No matter what holiday you celebrate, the end-of-year months tend to be steeped in excesses. From food and drink to shopping and spending, we have a tendency to overdo it. The hustle and bustle can certainly put a strain on you, but it also leaves its mark on the environment—both locally and globally.
Whether you think global warming is a sham or you strive for a zero-carbon footprint, it’s safe to say that a healthy planet is a good thing for all of us.
Sure, thinking and acting sustainably may take a bit more time and effort, but if being green is your (old or new) thing, here are a few ideas to consider.
From November to January, we are a swirling motion of planes, trains, buses, and cars. While sometimes a coast-to-coast trip is necessary to reach those far-flung families and friends, there are a few things you can do to cut your contribution to the chaos.
Carry It On
Not only will you avoid the annoying and stressful possibility of lost luggage (especially when it contains presents!), but you’ll also greatly reduce your carbon footprint by packing lightly. The heavier the plane, the more energy it requires to fly—and those pounds add up! Pack travel-sized toiletries and buy your gifts when you get there, or have them shipped directly.
Give Yourself Some Credit(s)
Some airlines allow you to buy emission credits at the time of ticket purchase to offset the greenhouse gas emissions of your trip. You can visit www.carbonfund.org to calculate your carbon footprint and purchase credits that help fund global renewable energy, energy efficiency, and reforestation projects.
While planes are generally the fastest way to travel long distances, unending security lines, crowds, and cancelled flights add a complexity of stressors to this option. If you have a flexible travel schedule, consider making your journey a part of the destination with a bucolic train ride. Amtrak travel is about 20 percent more energy-efficient than air or road transportation.
Avoid mall madness and follow these easy guidelines for a gift that will continue to give long after the wrapping paper has been recycled.
Wrap Things Up
Improve on your grandmother’s funny pages wrapping paper idea by making use of that stack of magazines you’ve been hoarding. From high-fashion to food, beautiful images abound in magazines. Personalize your gifts by choosing appropriate pages from news, sports, or fashion periodicals. Even better, use fragrance inserts to really make your gifts stand out.
Support Local Farms
Community supported agriculture (CSA) programs are a great way to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Surprise the chef on your list with a share to a CSA farm, and you’ll be giving two gifts: a weekly assortment of seasonal fruits and veggies, and support to local farmers. Find a CSA farm near you.
Give the Gift of Experience
As grinchly as it may sound, the most sustainable gift is to not give one at all. While this may not go over well with kids and teenagers, consider the option for those who are less materially inclined. Tickets to a concert or play, or a gift certificate for a massage or guitar lessons cuts down on wasteful packaging and gives the receiver something to look forward to.
Festive? Yes. Sustainable? Not really. But decking the halls doesn’t have to mean wasting energy. You can maintain tradition while remaining eco-friendly.
Get the Real Dirt on Fake Trees
The pros and cons on both sides of the Christmas tree debate are endless. However, from an environmental standpoint, a real tree is the more sustainable option. Although they require care during their eight to 12 year growing period, real trees also benefit the environment during that time by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen.
Real trees are compostable, unlike fake trees, which are often made of metal and a harmful lead-producing plastic called PVC. The production and shipment—mostly from overseas—of fake trees is usually more energy-intensive than the delivery of real ones.
Light the Way
Eco-friendly LED mini-lights are great for decorating trees and homes alike. Try solar-powered strings and spotlights for outdoor decorating, and minimize your lights display this year. Don’t forget to turn off your lights before you go to bed, or remember to set your tree and house lights to timers that automatically switch them off at a certain time every night.
Send Virtual Holiday Cards
Skip the expensive holiday cards and save on paper and postage. Paperless invitations and holiday greeting cards are less time-consuming and are great energy-savers. Some e-card companies even allow you to design a virtual envelope to authenticate the experience.
If this is one tradition you can’t let go of, make new greetings from old holiday cards. Simply cut out the front of the cards and write on the back like a postcard.
As the culmination of the day’s festivities, the holiday meal is more than just dinner. It’s a chance to gather together with loved ones you may not see very often and share good food with good company. Plan a feast this year that will not only sustain you and your guests, but also the environment.
Think Globally, Act Locally
Crops and livestock not grown in your area require an incredible amount of energy to make it to your plate. While shopping for your holiday meal, take the “100 Mile Challenge,” and try to get all your produce from sources located within a 100-mile radius.
Keep an eye out for “locally grown” signs in your grocery store and frequent farmers markets, where you’ll likely have a choice of fresh local produce, beef, and poultry.
It used to be that the only way to enjoy strawberries in December was to can or freeze them in July. These days, out-of-season crops are shipped all over the country (and the world), making them readily available in grocery stores and burning up resources to get them from farm to plate. But these long trips lead to lots of wasted energy.
Use the seasonal guide on fieldtoplate.com to familiarize yourself with your local growing seasons, then try to limit your menu to what’s available.
Delete the Meat (or at Least Know Where It Comes From)
Because it requires energy, land, and water to raise livestock and the crops that feed them, meat and poultry tend to be the most unsustainable items on the plate. Challenge yourself and your family to come up with a menu that doesn’t involve a meat product.
If you’re set in your carnivorous ways, research local sustainable farms in your area and handpick the star of your holiday meal. If you can’t find a local farm, buying grocery store turkey or ham with an “organic” or “free-range” label usually ensures the livestock was raised naturally and humanely, without the use of antibiotics.
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