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Giving Good Gifts And Doing Good

There’s nothing wrong with a candlelit dinner for two, of course. But if your sweetie’s got a soft spot for animals, the environment or just plain making the world a better place, the day that Cupid made offers a opportunity to warm your way into her (or his) heart with gifts that support their commitment to the greater good. Indeed, humanitarian and earth-friendly gifts not only do the world a favor, but lend to the holiday a greater sense of purpose. Extra perk: You end up looking like quite the sensitive significant other. And what could be more endearing than that?

Here’s a list of gift ideas that give back.

“Bloodless” Diamonds

If you’ve got some bling in mind for your Valentine this year, companies like Brilliant Earth and Leber Jeweler’s.

Earthwise Jewelry Collection carry conflict-free gems. The companies say their diamonds are mined with minimal environmental impact, free from human rights abuse and never used to finance civil wars in Africa. GreenKarat, which opposes diamond mining and does not accept freshly mined stones, also sells recycled gems and manmade diamonds which are chemically identical to natural stones.

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Recycled Gold

If your wallet’s too light for a bloodless diamond, many of the same jewelers that carry these gems also sell recycled gold jewelry – or at the very least gold that is mined using ecologically and socially acceptable methods. Check out Brilliant Earth, GreenKarat and Leber Jeweler’s. Vintage gold jewelry from your local antique store, of course, also minimizes your consumer footprint.

Donations To Charity

There are endless options here so take your pick. Or, better yet, find out what tugs at your honey’s heartstrings and make a donation in their name.

Children? Operation Smile provides surgery to children with facial abnormalities worldwide, while the Children’s Hunger Fund assists needy children both at home and abroad.

Humanity? The Peace Corp tackles everything from AIDS education to environmental preservation, while AmeriCares offers disaster relief in the U.S.

Animals? The Humane Society of the United States and Bestfriends Animal Society both provide sanctuary to abused and abandoned pets. That’s just a sample.

GuideStar.org maintains a searchable database of the leading nonprofits, while the BBB Wise Giving Alliance evaluates charities and helps donors make informed giving decisions.

Green Golf Courses

Golf courses are often criticized for their negative impact on the environment (water consumption, destruction of wildlife habitats, pesticide use), but you can play guilt-free if you select from one of the 2,110 courses in 24 countries that are certified “green” by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program. The Golf Environment Europe organization also certifies courses in Europe for environmental sustainability.

A Piece Of A Rainforest

Buy an acre or two of Brazilian rainforest or another threatened wildlife habitat from non-profit groups including the World Land Trust, the Tropical Rainforest Coalition and the Global Giving Foundation, where a $100 donation helps the organization’s partner, The Australian Rainforest Foundation, purchase 260 square feet of Australian rainforest.

Global Giving also offers a gift card (biodegradable, of course) which allows you to select from hundreds of humanitarian and environmental projects across the globe, including those that offer skills training for women in Guatemala and solar energy for low-income families in California.

Adopt A Pet

Soft and furry more your speed? Instead of surprising your Valentine with a puppy or kitten from the pet store, try rescuing one from the local shelter or scan the pure breed web sites for adoptable animals that need a home. (Just be sure your significant other is prepared for a pet!) Petfinder.com and 1-800-adopt-a-pet.com make your search a cinch.

Volunteer Vacation

There’s nothing like rolling up your sleeves together to cement your bond. If you’re planning a surprise getaway anytime soon, you might consider booking a volunteer vacation where you get to share a new experience and give back at the same time. Dozens of organizations offer service trips for willing volunteers.

Volunteers Steve and Susan Wilson are pictured on a Habitat build site. (2003)
Steffan Hacker
Volunteers Steve and Susan Wilson are pictured on a Habitat build site. (2003)

The Sierra Club,for example, sponsors more than 90 trips each year through its National Outings program, where volunteers help on a range of research projects from whale calving grounds in Maui to archaeological site restorations in New Mexico.

Earthwatch Institute also uses volunteers to collect field data on rainforest ecology and Wilderness Volunteers is looking for help at national parks across the country, where groups of volunteers restore natural habitats and repair trails and campsites. Sign yourselves up for an upcoming adventure and slip the itinerary in your Valentine’s Day card – a gesture that packs a particular punch if your sweetie’s been pushing you to get involved. Too much? No time off? No budget for airfare?

Habitat for Humanity solicits volunteers to tackle on residential housing projects in their own backyard. You can volunteer to work for a weekend with your local Habitat affiliate. Its Global Village Program also offers volunteer opportunities abroad.)

Organic Baskets

Don’t just grab a dozen red roses at the corner grocery store. Create your own earth-friendly Valentine’s Day basket with organic products, including flowers, chocolate and wine made without the use of harmful pesticides. (You can substitute beer if that’s your sweetheart’s pleasure.)

For sustainable grown flowers, Organic Bouquet, LocalHarvest, (which lets you search by zip code for organic family farms nearby) and even the leading national venders, FTD.com and 1-800-flowers.comoffer a wide selection.

Some of the most widely praised organic chocolates meanwhile are sold by Dagoba Organic Chocolate, Green & Black’s and Newman’s Own -- many of which are sold at organic grocery stores such as Whole Food’s and Trader Joe’s.

Looking for wine and beer? If your local liquor store leaves you lonely, The Organic Wine Company, Frey Vineyards and Organic Vintners have you covered. Wolaver’s and Pacific Western Brewing, meanwhile, offer a selection of organic lagers and ales.

Finally, if you’re not up for a scavenger hunt? An online search turns up countless companies that have done the work for you. For about $50, Well Baskets, Giftback.com and EcoExpress offer an assortment of green baskets overflowing with organic fruits, cookies, nuts and chocolate.

If you’re looking to step it up a notch, Diamond Organics carries a high-end selection, including the Coastal Wine and Cheese Basket with organic red wine, cheese from “dairy cattle raised with an ocean view,” a baguette of bread, a selection of organic fruit, smoked salmon and an organic bouquet for $139.

Eco-lingerie

No, really. Fashion designers including Stella McCartney are getting in on the planet-friendly lingerie sensation. British fashion label Enamore also creates a line of intimate apparel made from organic and sustainable fabrics, including hemp, natural cotton, silk and vintage fabrics. Other brands, including Ciel and Eco-Boudoir, area also sold by The Natural Store.com.

Valentine’s Day may be synonymous with romance, but no one ever said it has to be predictable. Forget the heart-shaped candles and commercial trappings of the holiday and shower your sweetie with gifts that make the world a better place -- and clearly show you love and admire the person within.