Go Green for the Holidays

Make “sustainable” holiday choices when you are shopping, traveling, sending cards, decorating, and choosing gifts. When you save energy and resources, you protect the environment and safeguard health both now and for the future.

Whether you’re already prepared for the coming winter holidays, or you still have plans to make and gifts to buy, now is a good time to look at your usual holiday activities to see if you can make them more “sustainable.”

“Sustainability” is the responsible use of environmental resources in the present so that future generations will have enough to meet their needs.

This may seem like a lofty goal; how can any one person make a difference? Well, you already ARE making a difference when you reuse and recycle; compost; walk, bike, take transit, or drive low-emission vehicles; conserve water and electricity; join community clean-up efforts; or otherwise save resources.

The more people who participate in these energy- and resource-saving activities, the greater effect they will have on our planet. And a sustainable planet will result in better health and longer lives for the people and animals that live on it.

For many of us, our priority during the holidays is time spent with family and friends. But the holidays can also be a time when we spend too much and create too much waste.

Consider these statistics:

  • Americans throw away about 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.
  • If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.
  • About 35% of Americans have an unused Christmas present collecting dust in their closets

If you want to incorporate sustainability into your holiday celebrations, we have a list of suggestions for you. Some of them may spark your creativity – and even be fun! There’s a long list, so we suggest choosing just one or two to start.

Decorate with items that are energy-efficient and durable:

  • Buy an artificial tree that you can use for years to come
  • Buy a living tree you can plant outside or keep as a houseplant after the holidays
  • Dispose of your tree at a chipping facility or return it to the environment in other eco-friendly ways

Use energy efficiently:

  • Consider using few or no lights in your holiday decorations
  • Decorate with more energy efficient LED strings
  • Plug your decorative indoor and outdoor lights into a timer to save electricity
  • Decorate creatively and inexpensively with natural materials from your yard or with items you already own
  • Save money and resources by making your own gifts – knit, sew, bake, build, or create art; make calendars using your own photographs or a recipe book with favorite recipes

Use fewer resources when you shop, give presents, and wrap gifts:

  • Shop online
  • Take your own bags on shopping trips. Keep them in the car so they’re always available
  • Conserve energy when shopping by combining several trips in one, using mass transit, or carpooling
  • Give gifts that are durable, energy-efficient, recyclable, or made of natural products. Purchase gifts that are fair-trade, locally made or grown, or organically grown.
  • Buy local – support your local economy by buying from local merchants, craft shows or antique shops
  • Give in ways that also support your community: tickets to local theater performances, concerts, sport events, local attractions; museum memberships; gift certificates for a massage at a local spa, horseback riding, or a rock climbing lesson
  • Give your time and skill – coupons for household chores, meals, gardening, cleaning, window washing, car detailing, scheduled dog walks, or lessons in computer or smartphone use for senior citizens.
  • Donate to a charity or service organization in the name of a friend of a relative who supports that cause
  • Use creative materials for gift wrap
    • Scarves, fabric, handkerchiefs
    • Old maps, sheet music, advertisement
    • Reusable tins, baking pans, or other home or garden items
    • Send email cards or make your own
    • Reuse the fronts of old cards as holiday postcards or gift tags
    • Give cards that are eco-friendly

Consider alternatives to battery-powered toys. If you must provide batteries for a gift, be sure to buy rechargeable ones. If you are giving electronics, choose energy-saving items.

Eat sustainable food and avoid disposable containers and extra packaging

  • Research sustainable food choices in your area, and buy locally if possible
  • Buy snacks and beverages in bulk to avoid extra packaging
  • Serve food with washable utensils, plates, and glasses, rather than disposable items
  • Make homemade eggnog, hot chocolate or iced tea in large quantities

Why not choose a few of these ideas that will be easy for you to incorporate into your holiday celebration? Not only will you contribute to sustainability and health, but chances are you will also simplify your life. And you may get more of what we all need at this time of year—time to enjoy family and friends and to focus on the joys of the season.


Adapted from Center for Disease Control (CDC) "Go Green for the Holidays"

This document is not a substitute for your care team's medical advice and should not be relied upon for treatment for specific medical conditions.