A Green Christmas (Part 1)

Sheri Reed

How do you go green at Christmas and keep the festive holiday spirit alive?

Well, recently I got to ask author Trish Riley (The Complete Idiot's Guide to Green Living) some questions about how to best celebrate a Green Christmas.

Let's see what Trish had to say...

When it comes to decorating for the holidays, how can families do their part to "green" their holiday choices and reduce their carbon footprint?

Trish Riley: Decorate an outdoor tree instead of a cut tree. According to the University of Illinois Extension Office, 30-35 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year—it's a billion dollar business. But that doesn't mean we have to support it…

Use less lights, replace old lights with new LEDs that will last longer. and use less electricity.

Make your home fragrant with natural scents of pine boughs, cinnamon and clove on the stove; candles scented with natural essential oils (more on the importance of this below).

What are some easy things we can do during the holidays to reduce our family's carbon footprint?

Trish Riley: Choose items with less packaging, avoid plastic whenever possible, including taking your own bags to the store.

Wrap with reusable fabrics or bags, recycled paper, or newspaper. Our favorite solution is to use colorful pages from old magazines to create personalized wrapping paper for our gifts.

Make room for the new: Have kids clean out their closets and donate any unwanted but still good clothing and toys so that other kids might enjoy them.

At the same time, help curb kids' consumerism by having fewer gifts—choose one or two meaningful items instead of a roomful of toys.

Is the meaning of the season really about buying things? That's a consumeristic attitude we've been taught. But there is so much more we can give our loved ones than Stuff. You and your kids can learn about consumerism by watching a nifty video together: storyofstuff.com by Annie Leonard.

Be stingy with the bucks but generous with your time and affection: Fewer gifts, more love.

What are some environmentally friendly gift ideas for beginners?

Trish Riley: In 2005, I created the GoGreenGift (gogreengift.com) because I was frustrated that environmental stories weren't reaching many consumers. Since then, Al Gore helped make green the new black (in 2006), but GoGreenGift continues as a great way to help your family and friends learn more about going green. GoGreenGift is the original  eco-starter kit, which includes a CFL, low-flow shower head, natural body care products, organic coffee and treats, plus information resources including an autographed copy of my book, all in a reusable organic cotton shopping bag.

If you buy perfume or cosmetics, choose non-toxic ones with all-natural ingredients.

A lucky family member getting a new car? Buy them a hybrid or at least a low-emission, high mileage vehicle—hybrids get 45 MPG—try to get as close as you can to that.

What are some environmentally friendly gift ideas for already-green experts?

Trish Riley: A countertop crock for composting table scraps. An outdoor compost bin to turn those scraps into nourishment for the garden. A rain collection barrel. Choose natural fabric clothing, preferably organic; natural body care products; books about how to build a cistern to collect water or install solar panels or a small wind turbine. We can make these changes!

What are some environmentally friendly gift ideas for pets?

Trish Riley: Natural pet foods, treats, and toys that aren't made with toxic chemicals. More walks in the neighborhood and trips to the park—good for your whole family!

What cleaning products or cleaning tips do you recommend, as families prepare their homes for holiday entertaining?

Trish Riley: I use natural essential oils instead of toxic cleaning products as much as possible. A few drops of your favorite oil (I love the fresh scent of grapefruit or lemon and the soothing scent of lavender) in a bucket of hot water will clean your home as well or better than the toxic products we've grown up with. Be certain to use real, natural essential oils, which have antimicrobial properties to fight off germs in your home. If the package says "fragrance," that's the clue that it's synthetic. Beware of products that contain a little essential oil but also have synthetic petrochemicals.

What are some of the most helpful eco-friendly charitable organizations that need support during the holiday season?

Trish Riley: Co-op America (will be known as Green America in 2009) provides support and education for green businesses and individuals.

Can you recommend a good book for teaching children about the importance of Greener Living?

Trish Riley: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Green Living, of course! There are also several tips books that give kids a little info at a time that can help them learn and make changes at the same time.

The power to save the planet is truly in our hands because the most important thing is not how much of your budget you allocate to green products, but how large a market demand we create for healthier products. Once retailers and manufacturers know that's what we want, that's what they'll give us. We can turn the tide.

Thanks for the tips, Trish.

For more on the eco-friendliness of Christmas trees, read Cafe Kristen's post: Real or Fake Christmas Tree?

Drop by tomorrow for A Green Christmas (Part 2) with answers from author Nancy S. Grant (The Pocket Idiot's Guide™ to Your Carbon Footprint).

+++ Are you going green this Christmas or holiday season? Tell us how.

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