Gifts that treat the earth with kindness

Environmentalists take note. A new kind of Christmas mail order catalog is available that aims to please people who, among other things, want to conserve resources, test the purity of their drinking water, and get longer life from their light bulbs.

It is called the FREE (Fund for Renewable Energy and the Environment) Market Catalog and it lists more than 100 resources -- conserving gifts, gadgets, books, household items, tools, toys, and kits - chosen to remind us to treat the Earth gently.

The fund is a nonprofit organization, with 20,000 members around the country, that is now launching its initial nonprofit venture, a mail order business that, for the first time, will make available from a single source many of those energy-efficient, non-polluting products that are often so hard to find. These include low-flush toilets, redon testing kits, water purifiers, portable solar cookers, and small, affordable hydroelectric plants that enable you to make your own hydroelectricity.

Denis Hayes, a lawyer from Palo Alto, Calif., and president of FREE, said recently in New York that ``the essence of our idea was to create a catalog that makes available to people with environmental values a series of products that are congruent with those values, and that they cannot find in local supermarkets or hardware stores.

``We have no independent testing laboratory,'' he says, ``but looked up both government and private research, and testing results, and we tried to gauge already established consumer satisfaction by talking to many people who were already using the products.''

FREE expects to continue to ferret out new products as they come on the market, and to bring out successive issues of the catalog.

``We will continue to depend on members to keep alert to new developments in their areas and to keep us informed,'' Mr. Hayes explained. ``Our expectation is that the market out there is gigantic. Something like 90 percent of Americans term themselves `environmentalists,' although they often don't know exactly what the term means. They do know that they are concerned and that they want to save money as well as resources.''

Tina Hobson, executive director of FREE, left a job as Director of Consumer Affairs at the Department of Energy in Washington because she wanted to reach out to a broader audience, and to make more people more conscious of the environment. She sees present lethargy as a danger. But as gasoline prices rise again and electricity rates increase, she says, it will become increasingly important for people to know what is meant by renewables and by alternative energy. Her organization, she explains, addresses such fields as materials recycling, renewable energy, biological diversity, clean air and water, and topsoil preservation.

To order the FREE Market Catalog, send name, address and $2 check or money order to Department CA, The Free Market, 1001 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Suite 638, Washington, D.C. 20036.

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