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How to enjoy the festive period without costing the earth

In tune with the famous Christmas song - Twelve days of Christmas… we are sending your way 12 tips for an environmentally friendly Christmas.

Whilst the climate crisis isn’t going away any time soon, now is not the time to say ‘bah humbug’ to sustainability, so we have paired these tips up with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to prove that we can all contribute to their achievement, however small our actions are!

Christmas Dinner

Studies show that in some cases more than 60% of the environmental impact of our food comes from the way we cook things. Not surprising with nearly 70% of the UK using Gas for cooking!

We all know there are things we can do to improve our own health and reduce waste so this short video looks at the British diet in the context of Net Zero 2050.

And this article titled ‘Can your Christmas dinner help save the planet?’ includes research that looks at how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from your annual feast.

Overall though, be mindful about food waste – good planning and preparation is the key.

Plan meals accordingly and have food storage containers at hand ready for leftovers, if there are any! In our household though, a major part of Christmas is visiting the fridge for leftovers over the festive period.

Aligns with UN Sustainability Goals: No.2 – No hunger / No.3 Good health / No.12 Responsible consumption.

Christmas Tree

Roughly 8 million natural and 2.6 million artificial Christmas trees are consumed in the UK every year. So, which is better; Fake or Fir?

The answer is (of course) much more complicated than the question - but if you have a fake tree, estimates are that you will need to re-use this for possibly even 20 years to mitigate the environmental cost of its manufacture.

This year I myself have opted for a living, potted Christmas tree.

When the time comes I'll be taking it to its allocated space in the garden where it will sequester carbon year-round until needed again.

This short film from the BBC explains more.

If you do choose a cut tree, source one that’s been grown locally or grown within the UK and don’t forget to recycle it at the end of the holidays.

A previous post on The Hub looked at this topic and includes a fantastic video showing how much lions love a good tree!

Aligns with UN Sustainability Goals: No.11 Sustainable cities and communities / No.12 Responsible consumption / No. 15 Life on land

Christmas Lights

Make sure you choose LED versions and put them on the timer. That way you can be sure that you are consuming as little energy with your twinkly festive lights as possible.

This article from Wired covers lights and some of the other things to think about, like travel and buying sustainable gifts:

Aligns with UN Sustainability Goals: No.7 Renewable energy / No.11 Sustainable cities and communities / No. 12 Responsible consumption

Christmas Shopping

We all now have reusable shopping bags handy in our pockets or cars don’t we so that we can avoid singe use ones?

Aligns with UN Sustainability Goal: No. 12 Responsible consumption

Christmas Presents

Where possible, choose eco-friendly gifts and consider presents that don’t consume electricity.  

If they do require batteries, then choose rechargeable ones.

Better still, look at reusable or homemade gifts. And, why not gift an experience rather than an item?

We’ve also previously posted on The Hub the joy of finding unusual and unique gifts through charity shops.

Aligns with UN Sustainability Goals: No.7 Renewable energy / No. 12 Responsible consumption

Christmas Wrapping Paper

It should go without saying that we all need to use environmentally friendly wrapping paper and we especially need to avoid anything with glitter on it.

Here's an article from Martha Stweart that uses the same techniques to wrap gifts without needing to use any sellotape.

Aligns with UN Sustainability Goal: No. 12 Responsible consumption

Christmas Cards

Make your own or buy ones made from recycled paper and (again) avoid the glittery ones as glitter is very bad for the environment.

Don’t forget to recycle them afterwards.

Again, we’ve posted on The Hub before about the pro’s and con’s of Christmas cards.

Aligns with UN Sustainability Goal: No. 12 Responsible consumption

Christmas Decorations

Why not try natural decorations such as mistletoe and holly? If you’ve got a real tree, then the chances are that you’ll need to remove some of the larger branches and these can also be used as festive sprays on mantlepieces and around the house

Just as relevant this year as it was last last year, is the following article on the Hub by Ellina Webb who discusses some ways we can use origami for a sustainable Christmas.

Aligns with UN Sustainability Goals: No.11 Sustainable cities and communities / No. 12 Responsible consumption / No.15 Life on land

Christmas Jumpers

We’ve all got one!

And even if you haven’t got a festive version, you will have a jumper, or cardigan, so turn the heating down by 1 degree and enjoy the warmth of your Christmas jumper while reducing energy use.

Aligns with UN Sustainability Goals: No.3 Good health / No.7 Renewable energy / No. 13 Climate action

Christmas Time

Christmas can be a time of excess for many, and whilst there’s lots to watch, make sure you also turn off your TV/Xbox/PlayStation etc.

Not only will you save some electricity, it will give you more time to enjoy your family and friends, without some electronic device distracting you.

It’s also worth remembering that Christmas can be a time of loneliness for some less fortunate than you.

Reach out to people over the festive period and make sure everyone you know stays healthy and mentally well. 

Aligns with UN Sustainability Goals: No.3 Good health / No.7 Renewable energy

Christmas Tips

Share your Christmas Tips with everyone and, if you’ve got ideas of your own, let us know so that we can update our list for next year.

After all, sustainability isn’t just for Christmas!

New Year’s resolutions

Finally, as you’re resting after all the festivities, give a thought to what changes you plan for the forthcoming year?

Whether it’s cutting down on meat consumption, recycling more, going for walks or exercising more, there are immediate benefits for both you and the environment.

Studies show that just by being outdoors and connecting with nature, you can improve your own wellbeing.

Remember that even the most smallest of changes add up and this can not only help you mentally and physically, it will also help you reduce your own carbon footprint.

Jack Bain is a member of the Sustainability Team