GreenTown Los Altos

Tips to Help Make Your Holiday More Sustainable


Dec 2011


Season’s Greenings!
Have a Joyful – and Sustainable – Holiday

By Peg Champion, GreenTown Correspondent

Decorated for the holidays: The new bike shop at 359 State Street is one of 150 shops and boutiques throughout the vibrant downtown village of Los Altos.

‘Tis the season…

Between Thanksgiving and New Year in the U.S., there is an increase of more than 25 percent in waste, or about 1 million additional tons per week, according to

One of the biggest culprits is paper. Paper and cardboard make up 47 percent of the materials Los Altos contributes to our local landfill, a GreenTown Los Altos waste study indicates. The holiday season entices us to spend more and more on beautifully wrapped gifts, starting as early as Black Friday and continuing through post-Christmas sales. This year, Americans will spend a projected $875 billion from November through January on holiday gifts, or an average of $700 per person, according to Deloitte’s retail forecast.

Before getting lost in the consumer madness, think back on some of your happiest holiday memories. It’s likely these memories don’t involve wrapping paper, boxes or expensive gifts. Instead, they usually involve being with family, friends and celebrations with those you love. If we change our focus from the material to what really matters – time spent with family and friends – we can make our holidays more meaningful and friendlier for the environment.

Here are some tips from GreenTown Los Altos to help make your holiday more sustainable:

Buy Less

Start a new holiday tradition of family “Secret Santas” — everyone selects a name out of a hat and buys one gift only for that person. Share personal gifts of time and love — give “gift certificates” of your services, such as babysitting, gardening, cleaning, cooking or teaching. Or make something special – a knitted scarf, baked goods or homemade preserves.

Buy Green

Purchase “fair-trade” gifts, and help people in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities. Buy green gifts made from recycled, organic and nontoxic materials – find them at online sites such as Ethical Ocean. Or purchase gifts that give all year long, like a subscription to the community-supported agriculture program at Hidden Villa or theater tickets to the Bus Barn.

Buy Happiness

According to a study from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, donating to charities and helping others lead to the increased happiness and well-being of the giver. So buy yourself some happiness. Donate your time at a local charity in a recipient’s name. Make a contribution, or give gift memberships to local nonprofits and local chapters that support sustainability such as GreenTown Los Altos, Acterra, Slow Food South Bay and the Sierra Club Loma Prieta chapter.

Buy Local

Avoid the mall and the chain and big-box stores. Shop local businesses for unique gifts – and keep the money in your own community. Give gift certificates for spa services, restaurants and bakeries or even auto repair. Check out resale and consignment shops for designer clothes at a fraction of the cost. Bonus: Ride your bike to Main Street, and shed some holiday pounds as well!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Instead of buying expensive gift paper, schedule an afternoon for a family craft project and create your own. Children can stamp, stencil or draw holiday designs on rolls of recycled brown or white paper. Wrap your gifts in maps, magazine pages or newspaper comics. Reuse and repurpose wrapping paper and cards. Trim last year’s holiday cards to make unique gift tags. Send your holiday greetings online.

If you buy new, choose sustainable cards and wrapping paper. Look for 100 percent recycled chlorine-free paper printed with soy inks – standard petroleum-based inks omit volatile compounds such as dioxin, one of the most deadly chemicals known. Check out Of the Earth for handmade paper with embedded wildflower seeds or Fish Lips Paper Designs for a contemporary look. Or take a workshop, and learn how to make “eco wrap” using repurposed fabric, discarded books, magazines and junk mail at FabMo, in Mountain View.

Check out our resources to make your holiday more sustainable:


Seasons Greenings from GreenTown!

Peg Champion is a member of GreenTown Los Altos and the principal of Champion Organic Communications. Her work focuses on communication and education strategies to encourage sustainable behavior. For more information visit

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