Ask Eartha: How to have a sustainable Christmas |

Ask Eartha: How to have a sustainable Christmas

Lisa Hueneke
High Country Conservation Center
The marketing machine of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday can turn even the most rational people into impulsive, sale-crazed, anxiety-ridden shoppers.
Stock photo

Dear Eartha,
How can I give great gifts this holiday while still being sustainable?

The holiday season is here and with it a parade of pressure to buy, give and consume. The marketing machine of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday can turn even the most rational people into impulsive, sale-crazed, anxiety-ridden shoppers. Before we know it, we buy more than we intended and receive more than we know what to do with.

According to the online data firm Adobe Analytics, sales from Cyber Monday topped $7.9 billion in 2018, an increase of almost 20% from the previous year. And it’s not just overconsumption that is burning through resources and filling up landfills. Expectation for fast delivery is contributing to an increase in our carbon emissions.

It is possible to balance our desire to give and consume without being a scrooge?

Consider costs beyond the price tag

Think about the life cycle of the gifts you give — the resources required to produce that gift and what happens to it once you are done using it. The fashion industry, for instance, makes up about 8% of global carbon emissions according to a 2018 report by Quantis. As much as 90% of that carbon impact comes from the manufacturing of raw materials. Even more, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only 15% of textiles are recycled.

Reducing our waste doesn’t start with recycling but, rather, our consumption. As consumers, we have the power to upend the production of more stuff we don’t need. If we keep demanding cheap, plastic toys for children, we will be endlessly supplied with them. If we keep upgrading perfectly usable electronics, we will deplete the Earth of resources trying to manufacture new ones.

Change your (and others’) expectations

Look at your gift-giving motivations and what others expect of you. Are they realistic? Do they promote a sustainable giving culture or a wasteful one? Do you find yourself scrambling for plastic trinkets, going over budget or buying things just because they are on sale?

Set positive, sustainable expectations with those in your giving circle. This may be limiting quantity of gifts or spending amount, going in as a group on one special thing, or shifting the expectation of new, shiny things in favor of homemade, used, nontraditional or intangible gifts.

Go for gifts that don’t end up in the landfill

Let’s broaden our definition of what a gift can be. Give the gift of your time, a precious resource itself. Can you gift child care, pet sitting, help with a home improvement project or a special one-on-one adventure with your child?

Give an experience. While small to unwrap, experiences enrich lives. This could be a day ticket to a resort not on a friend’s ski pass, gift certificate to a favorite restaurant, sleigh ride, yurt trip, wine tasting or theater tickets. This is also a great way to support locally owned businesses.

Turn to your network. Maybe someone you know is an artist or maker. Support family or friends while making your gift more personalized and meaningful. Or look to your own talents and put them to use. These gifts are far less likely to end up in the back of a closet or in the trash bin.

Food baskets are not lame. Craft a gourmet food and drink basket with a theme around a favorite destination or upcoming trip. Maybe the recipient is known for a snack obsession. Now is the time to make sure they are stocked for the new year. These kinds of gifts won’t go to waste.

Finally, consider giving to a local nonprofit aligned with your values. You can donate in someone’s name and take advantage of matching opportunities that make your gift go even further. In fact, Colorado Gives Day is just around the corner Dec. 10.

No matter the time of year, you can do your part with more sustainable shopping habits such as grouping online orders, opting for slower delivery, shopping local, bringing reusable bags and having a plan every time you shop.

We know more stuff doesn’t make us happier. Be empowered this holiday season to make intentional choices that are better for you, your loved ones and the planet.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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