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Green Tips for Holiday Shoppers

green gifts

The stockings are hung by the chimney with care.

But when it comes to green shopping, are consumers aware?

If you eat less meat, buy local and consolidate your shopping trips, you may make it to the top of Santa's list of good green shoppers.

But your ascent may not have that much of an impact on your environmental footprint.

Based on their work over the past 10 years, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Green Design Institute have compiled their own holiday checklist.

They wanted to see if consumers are "naughty or nice" when it comes to reducing the environmental impact of holiday shopping.

"Around this time of year, we routinely get asked questions about how best to protect the environment during the holiday rush. So we put together this suggested shopping advice," said Chris Hendrickson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon.

"For the average consumer, generally the two biggest sources of your environmental footprint come from your residence, and the kind of car your drive," said H. Scott Matthews, a CMU professor of civil and environmental engineering and engineering and public policy.

"For example, our previous work shows that about two-thirds of your carbon footprint comes from these two categories. So, if we are really trying to reduce your impact, those are the places that matter the most."

Matthews added, "And these are just two pieces amidst thousands of decisions that a household makes in a year."

The researchers found that there are relatively few holiday gifts that one could buy (or not buy) that have a significant effect on your "footprint" despite all the marketing messages saying otherwise.

The green holiday season and shopping tips include:

  • Buy and eat less red meat and dairy, since environmental impacts of both are larger than other foods.
  • Bike, walk or take a bus to the store. That activity lessens the carbon footprint of purchases by about 50 percent.
  • Shop in advance, buy multiple items at the same store or choose the slowest online delivery service since overnight transport increases transportation and fuel carbon footprints by 20 percent.
  • Recycle gift-wrap.
  • Buy replacement appliances, lights and cars that are energy efficient.


"If you have an artificial Christmas tree, use it as long a possible — the higher impacts of manufacturing it "pay off" in environmental terms compared to a natural tree in about 10 years," Matthews said. 

"Similarly, look for efficient lighting. Households use about 20 percent of their electricity on lighting. Energy efficient bulbs, including Christmas tree lights, are a great thing to buy."


Related Links: Green Design Institute | Civil & Environmental Engineering | Engineering & Public Policy