The holidays will be here before we know it, and while seasonal celebrations are filled with joy, laughter, and precious family time, they can also result in a great amount of environmental waste. But by taking some key steps ahead of time, the holidays can be holly, jolly, and sustainable. You'll be surprised at the simple swaps you can make that will greatly help protect our earth. We spoke with sustainability expert Dr. Erica Dodds, the COO of the Foundation for Climate Restoration, who shared five easy ways that you can make your holiday celebrations more sustainable, starting now.
Meet the Expert
1. Rent a Christmas Tree
If you and your family celebrate Christmas, you can still partake in all of the fun that comes with decking the halls without having to purchase a tree, all thanks to rental companies that make it easy to borrow an evergreen. "Not only will the tree be delivered to your door, but when you’re done, the company will replant the tree," Dodds notes. Even artificial trees, which can be reused year after year, have a large carbon footprint, Dodds comments. Plus, renting a tree is also an ultra effective option for those with limited storage space—city apartment dwellers, we're looking at you! One additional perk: There's no need to deal with transportation or struggle with tying a bulky tree to the roof of your car, given that rental companies handle this aspect for you.
Composting post-celebration is also key. "At the end of the season we make sure to take any of the wreaths and other greenery we’ve used to decorate and pop it in the compost bin, so nothing goes to waste," notes Leanne Ford, interior designer, author, HGTV star, and World Vision supporter.
2. Decorate With LED Lights
The month of December is associated with glimmering lights in store windows and throughout our homes. You can still participate in the fun that comes with wrapping lights around your front porch and, of course, adding a strand or two to the tree. However, Dodds suggests swapping a traditional strand of Christmas lights for LED lights. It turns out that doing so comes with a number of benefits. She explains, "Not only will LED lights save you both money and energy, they are more efficient, durable, and longer-lasting than fluorescent or incandescent lights."
3. Shop Local
'Tis the season for giving, but it's important to be thoughtful when making purchases, Dodds says. "Instead of ordering your gifts online, shop locally or send your family and friends a digital gift card for their favorite store," she suggests. Why exactly is shopping local so critical when it comes to helping the environment? "Not only will this drastically reduce packaging waste, but the gift will travel a much smaller distance, ultimately reducing the item's carbon footprint," Dodds explains.
Shopping local for food for your holiday celebrations also helps the earth. Dodds adds, "Buying organic produce and meat from your local farmer’s market can drastically reduce your carbon footprint." Make a morning out of it and bring the entire family along to scoop up some locally sourced goods before spending the afternoon baking seasonal treats.
4. Think Beyond Traditional Wrapping Paper
You know the drill—you spend hours wrapping gifts for the entire family only for everything to be torn open and wrappings discarded in minutes (sometimes seconds!). Why not make this practice more sustainable? Dodds offers a few alternatives that you can easily implement this season. "Instead of wrapping gifts in single-use wrapping paper, consider using eco-friendly wrapping paper alternatives, or festive fabrics that can be reused," she says. We particularly like the idea of assigning a fabric pattern to each member of the family so that everyone knows whose gifts are whose—no need for paper tags or stickers.
And don't forget to stockpile wrapping materials in the months leading up to the holidays. "I always save the craft paper that comes in boxes throughout the year," Ford says. "There’s nothing wrong with crinkled paper, it actually looks really pretty. I also love to use twine and vintage rope for wrapping gifts."
5. Give a Gift That Gives Back
Rather than stocking up on more "stuff," make a donation this season that will do good and pave the way for a better future for our planet. "Instead of buying material items, make a charitable contribution in honor of a friend, colleague or family member, to nonprofits working tirelessly to fight climate change," Dodds offers. A favorite of hers? The Foundation for Climate Restoration, where she happens to be COO. "Their work is pushing boundaries and influencing politicians and global movements to adopt the mindset that we can restore the climate."
Consumer Guide to Energy-Efficient Lighting. U.S. Department of Energy.