While Christmas is often the best time of year for catching up with family and friends, it's also the biggest time of spending - on presents, food, alcohol, parties and holidays. Unfortunately, all of our spending and consumption results in significant environmental damage and carbon pollution.
However, you don't have to be a scrooge to reduce your carbon footprint at Christmas or any other important date such as birthdays or anniversaries. Here are a few tips to achieve this.
Buy a service, not a product[edit | edit source]
To reduce embodied carbon pollution and water consumption, think about buying someone a service - say a voucher for a massage, rather than a massaging appliance. Vouchers for other services, (such as gardening or housecleaning) or film and theatre tickets are also good. Beware gifts that will increase the recipient's motor travel.
Buy gift vouchers[edit | edit source]
Gift vouchers are a good thing for the environment. People use them to get exactly what they want. And they can use its value for a purchase in the store at any time after Christmas. Make sure the validity is at least 6 months or a year, so that recipient will not forget to use it before it expires.
Some shopping malls and city centres are starting to share the same type of vouchers between all shops in that area, so you will not restrict the monetary value having to be spent in a certain shop. More choices for the recipient to select what they would want to buy and in a shop of their choice.
If your friends get accustomed to this, they will learn that you probably also would appreciate gift vouchers as a Christmas gift. So you will all benefit from being less stressed in the busy shops in December.
Buy AT tools[edit | edit source]
If you have a friend or familiar that is (or could be) interested in building appropriate and sustainable technologies, some tools are usually required for this purpose. You can find many of them in this tools list.
Buy gifts that give twice[edit | edit source]
Give your friends and family membership to charities, overseas aid groups or environment organizations.
Books give twice too. Buy a book and suggest kindly that the recipient pass it on when finished with reading it.
Giving of your time[edit | edit source]
Offer your time. This gives a surprise, your time and something useful.
- For example, offer your time to help a family member, friend or neighbour to establish a raised garden bed or to start their own veggie plot. Offer some of your own home-grown cuttings and seedlings to get them off to a great start, and maybe even some well rotted compost or manure to help nourish their new garden. Set aside some hours for a few weekends ahead (during January where it's summertime, or during March/April in the northern hemisphere, or whenever it just right for both of you to get stuck into the garden).
- Offer to declutter their house and redistribute the unwanted items to charities and op shops.
- Offer to take them on local walks or hikes, to go on a picnic somewhere special and close enough to ride bikes to, or to visit a local art gallery or museum together, with you as the interpretive guide.
- Offer to read books together, out loud, until you've finished a series in a genre you both love.
- Offer your services that would otherwise cost, from accounting to sculpting, from baking to brokering.
Buy carbon offsets[edit | edit source]
You can choose the amount you want to spend and offset someone's car travel, household energy use or airline travel, once-off or for a year. A great gift for people coming from interstate to celebrate the festive season. Make sure you check the bona fides of the offsets though - some are dubious.
Buy energy saving gifts[edit | edit source]
For energy saving gifts to really save energy, generally they must be tailored to the recipient's circumstances. Many of these items require behavior adjustments to be fully effective, so be conscious of what the recipient is willing to do to get the full energy savings from such a product. Ordinarily one might expect anyone who is motivated to save energy would have already purchased these things, so a passive recipient may not have the interest to use these products to best advantage.
- If your recipient owns an electric stove that has charred black drip pans under the burners, a set of shiny new chrome-plated drip pans will produce an immediate savings in electricity for cooking. But the recipient must keep the drip pans clean. If spills accumulate, they will quickly char and reduce the heat-reflective properties of the pans.
- Weatherstripping kits. If a house has leaky doors or windows, weatherstripping will usually produce the greatest ratio of energy saved to money invested of any thermal efficiency upgrade to the house. This gift is only effective if the recipient needs weatherstripping, and will install the weatherstrip kits, or if you go to the recipient's house and install them.
- You could give a promise to help a house-owner upgrade his wall insulation, replace some windows with 3-glass high efficiency versions, or anything else of manual labour, if they are planning to do some renovation to upgrade their home.
- Warm house clothes, house slippers, half-finger gloves, bed covers. Turning down the thermostat in cold weather saves far more in energy and money than it costs for the extra clothing one needs in a colder house. However, the recipient must actually reduce the house heat for this gift to save any energy.
- High efficiency light bulbs. If your recipient is still using conventional incandescent bulbs, they will appreciate to get modern high efficient CFLs or LEDs. They will provide an immediate electricity savings for them with no reduction in service, and no behavior change from the recipient (other than not having to replace bulbs as often), provided the new bulbs have sufficient light output to match the old bulbs (that is generally the case with the cheapest options)
- Extension cords or power strip with surge protectors, on/off-switch or timer. Will provide clever functionality for recipient, ability to connect several electric appliances to it and be able to switch it off (manually or automatically), instead of leaving it on standby. Timers (for wall sockets) are also a good gift for example for lights that are placed in windows, that the home owner sometimes forget to turn off at night.
Get a really green Christmas tree[edit | edit source]
Go for a native tree in a pot which you can use year after year, or can plant in the garden after Christmas.
In Australia, you can support the campaign to revive the native Wollemi Pine,W an endangered Australian native (from the age of the dinosaurs and recently rediscovered). It makes a great Christmas tree.
Another option is to buy a fake tree as long as you're going to buy one that lasts for a long time and you reuse it for years.
If your climate is suitable for growing pine or fir trees, you can grow your own Christmas trees from seeds or seedlings in 6 to 10 years. You can leave a tree in the ground and decorate it out-of-doors for several years before it grows too large. If you have room to grow additional trees, you could give them to your neighbors as gifts, slightly reducing their ecological footprints.
If you're into DIY or craft, and would like an unusual-looking Christmas tree, could you can make one out of "junk". This might require a lot of searching and creativity but making your own from things around the house that you no longer need can be a good creative exercise. This could make a fun and inventive project to do with the kids; challenge them to come up with one that uses only unwanted items around the house and that will last at least another five years.
Get crafty[edit | edit source]
If you love craft, and/or there are children in the household, consider making Christmas wreaths from used materials such as old ties, greeting cards from years gone by, wine corks, old wrapping paper and ribbon, or a combination of these.
Celebrate Christmas a month late[edit | edit source]
You can collect lots of free Christmas trees in January when your neighbors throw theirs out. With the large selection, you can easily find a tree that is still in good shape. By celebrating Christmas late, you pay nothing for your tree. You also benefit from after-Christmas sales and less-crowded stores when you shop for gifts.
Compost your neighbors' trees[edit | edit source]
If you live in a community that sends Christmas trees (e.g. holiday trees) to landfill after Christmas, rescue your neighbors' trees when they set them out for collection. Dragging them home on foot is suitable for short distances, and may become easier when the ground is covered with snow. You can fetch trees from farther away by hauling them on a bicycle trailer. To fit a larger tree on a bicycle trailer you may need to angle it slightly so the top of the tree can project forward to the side of your body, while keeping the bottom of the tree off the ground. You will need a trailer that keeps the wheels clear of the branches, for example a trailer designed to haul children. You may need to lop a few branches off the bottom of the tree to keep them clear of the ground and trailer wheels. Two or three bungee cordsW should hold the tree and any lopped branches securely enough for a short trip.
Cut the branches off each tree with a suitable cutting tool, for example a lopper.W You can add the branches to your compost pile. Pine branches take much longer to break down than many common composting materials such as food scraps, grass clippings, and deciduous leaves. If you live in a part of the northern hemisphere with cold winters, and you have an outdoor compost pile, the branches and pine needles are unlikely to be fully composted in time for spring planting. Before mixing pine branches with the rest of your compost, cut them into short (20 cm) lengths so they do not form a tangled mass that will make turning the compost difficult.
Alternatively you can take advantage of the pine branches' relative durability by arranging them around your shrubs to make a green mulch, or using them as a temporary cover for muddy walking paths. The material will gradually break down on the ground.
The trunks with limbs removed make sturdy garden stakes, suitable for staking up tomatoes, peppers, blackberries, climbing vines, etc. Use a post hole diggerW to dig a hole 30-40 cm deep, place the base of the trunk into it, and replace and tamp the earth around it. The stake should last for at least a year. Another method is to saw the bottom 30-40 cm of each de-limbed trunk into a long, tapering point, allowing you to drive it into the ground. However, the pointed end will rot quicker than an intact trunk because it is much thinner. When the stakes start to rot after a year or two, cut them up and add them to next year's compost pile. Alternatively, if you have access to a woodchipper,W you can chop the trees into chips and use them for garden mulch or covering footpaths, or process the mulch through a pellet millW to make fuel pellets.W
Landfilling Christmas trees is one of the worst disposal methods for them, because it wastes diesel fuel to haul them to the landfill, and then as they decay anaerobically they release landfill gasW which may escape to the atmosphere, where the methane component acts as a potent greenhouse gas.W Only if the landfill has an efficient landfill gas collectionW system should landfilling be an acceptable disposal method for any material which could be mulched, composted, or efficiently burned for heat.
If you live in a neighborhood with few people whose behavior is consistent with much concern about sustainability, your neighbors may be puzzled by what you are doing with their discarded trees. Be ready to give an explanation, and if they are curious, you can use the opening to discuss the need and methods for sustainable behaviors generally.
Keep a list of things you want/need[edit | edit source]
Some people love giving presents and they will only feel happy if they give you something. So keep a list of things, of various costs, that you do want or need. For example a book, or a tool, a scarf, a cooking implement, some kind of special food for Christmas... Note your ideas down somewhere where you will remember them - for example on the calendar or in your phone.
If you are like me, then if you don't keep a list, your mind will go blank and you won't be able to think of anything when your relative or friend asks 'what do you want for Christmas'?. It might feel a little greedy, but it is better to be able to say 'actually, I would really like this...' than to get something you don't particularly need or want.
Recycle or make your own Christmas paper[edit | edit source]
Most wrapping paper is not made from recycled paper. When you get wrapped presents unwrap them carefully and you can use the paper again.
Local giving[edit | edit source]
Be aware of "gift miles" (analogous to food milesW). Exchanging material gifts with distant people is usually less green than exchanging gifts with people within walking distance. If you must buy a gift for someone distant, prefer a gift voucher they can redeem locally.
Giving the un-gift[edit | edit source]
Some people quietly (or not so quietly) resent the commercialized gift exchange tradition that has accumulated around Christmas. Not to mention the dishonesty of pretending to like an unwanted gift. One of the nicest "gifts" you can give to such people is to release them from any implied obligation to give you a gift. Tell them, "My gift to you is that I liberate you from having to buy me a gift." You may find that some people who feign outward enthusiasm for their annual servility ritual to corporate profit-taking will eagerly accept your un-gift.
Giving to the poor[edit | edit source]
For a gift to be truly a gift, and not merely a self-interested barterW exchange, the recipient must be unable to give anything equally valuable in return. There are always reputable charities needing help. Instead of giving reciprocal gifts to relatively wealthy people who are already consuming more than their fair share, consider giving the gift of recognition to wealthy people for their acts of charity. Offer to match their charitable gifts, in whatever proportion you can.
Giving to the community[edit | edit source]
Do something nice for the common good. Pick up some litter. Shovel snow off a neglected sidewalk. Rake up a neighbor's leaves, and compost them. If someone acknowledges your acts of kindness, suggest they pay them forward by doing something kind for someone else, such as giving to a charity, shoveling some more neglected sidewalks, buying Renewable Energy Certificates,W etc.
Things to avoid[edit | edit source]
- Non recyclable gift wrapping paper.
- Presents that won't get used or will be thrown out after a short period.
- Toys or other items that will require the recipient to buy batteries or extra equipment before they can start to use it.
- Eating too much at Christmas lunch.
- Answering work phone calls (mobile or otherwise).
- Motor travel that burns fossil fuels.
Things to embrace[edit | edit source]
- Just being. It's enough that you're all together and safe.
- Talking to one another. Catch up on the year that has been. Share stories, inspiration, news and updates.
- Cook together. Don't leave the food preparation to just one or a few. It's everyone's task, and it shares the love around. Food cooked with love tastes better.
- The quietness of the day outside of your immediate circle. Few days are as quiet as Christmas Day in many an urban environment. The shops are shut. Most businesses too. Most people are home, away from work. Remind yourself that there used to be more quiet and unhurried days like this one.
- Pacing yourself. This isn't a day to indulge senselessly. It's a day to be appreciative, to show gratitude for that which you have and for caring about others.
- Consider volunteering for part of the day, to help others have some joy.
Enjoy a safe and happy festive season.
See also[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
- "Wollemia nobilis Wollemi Pine Recovery Plan" (PDF). Department of Environment and Conservation (NSW), Australian Government. January 2007. ISBN 1920887636.
- W"How to Grow Your Own Christmas Tree".
- 5 Ideas for Recycled, DIY Christmas Wreaths, Sustainablog, Nov 17th, 2011.
- "Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs)". United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2011-06-02.