By Rachelle Carson-Begley
'Tis the season when there are many green Christmas ideas to save you time and money, help keep waste to a minimum, and create a festive dinner party or family gathering (complete with mistletoe). Ed says I sometime sound like a broken record, but my message remains the same: If you make the month of December more about community and family and less about "consumption" you'll be well on your way to a green holiday season. Christmas is the perfect time for people to focus on family and friends and, with a little planning, you can experience the same joy of giving and receiving but in a way that benefits our environment. Here are few tips to ring in a very merry holiday:
Deck the halls with LED lights this year.
Sparkly, energy-saving LEDs--super-efficient lights that use a lot less energy than incandescents--are abundant on store shelves this season. Whether you use them to light up the outside of your home, or string them on the tree, LED Christmas lights are cheap enough to experiment with. Not only will you save on electricity costs, but also LEDs are more durable and last approximately 10 to 25 times longer than incandescents. Quality LED light bulbs offer comparable or better light quality than other types of lighting. Be sure to put your lights on timers so you don't leave them on for hours longer than you intend.
Give good (eco-friendly) gift.
Think about giving your friends and family energy-saving gifts this year. Look for those special things that encourage others to go green and recycle--for example, hip reusable tote bags, a vegan or organic cookbook, or mementos that "give back" because their manufacturers donate a portion of the proceeds to eco-friendly organizations or those in need. Start early this year, and try shopping for unique items at antique stores and consignment shops, where everything is recycled. And if you buy battery-operated toys and electronics, don't forget to toss in rechargeable batteries.
Choose sustainable materials as gifts and wrapping.
Organic cotton, hemp, silk, glass, and wood are natural, sustainable materials. All are produced in large volumes without depleting non-renewable resources and without disrupting the established equilibrium of the environment and key natural resource systems. They add texture and character to gifts and support sustainable farmers. There is also sustainable wrapping paper, made from fabric and other recyclable materials, that is increasingly making its way to store shelves. Or create your own paper by wrapping gifts in brown butcher paper (or newspaper, which creates a great vintage effect) and then decorating the package with paint, glitter, ribbon, pieces of fabric, old tree ornaments. Have fun with the way you wrap!
Try a handmade gift exchange this year.
This is a great tradition and that my girlfriends and I do every year. We all meet at a friend's home where we exchange gifts that we've made ourselves. Sound intimidating? You can make a wreath, knit a scarf, hand-appliqué a recycled cashmere sweater you found at a thrift shop, bake some cookies, or make a special greeting cards or handcrafted tree ornaments from miscellaneous items left over from last year. Another one of my dear friends does something similar with a White Elephant gift exchange: everyone only gives gifts they find around their home or in their closets and cannot spend any money. This is truly a great time to show your friends that you are thinking of them, and the environment, and consciously choosing to go green.
Give a gift to a local charity.
Similarly, you can donate to a local nonprofit in the name of friend. Nonprofit organizations receive the majority of their donations around the holiday season. Find the organizations that work toward the goals, missions, and values you and your friends and family want to support, be they educational, environmental, spiritual, or health-oriented. Greatnonprofits.org has a list of top-rated green nonprofits to get you started. For kids, try visiting the World Wildlife Fund and adopting a wild animal in their name, or visit Oxfam to buy livestock (goats or chickens), vegetable gardens, or tools for communities in developing countries, fund school dinners, or plant trees. If you receive gift baskets from clients or friends, re-gift them to local shelters and charities.
Skip paper and plastic products.
This is the season where it's easy to bring out your family China, silverware, and cloth napkins--even for breakfast. Try doing it, and you may never go back to using paper or plastic products to eat off of again. On festive party days, enlist your family to make homemade eggnog and iced tea and prepare pitchers of ice water in advance of the meal. You'll have fun and naturally reduce waste by not using individual water and soda bottles or aluminum cans.
Keep the transportation eco-friendly.
Combine your shopping trips, run errands by foot, take public transportation, or carpool with a friend to decrease fuel consumption, smog, and traffic. This is a great season to get out and mix and mingle. Holiday home tours are easily undertaken by foot, and be sure to visit your farmer's markets, complete with fresh, organic jams and relishes of the season, by bike.
Eat vegetarian or organic.
Although I am not a vegetarian, I do include all-plant-based meals in my diet at least several times per week. You can choose to eat vegetarian or organic for all of December or for just one meal. Make a decision to support local farmers and take advantage of fresh in-season winter foods from small, local markets that will tend to offer fruits and vegetables that haven't been air-freighted from distant locations. Buy loose, rather than prepacked, produce to avoid bringing home unnecessary (usually plastic) packaging. Try giving up your turkey or roast and substituting a vegetarian nut loaf. Don't forget to compost leftover food scraps.
Actress, speaker, and author Rachelle Carson-Begley is one of the most recognized names and faces in the environmental world of Hollywood. To learn more about her and her tips for an eco-friendly world, visit www.rachellecarson-begley.com.