The Holidays often mean different things to different people, but whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, each tradition involves similar rituals –decorating, entertaining, and gift-giving. And for many of us, travel is also part of the equation. If greening your holiday tradition is important to you, here are some tips for making minor adjustments that can go a long way to reducing your footprint both this holiday season and for many seasons to come.
1. To Tree or Not to Tree?
Since the first trees were literally cut down and displayed in family homes nearly two centuries ago, the Christmas tree has played a huge role in our cultural identification with and celebration of Christmas. By the 1960s, our desire for convenience (and perhaps a little kitsch) gave rise to the artificial tree industry. And while many people still opt for the natural choice, the first major question that springs to mind for those looking to be more eco-friendly, is whether or not to purchase a tree at all.
Natural trees are always preferable to synthetic ones –most of which are made from petroleum by-products and can pose health hazards in the event of a fire due to toxins that are released into the air from burning. If cutting down a tree just so you can enjoy it for a few weeks seems unnecessarily wasteful, consider a live potted tree. You can place it anywhere in your home and after the season is over replant it in your yard or donate it to an organization that will plant it somewhere for you. This option eliminates the hassle of disposing of a natural tree especially if you live somewhere where there are no tree recycling programs or you don’t have access to a wood chipper. If you opt to go with a real tree, consult the National Christmas Tree Association’s web site for a list of organizations that can help you recycle or replant your tree.
Of course, the greenest way to go is to skip the tree altogether. If you’re longing for the smell and ambience that comes with a real tree, you can re-create it by diffusing essential oils like Fir Balsam or Fir Douglas, Spruce Hemlock, and/or Scotch Pine. Mix in essential oils of orange, cinnamon, clove, ginger, nutmeg and cedar wood to experience the full spectrum of holiday scents.
2. Deck the Halls with Natural Options
For many, the tree is merely a mechanism for displaying ornaments, and the joy of the season comes mostly from creating or acquiring, and hanging seasonal decorations. The greenest option here is ornaments made from all natural materials like dried fruits and popcorn, pinecones, and recycled material like metal, paper, and fabrics, including ribbons that can be used to make decorative bows.
Of course nothing adds more ambience to your holiday décor than lighting –whether it’s wrapped around a tree or strung along your windows. Now there is a wide selection of indoor and outdoor LED (Light Emitting Diodes) Christmas lights that can rival any of the traditional versions you’ve used over the years and have far superior energy efficiency. They have a lifespan of up to twenty years, use almost no energy when you plug them in, and they remain cool to the touch –minimizing any potential fire hazard. For outdoor lighting, consider solar powered light strings –especially if you live in a location that gets a reasonable amount of sunlight during winter months.
3. Cool Gifts in Natural Garb
Holiday gift giving is probably the area that offers the greatest opportunity for deepening sustainability. From fair trade items like jewelry, crafts, clothing, and even food to organic baby toys and furniture, to making donations to local non-profits and charities on behalf of others, to volunteering or giving gifts of time or in-kind services. Re-gifting is a perfectly acceptable way to minimize waste following the principle of the 3 Rs (Re-use, Reduce and Recycle) –provided the items you’re re-gifting bring some value to the people you plan to give them to.
Culinary and handmade gifts are an excellent choice. It’s hard not to love a box of handmade cookies, a beautiful holiday cake, or even a carefully prepared meal made in your kitchen with love. If you’re too busy to cook, you can do a variation on this theme by making gift baskets with all the ingredients necessary to prepare a batch of your famous chocolate chip cookies or a delicious pasta dinner. To keep it as green as possible, be sure to use organic, fair trade, or locally produced ingredients.
Try to keep the amount of gift-wrap you use to a minimum and forgo typical wrapping paper in favor of recycled or recyclable Kraft or white butcher paper. You can embellish your plain paper wrapping with reusable fabric ribbons like grosgrain, satin or organdy. Or opt for all natural materials like Raffia and Sinamay. You can also try read-made velvet cloth bags or organza pouches.
4. Entertaining with a Conscious Touch
Whether it’s dinner parties, buffets or cocktail receptions, you can certainly make your entertaining more sustainable both at home and at work. Starting with the invitations themselves. Instead of paper invitations, why not use an electronic invitation service like Evite to notify everyone? If you prefer paper invitations, use 100% recycled, bleach-free or FSC-certified paper. I f you want to be really innovative try products from Ellie Pooh –paper products made from Elephant dung! If you’re hosting a big affair that involves printing invitations use a local green printer who can print on recycled stock using soy-based inks.
As for decorations, keep it simple. Use soy candles with lead-free wicks to create an ambience or use LED lights to be energy-efficient. Consider making decorative centerpieces with objects found in your backyard like pine boughs, sticks, and beautiful leaves; fresh or dried herb bundles; or bowls of potpourri made from natural ingredients like dried rose petals, citrus peel, cloves or other fruits and spices. Arrange them in a decorative container made of a sustainable wood or bamboo. Or purchase organic flowers from a local florist.
When planning your menu, remember to stick with locally grown produce, organic ingredients, free-range and hormone-free meats and poultry, and sustainably caught seafood –whether you’re doing the cooking or hiring someone else to do it. Use the good china and glasses instead of disposable plates, cups, and plastic cutlery. Not only is this more sustainable, it really enhances the ambience. If you must use a less expensive option, then opt for reusable dinner plates and real silverware or fully compostable dinnerware. Finally, set up clearly marked recycling bins or boxes for bottles and cans, and separate ones for plastics, paper, and compostable items. It may seem like a lot of extra work, but it’s well worth it and will make cleaning up a breeze.
5. Carbon Neutral Travel, Online Shopping, and Holiday Cards
Minimizing your carbon footprint is one of the best things you can do during the holiday season –especially with all the travel and time you typically spend in cars, trains or planes.
If you must travel this year, use public transportation whenever possible. Taking the train or bus instead of a flight is preferable, but if you must fly to your destination, try to book a direct flight as taking off and landing requires serious amounts of fuel.
Shopping online is another great way to reduce the time, energy, and fuel wasted driving to the mall, getting stuck in traffic jams, and endlessly circling around looking for parking. Shipping carriers like UPS now offer merchants the opportunity to purchase carbon offsets for their shipments. Ask online retailers if they use this option. Or take advantage of online retailers who offer electronic gift cards or certificates.
And finally, skip mailing out holiday cards especially if your list is long. Consider using online card services like Paperless Post or for more whimsical offerings try Jacquie Lawson Animated E-cards.