The holidays are traditionally a time for overindulgence – after all, that Peppermint Mocha from Dutch Bros. Coffee is only offered for a limited time. Given the abundance of traditions that tend to consume scarce resources – think about all that gift wrap and those long drives from house to house – it can be challenging for someone to think ‘green’ during this time of year.
This fall, University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) Professor Kim Sheehan and SOJC senior journalism major Casey Minter challenged students in their Freshman Interest Group (FIG) class to think of methods for sustainable holidays.
Students followed the lead of the nationally recognized No Impact Project. The experiment calls for a one-week carbon cleanse with the hope of taking a small step towards the growing wave of change in communities across the nation.
Following the No Impact Project’s mission, FIG brought together 20 students taking J201, Media and Society, and ENVS 201, Intro to Environmental Science, during the fall term. In addition to learning the basics of media and environmental studies, students discussed how to be better citizens of the earth and to talk about sustainability issues with family and friends.
To begin, the freshmen students participated in the No Impact Experiment for a week, where they examined their resource use and tried new ways to reduce their daily impact on the earth. Armed with this knowledge, they cast a critical eye at the Thanksgiving table to think of ways to be more sustainable during the holidays.
The following are some of the student’s observations and suggestions for creating more sustainable holidays.
Eat local and organic.
George Graziano reports that locally sourced food uses less energy from farm to market to table. As a guest at a friend’s Thanksgiving festivities, Francesca Daizovi discovered that buying local helped the citizens of the small town where she celebrated. Jesse Sirkin says using neighborhood fruits make great holiday pies. Carson Bennett encourages people to think about making pumpkin pie by cooking a pumpkin, not by opening a can. And Katy Roy-Johnson recommends planning ahead to grow seasonal gifts in your own garden.
Anthony Bernardini missed spending the holiday with his family but realized that celebrating with friends in Portland contributed to a greener holiday by limiting travel. For those not ready to miss the family gathering, Julia McLeod suggests limiting your long trips to once every other year, and taking the year in between to celebrate with close friends, family and neighbors.
Sydney Meyer’s dad replaced all the light bulbs in their house with Cree LEC bulbs. Meyer estimates that the simple exchange reduced electricity use from 780 watts per hour to 114 watts per hour. Kate Williams’ and Hannah Savinar’s families turned off overhead lights and ate their midday meal by candlelight, creating a festive and fragrant atmosphere. Jessica Howard recommends putting timers on your holiday lights to reduce energy consumption. Hannah Savinar saved energy by keeping the electronic mixer in the cabinet and mixing up goodies by hand. Mackenzie Fitzpatrick fit as much food as she could into the oven to minimize the amount of time the oven was on. And James Houston says to be sure the tap isn’t left running while scrubbing down pots and pans.
Spend quality family time.
Sulley Schuster says cleaning up after a big meal can be a fun group effort and not a chore allowing families bonding time. After their big meal, Sasha Burrows and his family took a long walk instead of driving to a movie theater. And Jesse Sirkin’s family rode their bikes everywhere over the holidays. They had some great family time and they all worked off a few of those excess calories.
Share and use leftovers.
Sophia Amato proposes taking your leftovers to a homeless shelter and helping those in need. Lauren Schwartz’s family invites guests to bring reusable containers to the meal so everyone can take leftovers home. Sara Bagnell’s idea is even simpler: just remember there are leftovers in the fridge and eat them instead of going out for a meal.
George Graziano recommends turning this holiday’s meal waste into next year’s garden soil by composting.
Reduce, reuse and recycle.
James Houston endorses avoiding disposable aluminum pans for cooking the turkey and using a large baking vessel instead. In the same vein, Kate Williams votes for eschewing holiday-themed paper napkins and replacing them with reusable cloth napkins. If your grandparents want to use plastic utensils and paper plates because it is easier for cleanup, Kylie Elliot and Mackenzie Fitzpatrick suggest that you offer to do the clean up for them if they use real plates and silverware. Carla Avila says if you’re preparing for a holiday party, you should look in your closet for something you haven’t worn for a while. Add a festive accessory and it might feel like a new outfit, saving you money and trip to the mall.
Haley Peterson makes a list and checks it twice so she doesn’t overbuy. She also tries to walk or bike to local bookstores and other independent retailers. Bria Lamothe takes her own bags with her on shopping expeditions so she doesn’t waste a store bag or have to buy one at the store. Kristi Goodspeed combines holiday shopping trips with grocery and other errands to save gas. And Lina Mochizuki warns not to be sucked in by big sales.
Instructors Sheehan and Minter also got into the No Impact spirit. Sheehan joined a winter community supported agriculture (CSA) program and got all the fixings for a holiday dinner, including mushrooms, spinach, carrots, celery, potatoes, onions and squash. Minter used as much of the turkey as possible, including making soup out of the turkey carcass. He says a 20-pound carcass can easily make enough soup for a week of meals, and with the right culinary twist, it can be a perfect way to warm up in the cold weeks following the holiday.
Story contributed by Professor Kim Sheehan.