How to have a happy – and low-carbon – holiday
Opportunities abound, experts say, to make the season merry, bright – and 'green.'
In years past, Colleen Schmitt of Hingham, Mass., used to make a point at Christmas to find hot new electronic items and buy them as gifts for her two brothers.Skip to next paragraph
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But more recently, this ecominded University of Vermont junior has come to question the wisdom of buying things that are soon discarded as obsolete, and her brothers (now 18 and 22) are feeling the effects. Their gifts this year will come from the Peace and Justice Center, a Burlington, Vt., store that specializes in crafts made from recycled materials and other ecofriendly methods.
"I try to impress my new lifestyle on them," says Ms. Schmitt. "A fad gift is fun at the time, when people think it's what they really want, but then a year later, they're over it. So did all that plastic really need to be made? And now you're just throwing it into a landfill?"
This holiday season, environmental activists and merchandisers alike are banking on consumers to make their tidings a little greener. Organizations such as the Sierra Club and The Center for a New American Dream are churning out guidelines for cutting waste at a time of year that's become notorious for excess. Retailers are touting items from organic cotton linens to solar-powered remote-control toys in an effort to cash in on shoppers' increasingly ecofriendly sensibilities.
Public rituals large and small are beginning to reflect the green spirit. The famous lighted ball that drops to usher in the New Year in New York City's Times Square will for the first time feature LED lighting, a cooler-running and energy-saving alternative to incandescent bulbs. And in the town of Tonawanda, N.Y., an annual Christmas light contest has added a new category that recognizes the home with the most energy-efficient display.
Experts on green living say the holidays are loaded with opportunities. Everything from parties to travel and charitable giving is a chance to exercise environmental values. Spending extra money isn't always necessary in order to make the holidays greener, they say, but spending time to plan ahead greatly increases the likelihood of success.
"The holidays are one of the most stressful times of the year, and when we're under more human social stress, we make poorer environmental decisions," says Stephanie Kaza, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Vermont in Burlington. "Anything that mitigates the social stress – like saying, 'Let's plan on taking a walk over the holidays,' or 'Let's plan on cooking some healthy meals'… makes it more likely you'll make better decisions environmentally."
Low-energy lights save in long term
Sometimes greening the holidays involves an up-front investment. LED holiday lights, for instance, can cost several times more than the regular incandescent alternatives. But LEDs are both safer and some 90 percent more efficient, which means users are likely to recoup the extra cost in reduced electric bills over just one or two holiday seasons.
In other cases, taking the greener road can bring expenses down. For example, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an advocacy group, encourages those who shop online and from catalogs to opt for ground shipping rather than air. The reason: Ground shipping is six times more efficient than air shipping, which means fewer carbon emissions per package, says the NRDC. Ground shipping saves money, too, but shoppers may need to place orders sooner to make sure they arrive on time.