Holiday Green Living Energy Savings

Following up on our recent theme of energy, the Green Lights team has gathered a few ideas to keep in mind when preparing that special holiday meal that many of us will be serving. Preheating the oven is not necessary for long-slow cooking, as for turkey or ham; and oven heat can be turned off a few minutes early for most dishes, since cooking will continue as long as the oven door stays closed. Also, to check on the contents, it’s sometimes enough to use the oven light rather than opening the oven door (which can lower the temperature by up to 25 degrees). Food prepared in glass or ceramic pans can be cooked at temperatures about 25 degrees lower than your instructions or recipe calls for. One surprising tip: washing dishes in a dishwasher takes 37 percent less water than washing them by hand; and to save energy, avoid the ‘rinse hold’ setting, and use air-drying, (by appliance setting, or by just opening the door to let dishes dry). If you’re having a house-full of guests, keep the thermostat setting low, since body heat will help keep your rooms toasty. Many of these ideas and more (on lighting, gifts, trees etc.) can be found at sites like (Residential Energy Services Network).

Holiday Green Living Shopping

With the holiday season just around the corner, we’re all likely to be doing more shopping than usual: looking for gifts, shopping for ingredients to make special meals for family and guests. So it seemed like a good time to share a series of ideas on shopping. We are borrowing five tips from a website dedicated to this area:

  1. Look for solar- or hand-powered devices, rather than those that require batteries. Since this is not always an easy search, consider looking into rechargeable batteries.
  2. Avoid synthetic fragrances and air fresheners. These often contain phthalates, which are also found in nail polish and other products, and are at best questionable in terms of their health impact. To give your home a holiday feel, consider just keeping some cloves and cinnamon sticks simmering in a pan on the stove.
  3. Beware of plastics; some of these contain Bisphenol A, better known as BPA. Try to use and choose stainless steel, aluminum, or glass; and consider safe wood toys decorated with lead-free paint.
  4. Don’t buy wrapping paper (even if it’s recycled!). There are dozens of other creative ways to wrap gifts:  use a pretty towel or napkin, a scarf, or even the Sunday comics. This may seem like a small adjustment to make; but apparently, Americans produce 25% more trash during the holiday season, which amounts to 25 million tons of garbage!  Quoting from the site below:  “[I]f every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.”
  5. Be wary of the term “natural,” which actually doesn’t carry much meaning. Look for labels that certify products as organic, non-toxic, fair-trade, etc.  A list of labels we can trust are given on the site.

Holiday Decor

Most of us will want to make our homes feel welcoming and warm. That might start with a tip from last week, boiling cinnamon, cloves and allspice. But other scents, too, can be festive: use a few drops of pine oil or other favorite fragrance to make your home feel warm this holiday season.

Of course, many of us will be decorating our homes this season, and here, too there are many ‘green’ ideas.  Use LED decorative holidays lights, for instance—one study by the U.S. Department of Energy claims that we could save two billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, or more… enough to power 200,000 homes for a year!

If you put up a Christmas tree, consider choosing from a farm that uses sustainable practices.  Or consider a living tree (but remember, these can only be kept inside for a short time).  Another idea:  start a family tradition:  plant one tree in the spring to replace the one you may have cut down in December.  Vintage aluminum trees are an easy, tree-saving alternative as well; but beware of artificial green plastic trees, which may contain harmful PVC).  And speaking of toxic issues, we all need to be careful of plastics or other things that might look lovely but be dangerous; one example is spray-on snow, which contains acetone or methylene chloride.

When decorating the tree, think of exploring for ornaments at a thrift store rather than buying new ones. Or make some ornaments from materials in your home, making it a family or group tradition; or use a bit of paint to give old ornaments a new life. Old cards can also be made into ornaments; just cut out an attractive pattern, punch a hole in the card and add ribbon. You might enjoy reviving an old custom and stringing cranberries and popcorn; then just add these to your compost or feed them to some wild visitors in January.  Hunt for green decorations in your back yard:  bush stems loaded with berries or dried flower arrangements can bring warm cheer to your home.

Holiday Green Living Greeting

If you’re looking for a wreath, consider picking up a wreath form, then decorating it yourself with scraps of cloth, pine cones, or any colorful items you have around the house. And whether or not you have children with you this year, it can be fun to use scrap paper by making snowflakes that can be hung in windows or strung onto a line (The Planet Aid site below gives a link to directions for this and other ideas, such as the “Ugly” holiday Sweater).

Eco-friendly Hanukkah menorahs can be made from a variety of products, or can be found online. One site below recommends a Sammamish-based “Celebrate Green” campaign, which shows menorahs made from materials as diverse as flower pots and even potatoes. That site may not be available now; but I’ve included another below that is brimming with great photos and ideas. Whether for a menorah or just a decorative touch anywhere, consider using beeswax candles: they burn cleanly, and use no materials derived from petroleum.

Holiday cards that you receive can also contribute to the décor by just being taped along a convenient shelf.  But if you send cards, think of sending out a smaller number this year: the Digital Media Arts College site below (which features several interesting statistics) claims that the 265 billion Christmas cards sold every year in this country could fill a football field ten stories high.  If all card-senders reduced their mailings by just one card, it would save 50,000 cubic yards of paper; anyway, some friends might appreciate a personal call rather than a card.

When choosing cards, look for greetings that are made from recycled materials, or that bear a label that guarantees ‘responsible’ sources for their materials. Green criteria may get a bit complicated, though: the National Wildlife Federation produces beautiful cards that carry the FSC label for responsible sourcing; but the cards themselves are larger than most, measuring 8 X 5.75 inches. Do browse the beautiful cards made by Dale Newman, which will be on offer at the upcoming Craft Group sales; these use a fraction of the paper that you are likely to find in commercially made cards; and of course, they are special for the creative touches that Dale adds to each card.  In fact, the Craft Group holiday sales will include some great choices, both for gifts and holiday decoration.

Holiday Meals

Since the holidays are about holding on to, or re-creating, traditional ways. it’s nice to turn to some organizations that promote the wisdom of these ways. Heritage Foods U.S.A. seems to fit the bill, as they promote foods raised by traditional means.  Farms that raise animals sustainably and humanely, using traditional methods, need to sell their meat and other products through special ‘buyer’s clubs’ or other outlets, since their animals grow in natural ways, and they take longer than animals grown in industrial contexts that use questionable practices to maximize profits.  One farm offering a buyer’s club locally can be found at  The national Heritage Foods site is listed below. In any case, choose an organic turkey, and look for sources with the most humane, sustainable practices.

Of course, there are many ‘green’ meal ideas we all can use–things that fit easily into our normal shopping and cooking routines. For a start, even if you don’t have a garden of your own, try to choose locally grown produce: there’s quite a selection still available: apples, pears, winter squash, sweet potatoes, rhubarb, broccoli, cauliflower, and late-season greens. Shop at winter farmer’s markets or stores that specialize in local produce; many farm-based stores are open until late December. Or look for labels telling where any product is from, and whether it is organic. If you’re unsure about making a local product into something interesting, just search online for recipes that include that ingredient. I’ve not included specific food recommendations here, but the last source below offers some interesting recipes for healthy holiday meals.

Use everything you cook: Americans apparently waste about a quarter of the food prepared for Thanksgiving dinners. There are many steps we can all take to help reduce that figure. Freeze leftovers in convenient amounts, or give them to your guests in glass containers (rather than plastic or aluminum foil) to take home. Even (organic) vegetable peelings, and leftover meat and bones, can be simmered into a delicious soup, for those light meals we all crave after a holiday feast. Just compost or recycle anything that’s appropriate and that you can’t use.

If you’ve bought too many cans of milk or other ingredients for your holiday recipes, consider donating the extras to a local food bank (that’s easy at UUCNH, as there’s a regular cupboard set aside for donations to the North Hills Community Outreach food bank).  Buy ingredients (especially dried beans, fruit, etc.) in bulk when possible to reduce packaging.  Purchases made for Thanksgiving could produce welcome ‘extras’ for Christmas. Consider serving on durable dishes as well, instead of using disposables.

Finally, if you’re having a crowd in for the holiday, you can save on your budget as well as helping the environment by keeping your thermostat turned lower than usual; the heat generated by cooking and the guests may contribute a lot to making the house cozy and warm.

Holiday Green Living  Gift Idea

Inhabitat offers quite a range of choices; one category that looks promising is the idea of ‘giving’ your time…. If you are handy with some skill, like knitting or photography, you could dedicate a gift of ‘time’ making use of those skills; take a portrait of your friend or favorite family, for instance.  Even easier, with no special skill required: donate an afternoon volunteering for your friend’s favorite community activity; this could be fun, companionable, and good for everyone involved.

As another way to avoid the buildup of holiday-generated ‘stuff,’ you might consider hosting a game party, or treating your friends to movie tickets or enrollment in a craft or art class; or membership in an outdoor club, or a bike tune-up to help them enjoy the spring season when the cold weather lets up. Or consider giving something re-gifted or recycled.  Uncommon Goods or Etsy might be places to explore for ideas.

Many gifts could be useful in preventing food waste (mason jars, glass refrigerator containers, re-usable containers for snacks). If you have a gardener on your list, consider checking out garden supplies, seeds, or attractive garden pots.  Food gifts are always welcome, and home-made ones add a cozy touch to the holiday.  Baked goods, dry soup recipes prettily layered in a nice jar, the possibilities are almost endless.

Finally, search for Fair Trade or sustainable practices in the businesses you shop with; numbers of businesses now promote clothing, jewelry and household goods made by local artisans in places around the globe. There are too many sources to do justice to here (as in the other categories above); but it’s worth citing the Green America site below, which features their organization’s top ten finalists for the Summer 2015 round of Green America’s People & Planet Award (each were cited for specializing in recycling in some way). To name only one example,  the American-based company RocknSockswas repurposing cotton scraps from textile manufacturing to make its products, and was planning to begin recycling their own returned and damaged socks to give them a new life as “sock creature” toys.

The last list is slightly outdated; and some don’t give a clear note of when they were updated, so a word of warning is in order: some links could be hard to access.  But all that I’ve found make interesting reading, and can be inspiring—so happy exploring!

Congregational Meeting  Sunday, June 9, 2024