Friday, December 16, 2011

Tips for a sustainable, environmentally-friendly holiday season

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,
A donation to a charity—and a card on recycled paper, along with a basket of local produce.

The holidays are often associated with plenty of activity involving buying, sharing, and throwing away. But the celebrations can become more friendly to the environment by rethinking a few traditions.

Ludovic Lemaitre ’11, Randolph College’s sustainability coordinator, and John Abell, a Randolph economics professor who studies sustainability, recently created a list of ways to make the holidays more friendly to the environment and the community.

From local food to recycled giftwrap, here are 12 ways to make a more sustainable season:

1.      When you prepare for holiday dinners, stop by your local farmers’ market. Greens, meat, fruit, and dairy products are in season and often of better quality than similar supermarket items. At the market, you get fresh produce and invest in your local community.
John Abell

Even if you are traveling out of town for a holiday dinner, you can contribute to the sustainability of the meal by bringing locally-produced food from growers you know. A cooler and ice will help you transport produce, turkey, chicken, or a ham.

2.      Use reusable plates and cups. They are classier than disposables, and cut down on landfill waste.

3.      Look for recycled, fair trade, or locally-made gifts. Yard sales, antiques, and thrift stores are also great places to find quality, meaningful, and low-impact gifts. Gifts without batteries are a bonus, because the recipient will not have to buy batteries nor throw them away.

4.      If you want to offer an electronic or electric appliance as a gift, select s product with the Energy Star certification. It will cost less to operate and will be more friendly to the environment in the long run.

5.      When you wrap gifts, use reusable cloth, personalized brown paper grocery bags, or the comics section of your newspaper.

6.      Your gift doesn’t have to be something you can hold in your hand. Go for services such as dance lessons, performance tickets, whitewater rafting trips, camping trips, etc. Also, consider giving a financial gift to a charity in the name of your family and friends.

Because people wish for their charitable contributions to be used wisely, you might want to peruse Charity Navigator, where you can learn about how charities use their contributions.

7.      Go light on lights! There are many ways to decorate without making the electric meter go round. Look for LED lights and other reusable decorative items. Check out d├ęcor from fair-trade suppliers like Ten Thousand Villages, make your own decorations, or buy local.

8. Try a potted Christmas tree that you can use for several years, or a plastic one made of recycled content that you can use for a lifetime.

Ludovic Lemaitre

9. Donate items you don’t use anymore. It will open up space in your closet or living room, make other people happy, and give new life to your unwanted items.

10. Save paper by sending electronic greeting cards. It will save on paper. However, if you feel paper cards have an irreplaceable feel to them, use recycled and FSC-certified paper.

11.   When the holiday season is over, recycle everything you do not need: plastic bottles, aluminum cans, wine bottles, gift packages, etc. Compost food leftover from holiday parties.

12.   Give the gift of time. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, nursing home, homeless shelter, or another community organization.

Abell pointed out that a change in gift giving habits could be met with some surprise as it departs from traditions. Therefore, the sustainable holiday habits might require careful consideration, conversation, and role modeling.

What do you think? Have you and your family made any changes to limit the environmental and social impact of your holiday celebrations? Tell us in the comments below.