Fifteen ways to go green this holiday season


The holiday season is traditionally a time of plenty, but it can also be a time of excess. The average American household generates 25 percent more trash during the holiday season. And who has never thrown away freezer-burnt leftovers because nobody got around to eating them? Add in all the energy use from extra travel and hospitality, and last six weeks of the year end up having quite an impact on our natural resources.

The Sustainability and Environment Management Office at Vanderbilt University has put together a list of 15 actions everyone can take to reduce holiday waste and make the season a little greener.


  • Choose to serve meat and vegetables that are locally and sustainably grown.
  • Consider serving less meat and more vegetables. Meat requires more resources to produce than veggies.
  • Plan for fewer leftovers to minimize food waste.

Travel and entertaining

  • Carpool, encourage guests to carpool, and offset the carbon footprint of any air travel at, or
  • Turn your thermostat down when you are traveling or having a party—extra guests generate more heat.
  • Send e-cards and e-vites or make holiday phone calls instead of mailing paper greetings and invitations.
  • Use reusable, recyclable or recycled plates, napkins and utensils.
  • Provide recycling containers for your guests. Recruit the kids to collect and sort items.


  • Buy a live tree with a rootball and replant it after the holidays if you can. Or recycle your tree into mulch—many cities and towns offer chipper service after the holidays.
  • Swap ornaments and decorations with friends instead of buying new ones.
  • Decorate using items you already have or items that can be reused and enjoyed after your event, such as whole fruit, small plants, and herbs.
  • Decorate with fewer lights—consider alternatives like popcorn strings.
  • Put your holiday lights on a timer. If you buy lights, choose LED lights, which use less energy.


  • Consolidate shopping trips to save time, gas, and hassle and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Give gifts that require minimal packaging or wrapping—tickets, gift cards, antiques, charitable contributions or even just the gift of your time. Consider placing gifts in packaging that can be reused, such as baskets, bags, or fabric wrappers.

Learn More

For more information about Vanderbilt’s sustainability program, visit SustainVU, become a fan of the SustainVU Facebook page, or contact SEMO at or (615) 322-9022.

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