Americans have taken a big environmental hit this year. California is ablaze from Malibu to Chico. Homeowners in Florida and Georgia continue to recover from Hurricane Michael. The evidence for human-caused climate change continues to pour in–reports of the melting polar ice shelf and extreme weather shifts. This makes preparing for the upcoming holidays with Mother Earth in mind a surprise-free no-brainer.
People have decided to give back this year. Many are donating to help those caught in California’s flames. People swept away in hurricanes is another popular charity topic. Donors have already given to the annual New York Times Neediest Cases Fund.
Laura Holson, reporter for The New York Times, recently spoke to development executive for the Central Park Conservancy, Laura Hall. She wanted to see if their tulip and daffodil planting program had seen an increase in donations. Last year gifts jumped nearly one-third to $110,000. This was its largest jump ever, going up from 2016. “People feel like they are doing something good for a lot of people,” said Hall. The conservancy is even taking a cue from online retailers: Hall said they were having a sale on Cyber Monday (the first Monday after Black Friday, when online retailers have their biggest sale of the year)–50 bulbs will be planted for a $40 donation. This is a 20 percent discount.
Those that are buying presents are finding eco-friendly ways to do so. Neiman Marcus publishes a look book of extravagant gift items each year. They are selling a solar powered yacht, but eco-friendly doesn’t always come cheap. This actual boat will cost you $1.7 million! But if a yacht is a little too expensive, Oprah Winfrey’s annual holiday list includes a set of reusable straws for only $20.
Then, there are those who are opting for experiences over things, deciding to spend their holidays with a local charity. “All of us feel the onslaught from the world,” said Ken Fulk. Fulk is the founder of St. Joseph’s Art Society and a cultural curator from San Francisco, California. “There is the craziness of climate change, the continued presence of natural disasters. And then, of course, there is the state of public discourse today.”
The holiday of Kwanzaa seems tailor made for eco-friendly holiday celebrations. Created in 1966 to celebrate African values and culture, and celebrated in December for seven days, gifts are traditionally handmade. This is to show respect for ancestors.
Susan McTavish Best, the founder of lifestyle brand Living McTavish, says that she skips buying presents altogether. She prefers welcoming large groups of friends to her home year round. “I give them my time, my thought–and it is expensive to entertain, even thought I love it,” she states. “Besides, do we need more things?” Stark agreed. “I definitely think that the desire to help other people instead of buying token, disposable stuff is more important now.”
Gift wrap should have a second look taken at it too. Not long ago, Martha Stewart, queen of the holidays, offered relatively improbable recommendations. She suggested using birth bark and fresh leaves, or packing boxes with air-popped popcorn and unsalted peanuts. Instead, event designer David Stark says he uses leftover fabric swatches. He has planned parties for the Metropolitan Opera and the Whitney Museum. Stark may also cover a cookbook with a dish towel before placing it beneath his tree. “And have you seen how the French wrap gifts?” he asked in a phone interview. “They wrap without tape!” This is a revelation for the most eco and/or financially conscious who want to make sure once used wrapping paper doesn’t go to waste. “It’s the tape that destroys the paper,” Stark said knowingly.
People are also exploring less wasteful ways to decorate this year. Back in 2009. Obama’s first year in the White House, Barack and Michelle decorated their 18 1/2 foot Christmas tree with LED bulbs.
Eco-friendly holiday traditions have been around for years, it just seems to go in and out of the public’s consciousness. This year, it’s in. LED bulbs can be much brighter than traditional light bulbs, but they always use less energy. They also refurbished and reused 800 recycled ornaments from previous administrations. LED light bulbs remain very popular, and ornaments can be reused over and over for decades. This gives them their own appeal.
Fulk says he spends two weeks in Montana each Christmas season. He buys a live tree that is later planted. “It only stays fresh for about 10 days inside,” he explains, “But if you don’t mind not having a tree up for a month, it’s fine.”
One of the things Fulk does at work is plan events for Silicon Valley’s wealthy “technocrats.” Many of his wealthy clients still love flower displays at their holiday parties. Fulk, on the other hand, is puzzled by this decision. “You don’t want this stuff to just end up in the garbage,” he states. To solve this problem, he donates the bouquets to local charities after the last guests leave. He says that mistletoe, which is actually just a parasitic plant that has benefited from smart marketing, grows on the oak trees on his Napa Valley ranch. He uses this for holiday decorations. “We forage when we go on hikes.”
(UPDATE: The Eco Collective’s eco-subscription box is now available in America! Including items such as a Joco coffee cup, Honeywrap food wraps, and the book How to Give up Plastic, shipping costs $23.93 [NZD $35] This would make a great present for someone looking to start a green or have a greener life. You can also purchase items from Custom Earth Promos, such as seed paper items that grow into wildflowers for all the green thumbs, USB drives for the tech junkie in your life, and recycled notebooks for your favorite author.)