair Trade and organic. The nonprofit TransFair has offered third-party certification of coffee since 1999.

Fair Trade certification is meant to safeguard the financial security of the growers/farmers through ensuring they are paid fair prices by the importers, and it gives access to nonpredatory loans and capital needed to market and sell their goods.

It also ensures that they have money to invest in their community infrastructure and to support families through health care and education.

Fair Trade farmers also get a fair trade premium for environmentally friendly practices, which many times leads to conversion of conventional fields to organic.

By the way, be aware: Coffee labeled but not specifically certified 'fair trade' can be a marketing ruse to attract customers.

- Jo Ostgarden