Have yourself a low-carbon holiday

How did a pagan fest co-opted by the Church to celebrate the birth of a kid so poor he was.

How did a pagan fest co-opted by the Church to celebrate the birth of a kid so poor he was delivered in a manger turn into the most gluttonous event of the year? Blame St. Nick, blame Best Buy, blame clever marketers, but at the end of the day we all share some of the blame for the holiday bloat.


According to a study by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), seasonal spending on lighting, gifts, travel and food can add up to 650 kilograms of carbon emission per person. If you want to avoid any hauntings by the ghost of holidays future, here are the top Ecoholic tips for a very merry carbon-friendly season.

Put down the credit card. If you haven’t finished shopping already, resist all further mall dashes and the compulsion to top up your stockings. Don’t forget that everything on those wish lists comes with a carbon footprint. Industrial Design Consultancy measured the carbon embedded in a number of prezzies and found that, surprise, electronics pack the biggest punch.


What your gifts are packing

iPod Nano: 31 kg CO2

Blender: 62 kg CO2

Gold chain: 15 kg CO2

Trivial Pursuit 90s Edition: 21 kg CO2

Talking Teddy: 37 kg CO2

V.Smile Baby (infant computer game): 93 kg CO2

Industrial Design Consultancy

And the value of not buying unwanted presents? Priceless. Well, actually, according to the SEI, a full 80 kg of carbon per person could be slashed if we stopped buying each other shit that we literally don’t use. In fact, if we replaced a third of our conventional gifts with ethical, charity, DIY and eco gifts, we could knock another 30 kg off our Santa scales. For ideas on local green stores, check out shopsustainable.ca.

Trade in the lights. You’d be surprised how many people still haven’t swapped their old holiday string lights for LEDs. I know the old ones were warmer and cozier (I miss them, too) than some of the icy-cold LEDs on the market, but LEDs are getting better every year, I swear.

Just do your research before you buy a string you hate and end up never using. Make sure it’s the right kind of warm white. Downsizing from a National Lampoon-inspired display of incandescents to a modest amount of energy-efficient LED lights would shave off over 200 kg of CO2 from your holiday decorating!

By the way, if the flickering of some LED lights gives you a headache, ask around for “rectified” or “full wave” ones that run at 120 hertz instead of more visibly flickery 60 hertz.

Bike to Grandma’s. Fine, so this one’s tough if your grandma lives in Timmins, but Canadians really do need to try harder to fold trains and buses into their holiday sked.

Who needs the dodgy road conditions with a car that guzzles more fuel than normal (mileage drops 5 to 10 per cent in winter), not to mention frayed nerves.

Switching from car to choo-choo travel could lop off 63 kg of CO2 per person from your festive visits. But if you do drive, check tire pressure and avoid warm-ups longer than 10 seconds.

Leave dinner to the birds. And I don’t mean that in the Brit slang sense of letting women slave over the hot stove. I mean leave the roast beef out of your dinner plans. A roasted free-range chicken or turkey will lighten your carbon load, especially if it was fed organic grain. (Battery-caged chickens have an even lower footprint, but they’re an ethical quagmire.)

Even a festive organic glazed ham would do, since pork has a quarter the carbon footprint of beef, though a Tofurkey dinner would score you top green points. A vegetarian holiday meal saves 3 kg of CO2 per person, says the SEI. If 50 per cent of your food were organic, you’d save another 2 kg, and having a zero-waste meal would trim off a good 7 kg.

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