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Climate Action: The Holiday Season and Your Carbon Footprint

Updated: Jan 23, 2021

By Carrie Tai, Nov 29, 2019

The holiday season is all about spending time with family, friends and neighbours. Though it can be stressful, it is something most of us look forward to.

Typically, families increase their carbon footprint during this time. So, can we reduce our carbon footprint and still enjoy the holidays? Yes, with just a few tweaks here and there you can make a big difference:

By far your biggest carbon footprint will have to do with food. And the good news is this is also where you can reduce your emissions the most. We all love to gather around meals. Buy food locally to minimize your carbon footprint. Think about what you are cooking. Each type of food has a different carbon footprint. A meatless meal is best. Poultry is better than beef. For more information, check out my article Climate Action: Reduce Your Carbon Footprint by Changing Your Eating Habits.

And be mindful of food waste. When hosting, it can be difficult to prepare just the right amount of food. Who wants to run out of food when guests are over? The bottom line is you will probably have leftovers. These can be frozen for a later date, or consider giving your guests a doggie bag. For other ideas on what to do with extra food, check out my article Climate Action: Reduce Your Food Waste.

But what about holiday travel? A lot of families like to get away from our harsh cold Canadian winters and go somewhere warmer. Or maybe you want to visit family in a different part of the country or world. If possible, try to take a car (electric is best) or the train. But, sometimes the only way to get there is by plane. In that case, consider buying carbon offsets. A carbon offset is a way to negate your added emissions (in this case from air travel) by donating to a project that will reduce carbon emissions. There are many different organizations doing carbon offsets that you can find by googling. One such organization that I like is Cool Effect which is a non-profit in California.

Here are some additional areas where you can reduce your carbon footprint that are specific to Christmas:

Let’s first look at the Christmas tree dilemma. What’s better, a real tree or an artificial one? Well surprisingly, a real tree bought locally will have the smaller footprint, especially if it is disposed of properly. A 6 ½ foot tree has an approximate carbon footprint of 3.5 kg of carbon emissions versus the same size artificial tree which would emit 40 kg of carbon emissions. An artificial tree would need to be reused for about 12 years to have the equivalent carbon footprint as the real tree. Even then, it will end up in the landfill.

What about Christmas decorations? Most Christmas decorations are made from non-recyclable materials. Ensure you buy good quality decorations that will last and can be reused from year to year.

And then there are the holiday lights. Using efficient LED lights will cut your carbon footprint and energy bill by 80 – 90%. And you can reduce this even more by putting the lights on a timer so that they are not on 24 hours a day.

What is Christmas without gifts? For many young children, the magic of Christmas is the visit from Santa Claus and waking up to presents stuffed under the tree. But maybe the best gift for our children and grandchildren is to leave them a bright and beautiful future? One way we can do that is by reducing our Christmas carbon footprint. Does that mean we shouldn’t buy presents? No, not necessarily. However the best option for presents is to avoid buying physical gifts. Instead, maybe you could gift an event, for instance a concert, a dinner out or some other experience. These memories will last longer than any gift. But if you have to buy a physical gift, try to buy quality items that have a long life and if possible find something that was manufactured locally. Mostly, stay away from last minute shopping and buying something a person will not use. Another option is to gift the planet by making a donation in the name of the person you are buying for. There are a lot of organizations that are doing great work to tackle the effects of climate change and your donation could fund their work. Christmas is all about giving, so you can even consider donating to a good cause in your community or elsewhere. This is especially true of teacher gifts. It is hard to find something that teachers will actually appreciate. In the last few years, my husband and I have been giving Gifts of Hope in the name of my daughter’s teachers. For example, we have donated school essentials for a child. We have even combined some teacher gifts to provide a sheep for a family in a developing country. There are so many options including gifting clean water for a community. The look on the teachers’ face when they read about the donation says it all! And it’s a win-win knowing that there is no carbon footprint to our gift!

With physical presents comes wrapping paper. Try to use recyclable gift bags that can be reused. If you must wrap the present, avoid shiny or glossy wrapping paper that is not recyclable.

Now you can enjoy the Holiday Season knowing you are not compromising

your children’s and grandchildren’s future!

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For more information about what you can do to take action on the Climate Crisis, email Carrie Tai at

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