Great green gadgets for the holidays

No matter what your faith is, or how you're celebrating this month, it’s hard to get through the holidays without creating a serious amount of waste. We’re talking numerous shipment boxes, mountains of wrinkled gift wrapping, and, for some, a slowly dying pine tree in the living room. If Earth Day had a polar opposite, it could easily be any day between Thanksgiving and Christmas.Thankfully, some smart entrepreneurs, start-ups, and corporations have realized this and blessed us with lots of cool, eco-friendly, options.

Belkin Conserve Insight

If you or someone you care about is concerned about how much power their PC, XBox, or printer is hogging, consider Belkin’s Conserve Insight ($30). This little white wonder works just like a power plug, but also has a black-and-white LCD screen showing the average amount of watts a device is using as well as the CO2—that is, carbon dioxide—it is emitting. Perhaps the coolest part: Tapping the dollar sign button to see how much your favorite device is costing you. Talk about a serious incentive to put your appliances in energy-saving mode, if not shut them down completely.

In fact, one of the biggest benefits here is seeing if your devices are sucking up energy even when they are "off." For example, Belkin notes that some plugs, like those for cell phones, will continue to pull energy from the outlet even when the device itself isn’t connected to the plug. Little leaks like these can add up to long-term bill discrepancies.

Nest thermostat

Another item worth looking into for homeowners is the Nest ($250), a smart, dynamic gadget that replaces your thermostat and learns your heating habits. Wake up at 6 am every weekday, but sleep in until 9 am on Saturdays? Nest will begin predicting what your heating and cooling needs are, usually within the first two weeks of use. The device will track your heating and cooling costs too, and keep you informed on how your decisions are affecting the bottom line.

Nest's best feature, however, may be its capability to control the temperature remotely through the Nest website or the Nest mobile app. It seems to take us a step closer to the remote-controlled house that Bill Gates talked about years ago.

Although Nest’s second-generation model is its newest version, the more budget-friendly ($200) first-gen model is still available. Or, if you want to splurge, you can get the Nest “concierge” service to install the device for $119 (and any additional Nests in the house for $25 each). However, the company says that most users will be able to get their device up and running within 30 minutes.

Sprout watch

Smartphones are making watches redundant, so wearing a timepiece is more about making a statement than just telling time. Sprout Watches do both wonderfully, pushing out stylish designs with 80 to 86 percent eco-friendly material. The base is made with corn resin instead of plastic and is just as sturdy on your wrist, but according to Sprout, in a compost environment, the corn resin breaks down almost completely within a year. The cotton band is organic, meaning it is made without toxic materials and minimal environmental impact. Sprout puts equal effort into getting conflict-free diamonds, non-endangered mother-of-pearl shells, and recyclable crystal.

A favorite from the Sprout catalog is the new Sprout Watch ST/3600 ($70). Green looks good here, from the eco-friendly olive strap down to the black bamboo dial. Its mercury-free battery keeps the main time accurate, while the three sub-dials will appeal to techies interested in minute details. It is also water-resistant, making it a great pick for environmentally conscious travelers.

House of Marley's Chant

Speaking of travelers, music-loving wanderers also need strong, compact portable speakers—so they would probably appreciate the new House of Marley’s Chant ($60). The House of Marley brand is known for being socially aware, and the Chant design is no exception. The speaker and its case are made of eco-friendly bamboo and canvas while the device itself runs on a rechargeable 6-hour battery. It can connect to your gadgets via Bluetooth or a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Apple was impressed enough with the Chant to feature it on its store when the speaker launched in the fall. House of Marley celebrated this success by increasing the amount of money from sales that it gives to charity. (Its standard charity donations give 5 percent of the company's annual profits to child music education programs).

Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio

If the new Microsoft Surface tablets are giving you keyboard envy every time you pick up your iPad, or if you need to get a handy accessory for a tablet fan, consider the Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio ($130).

The Solar Keyboard Folio not only provides solid road-tested protection as a case or cover for the iPad 2 and later-generation iPads (sorry—it doesn't support the original iPad), but when you flip it open, out comes a full QWERTY keyboard ready for action. The smart part here is the solar panels on the back of the cover, which recharge the Bluetooth keyboard even in low-light environments. Another bonus: Despite the keys and the solar panels, the cover adds only about a pound of additional weight to your iPad.

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