This morning I cycled to work through the newly settled snow and for the first time this year - found myself in the winter holiday spirit. Here in Amsterdam at the Greenpeace International office - we’re surrounded by a snowy white cityscape. Some folks are working from home while others are already on holiday but for those of us in the office today - the atmosphere is nothing but festive. A few of my colleagues even took a break from working at their desk to spread a little Yuletide cheer - just for you.
OK - now let’s get down to business! For many of us - it’s nearly time for the holidays and by now you may already have all the gifts, decorations and food prepared and planned but if you’re like me - you haven’t even started yet. Most of us turn into super consumers around now, rushing to the shops often without thinking much about the ecological impacts of our purchases. But with a little inspiration and knowledge - you can easily celebrate in style while keeping your environmental impact to a minimum.
I asked folks on Twitter, together with the staff here, what they do for the holidays. So here’s a list of the best ideas that will be helpful to anyone looking for inspiration. And I’ve made light green and deep green options for you to choose from. There's also links to heaps of useful information so be sure to click on them.
1) Tree - real or fake?
There isn’t a simple answer for this. Many people believe that real trees are bad but some are from sustainable sources and grown without environmentally harmful pesticides and fertilizers. And you may find a fake tree made without energy intensive materials and harmful plastics like PVC that can be reused for 15 years or more. So it’s best to decide what suits you and then look for the most planet friendly version you can find.
Light green: Get a potted real tree (doesn’t need to be a typical Christmas tree) that ends up in your garden or find a sustainably sourced tree and make sure you hand it over to a tree recycling program when you’re done with it.
Deep green: Don’t buy a tree at all and put your decorations on something else (your fireplace, windows or spouse!)
2) Avoid flying and travel lightly
Getting on planes at any time of the year is something we should all be doing less because it’s so bad for the climate. But during the holidays this is especially hard because many families live so far apart now. If you really need to fly somewhere this month - try to travel by any other means for the rest of the year.
Light green: Take public transport when possible. Giving up your car for the holidays is not only good for the planet - it’s good for you. Nobody needs to be the designated driver after a party if you all take the train and if it’s icy where you are - you probably want to avoid driving anyway. If you’re going to miss the last train home - maybe you can arrange to stay the night.
Deep green: Stay home and avoid traveling. Walk to anywhere close enough and enjoy a slower, relaxed pace of life for the holidays.
3) Eat less meat and buy locally produced food.
If you’re cooking for the holidays - consider the carbon footprint of your food.
Light green: Buy produce from your nearest farm shop or farmers’ market. Increase the vegetable options on the table while serving less meat that’s organic and locally sourced.
Deep green: Have yourself a very veggie holiday. No meat and easy on the dairy. You could even try going vegan if you really feel like a challenge!
Great tip: Make fantastic meals with the leftovers. There’s some great recipes online by famous UK chefs.
4) Get creative with your decorations
Light green: You can reuse decorations from year to year so make sure you wrap them all up carefully and store them away safely. If you need more this year - try making your own green festive decorations. And check out Recycle Now’s fantastic guide to home made decorations.
Deep Green: Use natural items like pine cones, holly leaves, ribbon wrapped cinnamon sticks, dried oranges.
5) Lights and candles
Light green: If you haven’t done this already it’s time to throw away your incandescent holiday lights and splash out on some LEDs. They use a lot less energy and last a lot longer. If you don’t want to throw out your old lights just yet - you can simply restrict their use by switching them off whenever you are not home or near the lights. Paraffin candles are made from petroleum residues, so they don’t do your health or the environment any good. Soya, beeswax or natural vegetable-based candles are better because they are biodegradable, smoke-free, and are more eco-friendly.
Deep green: Have a popcorn party and thread organic popcorn on a string with a needle to put around your tree instead of lights. You can make different colours of popcorn with natural food colouring. It’s more fun if you make enough popcorn to eat in addition to decorating. One of our supporters on Twitter suggested solar outdoor lights!
6) Season’s Greenings
It’s traditional to send cards wishing people a Happy Christmahanukwanza/ New Year but this usually means a lot of bleached paper, toxic ink and waste.
Light green: Use cards printed on recycled paper with natural inks or make your own.
Deep green: Save your money and send an ecard instead or pick up the phone for a change!
7) Game on
Switch off your computer game console for a change and download the new free print & play board game “Deepsea Desperation” to play with friends and family. We’ve had some fun playing this during lunch breaks in the office and it’s worth giving this a go instead of buying the latest board game in the shops that you’ll probably only play once before it ends up on the shelf gathering dust. You can also print this on recycled paper and give it to your friends instead of a Christmas card.
8) Energy saving (for Northern Hemishphere folks only)
Light green: Buy yourself and your family some warm pyjamas as gifts. Wear that terribly fashionable knitted jumper that your Aunt gives you and turn the thermostat down a notch. Make sure your house is well insulated and draught free.
Deep green: Go to sleep with a hot water bottle under a winter duvet and turn your heating way down for the night. Offer to research and organise a switch to a green energy provider for your family’s home.
9) Gifts galore
There’s so many possibilities for green presents but here’s some of my favorites including a couple of shameless Greenpeace promotions.
Light green: Buy gifts that make it easier for others to be green. Composting equipment, gardening tools, native plants and seeds, organic body products, vegetarian cook book, a walking holiday guide for your country. Give energy saving items like CFL or LED bulbs (find some really nice ones so you can convince people that it’s possible to produce light that’s just as warm and atmospheric as incandescent bulbs!). Order your friends some Greenpeace merchandise!
Deep green: Go through your bookshelf and give books you probably wont read again - better yet - give one of your books that inspired you to care more about the environment. Give someone a subscription to an environmental magazine. I did this for my sister with The Ecologist once and she loved it!. Donate for the Rainbow Warrior 3 on someone’s behalf and make a personal certificate for them. Give a gift that keeps giving - via Oxfam.
10) That’s a wrap!
I’ve used pretty material and ribbons to wrap up gifts and then reused them year after year but if you’re going for the totally non-disposable wrapping thing - it’s difficult to close up the packages without using something sticky. Whatever you use - try to save it and use it again next year.
Light green: If you want that exciting tearing sound - use recycled wrapping paper. Gift bags can easily be reused by the people you give them to.
Deep green: Use material, scarfs or newspaper.
Thanks to those of you who tweeted us your ideas! If you have additional suggestions please leave a comment.
Have a wonderful holiday, stay safe and be green. Unlike Kermit - we think it's relatively easy.
This post was originally inspired by a feature on the Greenpeace Africa site.
Thanks to Greenpeace Russia for the image of Santa on an inflatable with magical migrating penguins at the North Pole!