12 sustainable days of Christmas

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Courtesy of Courtesy of thinkstep

At PE INTERNATIONAL we pride ourselves on our in-depth, scientifically accurate and peer-reviewed assessments and sustainability is in our DNA. So it only seemed natural to tap into our employees’ collective wisdom for tips on how to have a more sustainable holiday season.

Here are our 12 Sustainable Days of Christmas, Enjoy!

1. You really know the holiday season has started when you decorate the Christmas tree. Back in 2010 we looked at the relative merits of Artificial vs. Fresh Christmas trees. The ‘right’ choice is anything but clear-cut but a few points stand out.  First and foremost, try to minimize personal car usage as much as possible by combining errands, buying a tree close to home and having it delivered if possible. If you choose an artificial tree, keep it for at least a couple of years and donate your old trees when you want to upgrade to a newer model.

2. As an alternative to a farmed tree or an artificial one, you may be able to rent a living Christmas tree that you give back in January. A number of companies provide this service but you may also be able to rent from a local nursery. Alternatively, buy a live tree and plant it afterwards or purchase potted plants or bulbs as an alternative gift or decoration. You can also cut overgrown branches or unwanted trees from your own garden and bring them inside to decorate.

3. Upgrade all your holiday lighting, both indoor and outdoor, using LED lights which use up to 90% less energy than traditional incandescent holiday lights. GE has reissued many of their most popular holiday lights in LED. Also, remember to use a timer for all holiday lighting to save even more energy and cost.

4. Reduce the impact of your Christmas card list by sending e-cards rather than traditional post.

5. Consider reuse and recycling in some of your gift giving by choosing gifts that are either recycled (includes re-gifting or buying second-hand) or handmade from unused or recycled materials. Remember that one person’s junk can be another’s treasure, so take the time to re-purpose clothing, furniture, toys, electronics and other items. This cuts the waste going to landfills and breathes new life into items you no longer want or need. If you are buying gifts, shop locally to cut your “gift miles” and look for artisanal, handmade and Fairtrade-certified gifts.

6. Giving charitable contributions as a gift has become popular in recent years with offerings such as the gift catalogs from Heifer International or Charity Gifts UK but it can be hard for children to go completely without a gift.  Now you can combine giving to charity and presents for the kids. In North America, for example, ECHOage allows gift givers to fund a charitable contribution and a gift at the same time. The child decides on a single gift that they really want and contributions are made to both the gift and the charity by the giver.  Another really nice way to foster goodwill is to adopt or sponsor a family from your own community. Providing a complete Christmas experience with a gift for each person and a food basket for a holiday meal can really make you feel good. Check with local aid organizations and churches to find deserving families in need.

7. One really great way to reduce material gifts is to give coupons for activities to enjoy together,  from fun new activities such as stand up paddle boarding or snowshoeing to a dinner out at that new restaurant that you’ve been meaning to try. Spending time together can build lasting memories.

8. In large groups or big families, consider “Secret Santa” presents where each person lists a one or two gift ideas and then each person draws one name to buy for. This way instead of each person getting many small gifts they get one present they really want.

9. To reduce the impacts of gift wrapping, make (or buy if you aren't a handy seamstress) a set of reusable Christmas bags from beautiful fabric! Choose a Christmas or Hanukkah theme and then create a range of bags of different sizes that you can reuse every year. Another alternative that involves no wrapping at all is to hide gifts around the house to create a treasure hunt for the children. For creative wrapping get your kids involved and use recycled scrap paper, newspaper or a roll of recycled craft paper and let the painting, stamping or coloring begin. Top it all off with gift tags cut from last year’s cards.

10. For holiday travel, consider sharing a car or taking the train instead of a plane. If you have to travel by plane or even by car, consider purchasing offsets for your travel.

11. Make an effort to reduce food waste by planning meals carefully and shopping from a list. Freeze or give away leftovers or incorporate left-over ingredients into new dishes.

12. For many, the best thing about Christmas is sitting down with family to enjoy a lovely meal, the centerpiece of which is a spectacular cut of beef.

But to get that beef to the table, it requires roughly 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, 11 times more water and results in five times more climate-warming emissions! It’s even more unsustainable when compared with a veggie meal. In fact, those clever people at Oxford University reckon that meat lovers’ diets cause double the climate-warming emissions of veggie diets, and Prof. Tim Benton at Leeds University reckons that the best way to cut our carbon footprints is not to abandon our cars but to eat less red meat.

You may not be ready to adopt a vegan diet or do without the Christmas roast beef but you can try to mitigate the impact of your Christmas feast by going meat-free one day a week (Meatless Monday’s) or several dinners per week. Not only will this make your diet more sustainable, it will also save you money and it’s better for you, too! You can use the money you save to buy pasture-raised, organic, grass fed beef. It’s a tradition you can carry into the New Year and beyond.

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