Feliz Navigating Your Way Around a Sustainable Holiday Season


As a small child, the advent of the holiday season would find me gaily belting out Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, The First Noel and other holiday classics at the top of my tiny voice (sorry family, I have since learned what being on-key means). Never knowing all the words, I still enjoyed the sound of my own voice and would warble out Hark the Herald, Silent Night and Good King Wenceslas. It therefore made sense, given the weeks of stuffing my face with gingerbread men, turkey and stuffing, candy canes and Christmas stollen, that one of the lines to my favorite song would go, “Glory in excess”. Only now, many years later, did I come to realize the line in question actually was “Gloria in excelsis Deo” from Antonio Vivaldi’s Angelic Hymn. Still, my five-year old version seems to fit the message of the excess exemplified by the holiday season in the current American tradition. On average, American’s spend over $900 on holiday gifts (even though 70% say they would welcome less of an emphasis on spending and gift giving during the holidays). In the space of time between Thanksgiving and New Years, household waste increases by 25%. Between additional food waste, shopping bags, ribbons, packing material, an additional 1 million tons of waste PER WEEK are added to our landfills.

While I enjoy tearing open the brightly colored wrapping paper surrounding a new sweater or skiing helmet size medium in slate grey (hi mom, hint hint) as much as the next person, it is important to recognize the environmental cost of the holidays and differentiating between wants and needs. Follow the steps below for a holiday season that is both rich in spirit and low in impact.

Buy less: By rethinking how and what we buy, we can have a significant environmental impact.
Keep it local: Shop locally at farmers markets and craft fairs to support local economy and reduce the carbon footprint of the gifts you buy.
Get pinning!: Search for treasures in need of restoration at your local thrift shop  and get crafting with the help of websites like Pinterest to create something new from something old.
Homemade and heartfelt: Nothing says, “I love you” more than a heartfelt homemade gift. A lovingly prepared loaf of bread, hand-knitted scarf or other personally crafted item not only reduces your holiday spending, but is a labor of love and carries the true message of the holiday season.
Excellent experiences: To reduce physical consumerism, give the gift of an experience like a class, concert or membership to a museum or gallery. These gifts are the gift that keep on giving as the recipient may enjoy them over the coming year.
Give goodwill: Give the gift of goodwill by making a donation to a charity or organization in the name of a friend or loved one.  Check out the chart below from our friends at Consumer Report for a list of recommended and less recommended charities for your donations.

Cause High-rated Low-rated
Animal welfare PetSmart Charities
Phoenix Animal Welfare Institute
SPCA International, N.Y. Tiger Missing Link Foundation
Blind and visually impared Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind
N.Y. Seva Foundation

American Council of the Blind

Heritage for the Blind

Cancer Cancer Research Institute
N.Y. Breast Cancer Research Foundation
American Association for Cancer Support
Cancer Survivors' Fund
Child protection Children's Defense Fund,
Prevent Child Abuse America
The Committee for Missing Children
Find the Children
Environment Earthworks
Environmental Defense Fund
Gaia-Movement Living Earth
Green World Action USA
Health Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research
American Kidney Fund
Heart Center of America, Childhood Leukemia Foundation
Human Services American Red Cross
Farm Aid
Shiloh International Ministries
Children's Charity Fund
International relief and development American Refugee Committee
International Rescue Committee
Planet Aid
Salesian Missions
Mental health and disabilities Alzheimer's Foundation of America
American Foundation for Suicide
Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation
National Caregiving Foundation
Veterans Homes for Our Troops
Operation Homefront
National Veterans Services Fund, National Vietnam Veterans Foundation
Police and firefighter support Concerns of Police Survivors,
FDNY Foundation
Disabled Police Officers Counseling Center Firefighters Charitable Foundation


Wrap up the wrap
By wrapping gifts in non-traditional packaging, waste can be prevented from entering the waste stream. Instead of traditional wrapping paper, try wrapping gifts in newspaper, squares of pretty cloth (which, if quickly hemmed, make a great napkin or hankerchief!), or simply unwrapped and decorated with a cloth bow and sprig of a holiday plant like spruce or poinsettia. Alternatively, use conventional wrapping paper and open gifts carefully so paper can be ironed, folded up and reused again next year.

Plan the travel
The holiday season sees millions of Americans take to the road and skies to visit friends and family.  Given the holidays are about family and community, no one wants to sacrifice family time (unless it’s with your Uncle Bill who, after his fourth egg nog, starts making colorful comments about the current political climate). Luckily, there are some things you can do to reduce your environmental impact while traveling. For starters, pack lightly. The more weight cars, trains and planes carry, the more fuel they burn. Do your part by keeping your suitcase light and carrying on if you can (it’s also cheaper!). Bring a refillable water bottle with you when you travel and a reusable shopping bag to reduce waste in transit and at your destination. Before you leave for your trip, unplug all electronics at home and turn the thermostat and water heater down so your home is not burning unnecessary energy while you are gone. For short trips (under 500 miles) the bus is generally the greenest option. If you are going to fly, look for the most direct flight to your destination as take offs and landings use the most fuel.

For more tips, strategies and ways to stay green this holiday season, check out Inhabit.com, your green gift source guide, Trash is for Tossers, a wonderful blog with lots of creative ways to reduce your holiday impact and trash, and GreenGlobalTravel, a great resource to help you pick the most sustainable way to travel.

From all of us at the Dartmouth Sustainability Office, we hope you have a very happy holiday season and a sustainable new year!

By Molly Smith, Sustainability Fellow, Dartmouth Sustainability Office

Works used:







Photo source: Robert Gill

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