By Anders Lorenzen
Christmas is upon us, the time for gifting, sharing and indulgent levels of consuming.
So what can you do to limit your carbon and environmental footprint this festive season?
1. Buy local and sustainable. As our buying powers are increasingly extended with online purchasing, it is harder to understand where products come from. Quite often we buy products that have to be transported across the planet, with huge implications for emissions and likely extra packaging adding to our plastic problems. So whenever possible buy local, but make sure the product has been produced in a sustainable way, a quick google search should help you.
2. Buy less but intelligently, with a higher emphasis on quality. Place emphasis on quality over quantity. More is not always better. Christmas sees a spike in us buying products that have incredibly short lifespans, and we tend not to really use them. Quickly forgetting and disposing of them after the Christmas novelty has disappeared. Instead buy quality, long lasting products, which may cost a bit more but that extra investment will be worth it in the long run. Even better, instead of presents buy vouchers. That way people can decide what they want to get and avoid unwanted presents. Doing this can also avoid a lot of packaging and wrapping paper. In Britain alone, over £2 billion of unwanted presents are given each year.
3. Think about the environmental footprint of clothing. It takes 2,700 litres to make just one cotton t-shirt, and it emits 2.1 kg of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Buy a polyester t-shirt and that amount doubles, to 5.5kg. Think about that for a second. These numbers can vary greatly from producer to producer, so take a little bit of time to look into the products, don’t just buy the cheapest t-shirt you see from Primark. The clothing industry has a really big problem with sustainability and is only beginning, slowly, to wake up to the problem, but still too many are not doing much about it. Labels like Patagonia and Esprit are taking strides in this area. H&M has also made huge efforts but still, their products lack longevity, and they have been involved in some corporate responsibility scandals. The best option though is to buy second-hand clothes whenever possible at charity shops, second-hand stores or preowned online outlets.
4. Be creative. Why not take some time out of your busy Christmas schedule and make your own presents, rekindling that creativity in you. Or you could simply give away stuff you don’t use anymore. Failing to find that creative spark, you could always buy handmade items.
5. Give low-carbon experiences. Christmas has increasingly become about materialistic values. Take a step away from consumerism and gift experiences, ideally those that won’t cost the Earth. Everything from local weekend stays, wine tasting, dinner experiences or guided bike tours. Alternatively, you could simply have a look at Do The Green Thing, an environmental non-profit, who have a great Ungifted list.
6. Think carefully about Christmas trees. For many of us, the Christmas tree is the centerpiece of the Christmas experience, and many will find it hard to celebrate Christmas without one. There is no easy way around this, the best option is of course not to get a tree. But an equally good one is to actually plant one in your garden which you can enjoy from inside and then decorate it each year. But for many this is not an option, and just isn’t the same as having one inside. The next best option then is still to get a real one, due to the harmful elements in their plastic counterparts. But the key to sustainability is how it is managed, make sure it is sourced from a sustainable tree plantation, which should require that no more carbon is taken out of the ecosystem that is put in. An added benefit would make the tree plantation serve to increase biodiversity. It is also important to know how to discard the tree afterwards, letting it rot outside after Christmas is probably the worst thing you can do. The best thing you could do is to preserve the tree and use it to create stuff with, that way the carbon stored and the tree will be intact.
7. Cut down on food waste and meat consumption. Every Christmas we indulge ourselves with meat which can result in a huge amount of food waste. Not saying you should completely abandon meat, but at least cut down on it, particularly red meat. When it comes to climate change beef is by far the most damaging, and if you could say it goodbye you have taken a huge step. With the rise of plant-based diets it is becoming easier and easier to kick the meat habits with so many more alternatives on the market. How about trying a couple of vegan or vegetarian meals over Christmas? And think about food waste before you kick your Christmas meals. You generally have a good idea how much your family consumes, take the extra time to think about portions before you make surplus “just in case”. If you happen to make more than you can eat, check with your neighbors or freeze what you can, additionally check if any charities are accepting leftover food.
8. Give to a charity combating environmental challenges. Perhaps consider other than yourself when thinking about what you want for Christmas. How about having on your wishlist a donation to an environmental charity? As it is Christmas, a charity dealing with plastic pollution seems fitting, such as Plastic Oceans.
9. Connect with nature. Instead of overindulging in festive food, to the point of food-induced paralysis, or blast the house with endless amounts of Christmas TV, why not walk off all the Christmas calories with a wander into your natural surroundings (if you have that option of course) and connect with the area around you.
10. Cut down on travel. We, of course, know being with family over Christmas is important and many live far away from relatives often making travel unavoidable. But do think about how you travel and choose the low-carbon option available to you. And maximise efficiency. If possible drop the car and take public transport. If that’s not possible and if you’re travelling alone by car, check if anyone needs to go the same direction. Also, I would encourage you to prioritise spending time with family rather than travelling around to endless Christmas engagements.
11.Think about the true meaning of Christmas. Try to think about and reinterpret the meaning of Christmas, and slow down. You do not have to go absolutely crazy on Christmas shopping. Remember it is not a festival of consumerism and you do not have to travel and attend every single Christmas engagement you have been invited to. Slow down, take walks in nature, read, spend time and catch up with family, discuss, play board games. And laugh.