Corporate gifts go eco-friendly

Forget the paper weight or desk clock, this year companies are saying happy holidays with an acre of rainforest.

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By Steve Hargreaves, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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Companies eschew the usual holiday basket in favor of something a bit more useful - the eco-gift.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- We've all gotten them - useless company gifts that no one really wants.

There's the paper weight, useful when those giant gusts of wind whip through the office. The desk clock, just in case the clock on your computer, phone, wall and wrist simultaneously short circuit. Or the ultimate gift grab bag - beer cozy, pencil sharpener, visor, foam stress ball and vinyl Frisbee all inside a 60-oz mega slushie plastic cup.

It seems like a lot of companies are finally starting to wise up, eschewing the usual disposables and consumables in favor of something a bit more useful - the eco-gift.

"There's been so much attention in the media the past year, people figured it out," said Pam Davis, owner of Our Green House, a Sandy Hook, Conn.-based retailer of environmentally friendly products.

Davis said she's seen a roughly 50 percent rise in companies looking to buy green products in bulk this year over last year - things like reusable water bottles for the office, reusable shopping bags, or bottle openers made from old bike chains.

Rob Glickman, vice president of marketing at TheGreenOffice.com, said his company had so much interest in holiday gifts that they added a special section on their Web site highlighting the company's offerings, including a pen made from recycled wood and fair trade coffee beans.

"We aren't really a gift company, but we kept getting requests," said Glickmann, whose firm mostly sells office items like recycled paper and non-toxic ink and cleaning supplies.

The gift doesn't even have to be a take-home item.

Green Mountain Energy, an Austin, Texas-based company that sells renewable power to consumers and provides carbon offsets, began selling trees as gifts last year.

For $9.95, the buyer gets one tree planted in Texas in their name, plus a card explaining how the tree sucks up as much carbon dioxide as driving a car for 740 miles would emit, and an organic piece of paper embedded with chile pepper seeds that, when planted, will sprout into chile pepper plants.

Green Mountain has received hundreds of bulk orders for the trees and chilies, up from hardly any last year, said Gillan Taddune, the company's chief environmental officer.

"It's really got a lot of momentum," said Taddune, adding that the company plans on expanding its line of green gift offerings next year.

Firms that buy the eco-friendly gifts seem pleased.

"The response has been extremely positive," said Ellen Mann, a spokesperson for General Electric's (GE, Fortune 500) commercial finance division, which scrapped its usual gift baskets and instead gave an acre of rainforest to 1,000 customers. "Everybody gets a bottle of wine. They were excited to receive something different."

See gallery of green gifts To top of page

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.