Saturday, December 10, 2011

Top 4 Tips for Greening Your Holidays

How many of you feel obligated to give physical gifts? How many of you have received gifts that broke soon after and were not recyclable? How many of you have sat and wondered at the giant pile of wrapping paper that was left over on Christmas morning?  Did you know that in Canada, the annual waste from gift-wrap and shopping bags equals about 545,000 tons which is enough paper and bags to cover 45,000 hockey rinks?

The holidays are a time of celebration, family gatherings and we create the space to remember and celebrate the things we are grateful for.  Sometimes these core focuses at holiday time can become thoroughly overwhelmed by expectations on our time and resources.  Holiday parties and gift giving can instigate feelings of guilt and overwhelm as many of us pack our social schedules and feel pressured to gift give and participate. Not only does it put pressure on our time, resources, health and well being it also affects our efforts to green our lives and live sustainably. Thankfully there are ways to be green that do not dampen the spirit of our favorite holiday activities like sharing meals, meeting up with friends and exchanging gifts.

Being green during the holidays doesn’t have to be hard and can actually be a very fun and creative exercise. The following are suggestions to easy strategies:

Tip 1: Reduce
The ol’ gift exchange between family members or within your circle of friends falls under this category and is a wonderful way to reduce the pressure to gift everyone with something and reduces the impact on our environment by consuming less.   Wrapping gifts in reusable cloth bags or colorful green shopping bags that can be used later is a creative way of reducing the amount of gift-wrap that is thrown in the landfill during the holidays. If you travel during the holidays by air or motor vehicle, you can choose to give the gift of carbon offsets and make your trip carbon neutral that reduces your contribution to adding extra carbon dioxide to the environment.

Tip 2: Substitute
Number one on this list is the opportunity to get rid of toxins! They can be present in pretty much everything: that new sweater for Dad, those plastic toys for the kids, the pretty smelling candle for a friend, and the new bottle of perfume for Mom. Even old, fake plastic Christmas trees can contain lead and phthalates contained in the PVC used to make the trees.  Look for gifts that are toxin free: gifts made from natural fibers such as hemp, organic cotton, silk, bamboo; kids toys free of BPA, phthalates, lead and sweat shop free (buy local!); vegetable based, soy or bees wax candles scented with essential oils; and essential oil based perfumes.

Another suggestion is to give the gift of your favorite recipes or food products.  Last year, I bought a dozen mason jars from the thrift store and filled them with ingredients for a chocolate chip cookie recipe and put the recipe with a ribbon on the jar. This kind of idea reuses items, nourishes the receiver, provides an opportunity to create a family activity in the kitchen and have some fun!

Tip 3: Give Services Not Products
Your friends and family will love this tip. Not only does it save you time and energy running around at holiday time, battling the shopping crowds, it gifts them some of your time, energy and skills or a service they could really benefit from. Consider where you might be able to help someone by gifting him or her with your time, energy and skills instead of just reaching for your wallet to buy something.  Providing your loved ones with services instead of products is a great opportunity to support their health and wellbeing.  Other ideas include a gift certificate to a spa (non-toxic of course) for body-nourishing services that will help them relax is a welcome alternative to finding the right gift for that someone that “has everything”.  This could also include haircuts, massages, chiropractic or naturopathic doctor care.  It’s also a great way of including the family: why not challenge your children to think about services they could provide like babysitting, mowing lawns, gardening, running errands and help them to create a creative gift voucher? 

Tip 4: Think Outside the Box
I once had someone boldly state to me that money was only good for buying “things”.  I actually strongly disagree and feel there are many ways that money can be used in a supportive, non-traditional consumerism way. Even though it might seem faux pas to give cash, why not consider setting up an RESP (registered education savings plan) for friends or family members? Another opportunity is to use your money to help grow local economies and contribute to education and wellbeing initiatives provided through local non-profit organizations or charities. Likely there are thousands of organizations to choose from in your area so pick your topic and research organizations you resonate with. The best part is you can usually make a contribution in someone’s name. Several years ago when I was living in Australia, I ‘adopted’ (on paper) two koalas in my father and brother’s names. They were excited to receive a koala for a Christmas present!

If you are more focused on supporting people in developing nations, check out, which provides a user-friendly portal for micro-lending. With as little as $25 you can support someone in a developing nation.  Oxfam Unwrapped is another great program that allows you to support farmers in developing nations by purchasing anything from a family of ducks, a pig, a water well, fruit trees or a pile of manure!

Including “green” in your holidays is not a difficult and only requires a slight shift in mindset. In no way does it impact the quality of time you have or your sense of satisfaction during the holidays. In fact, you might find it contributes to an improved sense of connection with friends and family and a deeper sense of peace and wellbeing for yourself.

Happy Holidays!

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