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Go Green for the Holidays

Holiay decorationsMake 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.

Are you one of those organized people who are already prepared for the coming winter holidays? Or do you still have plans to make and gifts to buy? Either way, why not take a second look at some of 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 is a lofty goal; how can any one person make a difference in reaching it? You may not realize that you are already working toward sustainability if 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.1

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!

Compost for Christmas trees

Choose the most energy efficient holiday tree and dispose of it at a chipping facility.

Decorate with items that are energy-efficient and durable.

  • If you decorate with a holiday tree, make the most energy efficient choice.
  • 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.
Homemade holiday cards

Make your own cards or choose cards made of recycled paper.

Grandmother and granddaughter knitting

Save money and resources by making your own gifts.

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.
  • Support your local economy by buying from local merchants, craft shows, or antique shops.
  • Purchase gifts that are fair-trade, locally made or grown, or organically grown .
  • Make your own gifts: knit, sew, bake, build, or create art; make calendars using your own photographs or a recipe book with favorite recipes.
  • Give in ways that also support your community: tickets to local theater performances, concerts, sports 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 relative who supports that cause.
  • Use creative materials for gift wrap:
    • Scarves, fabric, handkerchiefs
    • Old maps, sheet music, advertisements
    • Reusable tins, baking pans, or other home or garden items
  • 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.

Give cards that are eco-friendly.

  • Send email cards or make your own.
  • Buy cards made from "post-consumer" content and printed in non-toxic inks.
  • Reuse the fronts of old cards as holiday postcards or gift tags.

Eat sustainable food and avoid disposable containers and extra packaging

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.


  1. Vanderbilt University Sustainable Holiday Greening Guide
  • Page last reviewed: November 23, 2015
  • Page last updated: November 23, 2015
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