Climate Corner Op-Ed: How to green your holiday season

Piedmont Climate Fellow Alyssa Romea calls on community members to bring a sustainable lens to this year’s holiday festivities

Carefully wrapped presents, tearful reunions, houses decked with twinkling lights — I’m always awed by the way the holidays wholly transform our lives, surrounding us with sentiments of love and cheer. To me, it’s the most beautiful time of year. However, it’s also the most wasteful. Many traditions demand that we buy and dispose goods to the point of emotional distress. In the process, we not only worsen our environmental footprint, but we also lose the core purpose: joy.

How do we shift the holidays away from overconsumption, and return to something more meaningful? 

Here are six ideas to help you get started reevaluating your holiday shopping and building new, climate-conscious traditions:

  • Quality over quantity. Challenge the pressure for plentiful and “cheap” consumption; buying less opens space to buy more thoughtfully. Before purchasing anything, it’s helpful to ask how much waste it will generate and whether it will still be useful after this holiday season.
  • Consider experiences over things. Plan an adventure to do with a loved one, or buy gift certificates for local museums, theaters, restaurants, classes, or spas. These gifts are easily personalized and reduce emissions from production and waste.
  • Buy local or buy early. Shopping locally supports fellow community members, while reducing emissions from transportation, which is the nation’s largest greenhouse gas emitter. Local fairs and flea markets, like the Telegraph Avenue Holiday Street Fair, also offer one-of-a-kind gifts while reducing demand for mass production. If you do purchase something new online, you can curtail emissions by buying in advance and allowing for slower shipping. It’s also helpful to bundle online purchases from the same retailer.
  • Skip the glittery wrapping paper. Some commercial wrapping papers are not recyclable – particularly those that are metallic, glossy, or embellished with glitter or foil. Ribbons, bows, cellophane, and embellished gift tags are also nonrecyclable. Instead, consider wrapping gifts in newspaper, packing paper, magazine pages, or reusable decorative boxes. Or experiment with using scrap fabric – google Japanese furoshiki techniques for inspiration!
  • Reuse, reuse, reuse. This doesn’t just apply to gift wrapping. When shopping, remember to bring your own bags. When hosting gatherings, ditch the single-use plates. Thrift stores also offer great holiday decor.
  • Simplify your transportation. While it’s tempting to drive to countless different stores, transportation is the biggest source of Piedmont’s in-territory greenhouse gas emissions. When possible, opt for carpooling, public transit, biking, and walking.
You might be thinking, What difference can I really make?

It’s easy to feel as if environmental issues are beyond our control. After all, we need systemic change. For instance, we need to keep transforming the way goods are fundamentally designed, manufactured, packaged, and shipped.

But I want to insist that every person matters. Individual action is the core building block of any collective action, and each decision we make sends important signals to neighbors, businesses, and elected officials. As a community, we wield incredible power through our day-to-day decisions about where our money goes.

Together, let’s reexamine what brings us joy and heal our planet in the process.

Alyssa Romea is an AmeriCorps Fellow with the City of Piedmont’s Sustainability Division.

One thought on “Climate Corner Op-Ed: How to green your holiday season

  1. To Alyssa’s list I would add drop the thermostat and wear a sweater. Transportation and residential heating are equal contributors to Piedmont’s GHG emissions. Emissions from transportation are declining while those from heating are rising. And most of her recommendations should be adopted year round. If emissions from Piedmont’s carbon consumption were factored in, the city is way off from meeting its GHG reduction targets.

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