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10 Ways to Enjoy a Festive AND Sustainable Holiday Season

Between gift shopping and trying to keep up the holiday spirit with decorations at home, it can be frustrating to try to remain sustainable. It may feel as though you’re forced to choose between enjoying the holidays and feeling guilty about putting up all those lights around your tree.

Here are 10 ways you can have a festive holiday and feel better about it too:

Holiday Sustainability Ideas infographic

Holiday Shopping:

  1. Skip the plastic toys
    Hate plastic toys but still want to keep your status as the “cool aunt/uncle”? If the little ones in your life don’t quite appreciate socks and reading books yet, check Green Toys and similar sites that offer toys made from recycled materials.
    While plastic toys account for 90% of the market, don’t forget about the classics – wooden blocks, activity books, and board games. Simply Inspired Goods is another cool place to start (they have eco-face paints too).
  2. Buy an “experience” as a gift
    Skip the gift wrapping and shipping/manufacturing emissions altogether by giving your loved ones experiences as gifts. Think spa packages, concerts, food tours, etc. Or maybe they’ve been dying to try that parkour class around the corner.These are examples of creatively selecting a meaningful gift that won’t collect dust and that you can even have fun doing together.
  3. Treat yourself (and the planet) with high-end thrifting
    Fast Fashion Infographic

    Source data: Get Green Now

    Great ways you can freshen up your wardrobe while also tackling fast fashion this season (and the rest of the year) is by purchasing secondhand clothes and other fashion products.

    Online consignment stores such as ThredUP lead you to like-new styles from known brands  –J.Crew, Banana Republic, and Ann Taylor LOFT – for up to 90% off. And, while you’re at it, you can clean out your own closet to donate to a worthy cause (or make a few extra bucks on the side).

    Cotton t-shirt production infographicFor more info on your carbon footprint this time of year, check out last year’s article, What is the Carbon Footprint of Your Holiday Shopping?


  1. Go for LED lights
    By opting for LED lights over incandescent, you can make your home look festive for the holidays while consuming 70% less energy. They’re not only more energy efficient, but also last ten times longer and are more resistant to breakage. And up to 24 strings of LEDs can be connected end-to-end without overloading a socket.In other words, you’ll get a better bang for your buck while getting even more lighting with less consumption.
  2. Set a timer
    Another simple, cost-effective way to save energy this season is by setting a timer for your lights. Instead of leaving your string lights on all night, try using a timer to schedule your lights to be on between dusk and midnight. Limiting your lights usage to no more than eight hours per day is recommended by the U.S. Energy Department. In addition to lowering your energy usage, you’ll also be reducing light pollution and the disruption of animals’ daily cycles.
  3. Swap out paraffin candles for soy or beeswax candles
    Image of homemade soy candles

    Source: Waxandwanecandles on Etsy

    Candles are most commonly made of paraffin wax, which is a petroleum by-product of crude oil. However, there are candles made of renewable resources such as soy and beeswax, which burn cleaner, have pleasant aromas, and last longer.

    Examples of brands include Bee Organic, Mrs. Meyer’s, and NaturoHealth.

Christmas Trees:

There is plenty of debate regarding the sustainability pros and cons of Christmas tree types. Real trees are generally more sustainable because they capture CO2 and are compostable. On the other hand reusable (a.k.a. fake) trees can last for years. Odds are, you’re probably picking your tree type based on cost, amount of storage in your home, or your opinion on the scents of Christmas trees. Check out the tips below before  you choose.

  1. Buy a live tree instead of a cut tree
    If you prefer having a fresh Christmas tree, consider selecting a live tree over a cut one. Live trees are great because they can be replanted after the holidays. Just be sure to pick one that’s right for your climate and ability to properly take care of. Some locations even have options for renting trees, where the replanting is done elsewhere after the holidays.
  2. If you get a reusable tree, keep in mind its lifespan
    While fake trees are made of plastics and metals that aren’t biodegradable, they may be appealing if you’re looking to spend less time and money on a new tree every year. Fake trees can last a long time- buy secondhand and/or try to reuse it for at least a decade to reduce the amount that get sent to landfills.  When you are ready to dispose of it, consider reusing its branches for other decorations or donating it.
  3. Recycle your Christmas treeFor both real and artificial trees, there are plenty of ways you can recycle after the holidays. Municipalities and local businesses may even pick up cut trees from your door and take them off to compost or mulch. You can also donate your tree to non-profit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity.Online resources like Earth911 recycling search can help you check if there is Christmas tree recycling services by you.

Get creative with a DIY alternative tree:

If you and your family are particularly crafty, have some extra fun creating your own unique Christmas tree. A quick search online will provide endless inspiration – my personal favorites are the “ladder tree” and “plywood tree.”

Image of DIY christmas trees

Source: Pinterest

The holidays can be overwhelming, and often times we’re all just trying to get things done on a tight time budget, but it’s important that we all take into consideration the impact of all of the shopping, shipping, and sipping. The holidays are about so much more than gifts and parties, they’re about giving back and being grateful- so lets try to do that for our planet.


Image of Vicki Yee



Written by Vicki Yee, Building Systems Analyst

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