The holiday season is upon us once again. With Thanksgiving now a week behind us, it's becoming appropriate for many families to begin the process of decorating their houses, shopping for gifts and preparing for holiday meals. The atmosphere at this time of the year can become intoxicating, but it is important that we continue to acknowledge our impact on the environment, despite the distraction of our traditions. Global warming is still a concern, regardless of which design coffee shops choose for their cups. With the help of contributors to The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) blog, here are some tips for a sustainable holiday.
First, let’s talk decorations. For many, the concept of decorating becomes relevant after Thanksgiving, and already I have noticed strings of lights, dazzling projectors, and fifteen-foot inflatable abominable snowmen popping up across my neighborhood. Although these displays often look fantastic and contribute to the nostalgic haze of the holiday season, there are things that we can change that won’t diminish the spirit, but will reduce the environmental impact of the buzzing month of December.
The internet is bursting with interesting DIY holiday decorations that can be constructed easily and inexpensively, and these are a fun and entertaining way to bring family and friends together. But if you do choose to purchase decorations, consider both the energy consumption and the longevity of the product. LED lights use less energy, and last much longer than traditional holiday lights. Also, be sure to turn off the display during daylight hours, and after everyone goes to sleep. You can pick up a timer for this purpose while you're at the hardware store scoping out the next inflatable for your collection.
As an interesting side note for those innovative UB engineers out there, I’ve come across a few sustainability projects taken on by other American universities I’d like to share. Appalachian State University in North Carolina used photovoltaics to harness solar energy to illuminate a pine tree on their campus and the Technical College of Lowcountry in South Carolina used tidal power to power the LED lights on their tree. Yeshiva University in New York used a turbine and battery setup to store wind energy in order to light the fluorescent bulbs on the top of their four foot menorah! Perhaps we can develop something at UB to showcase our sustainability efforts alongside our holiday spirit (nudge nudge).
Next, when thinking about purchasing gifts there are a few things you should keep in mind in order to limit your environmental impact. First, when wrapping gifts, try using newspaper or a reusable cloth. According to an AASHE blog post, if every American family decided to wrap three of their presents in re-used material it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields! In addition, try skipping material gifts all together. Considerate gifts like event tickets, camping trips and other vacations, gift certificates and music or dance lessons often mean more to friends and family than material doodads that get tossed in the corner. Environmentally and socially conscious gifts such as adopting an endangered animal, buying fair-trade goods or donating to organizations such as Heifer International who provide animals and resources to families in subsistence communities serve to spread the love that the holiday season is all about. Links to sites for such gifts can be found at the bottom of this article.
Switch up the tradition by filling stockings with nuts and fruit instead of plastic junk that often ends up in the trash by the New Year. If you are insistent on a material gift keep an eye out for energy efficient appliances and electronics. If you happen to get a gift that you really won't use or something that you already have, donate it to a charity shop and make a less fortunate person’s holiday season a little brighter.
Finally, if you find yourself in a position where you cannot spend the holiday season with your family, consider sending e-cards instead of paper ones. If you’re sending love to a member of the family who is less tech-savvy, perhaps use cards made of recycled paper, or postcards instead of envelopes to cut back on waste. Another statistic from the aforementioned AASHE blog post may drive this notion home. If you were to stack the 2.65 billion holiday cards sent by American families alone, you could cover an entire football field ten feet high!
As the fall semester winds down and winter vacation approaches we all undoubtedly have a lot on our minds but I hope we can all take these tips into consideration and remain open to adjusting our traditional activities to suit a changing world so that generations to come can continue to partake in the activities of this beautiful season. With that being said, I wish 2016 graduates good luck in their future endeavors and each and every one of you a safe and happy holiday season!
Student Sustainability Coordinator UB-CDS
Vice President, UB Campus Garden Club
Cultural Anthropology B.A. (In Progress)