Who says you can’t start taking steps now to kick off your New Year on a sustainable foot? Let’s take a moment to analyze how we can personally and professionally up our sustainability game now and into the New Year. 

ELT December 2020 - Sustainability


The Holiday Season is Brutal on the Environment 

Did you know that Americans throw away 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day? That’s about a million extra tons per week. 50,000 worth of trees are used to produce wrapping paper and 2.65 billion holiday cards are sent annually. We can combat this by being smart about food waste, gift wrapping and recycling boxes properly. 

There’s multiple steps we can each take to have less of an environmental impact during the holiday season. Read on for some of our suggestions on how to reduce your energy, waste and carbon footprint this year, without skipping a beat of celebration.

Gift Giving-1

Gift Giving 

As we give gifts this year, here are some tips to keep in mind to make your gift's sustainable, less wasteful and low impact.  

  • Shop locally when possible, this reduces shipping costs and boosts your local economy  
  • Wrap in homemade wrappings or wrapping paper made from recycled paper, instead of buying plastic paper  
  • If you are going to send holiday cards, consider sending zero waste cards
  • Consider giving a service, event or intangible item, instead of something that’s plastic
  • When shipping, ask vendors and companies to use paper instead of plastic if possible, and ship items in a single large box, instead of individual boxes  
  • Use the holiday gift giving as a way to make someone’s life more eco-friendly
  • A reusable notebook, new tote or an item of sustainable clothing make great gifts  

At Home Decorating 

At Home 

We’ve written before about the importance of single-use plastics and saving energy to help reduce your footprint. Keep these in mind with the holiday, alongside some new tips for making your decorations, food and fun more sustainable.    

  • Use LED holiday lights when possible to save energy and put them on a timer to reduce waste  
  • Consider decorating with greens, flowers or natural products instead of plastics or synthetics 
  • See if decorations are available at a second-hand shop, or swap with a neighbor for a “new” look to avoid contributing to new items being made 
  • Bring in a vegetarian or vegan option to your holiday meal and consider getting as much of your meal as possible from local farms and sources to reduce carbon impact  
  • Don’t depend on plastic or paper plates for your holiday meals, make sure you’re using dishware to cut down on plastic waste 
  • Look for tree recycling and pickup, instead of putting your Christmas tree into the landfill  

Community Shop Local


Part of our work to be sustainable is to ensure our local economies are supported. 2020 has been a tough year for everyone. Here are some suggestions to consider to support your community during the holiday season.  

  • Shop at local businesses when possible for holiday food, gifts and other needs  
  • If you traditionally eat out with friends during the holidays, consider pooling that money to donate to a local charity
  • If you can’t think of a gift for a friend, ask what non-profit or charity you’d like to support 
  • If someone asks you what you’d like, share a charity close to your heart to donate to 
  • Consider getting a holiday meal from a locally owned restaurant as takeout  

By each conscious choice we make, we can reduce our impact on the environment during the holiday season and beyond into the new year. What actions have you taken or do you plan to take to reduce your footprint this holiday?

Now that we've planted the seed to begin our sustainability goals at home this season, let's think about our professional goals.

Setting Your 2021 Company Goals 

Take a few minutes to think of what worked for your company this previous year and years before. What was successful and what wasn't? If something wasn't successful, now is a great time to remove or iterate the process. Sometimes a program isn't right or didn't work and that's fine! Take an honest review, close it and start something new.   

Success metrics to look at include communication, program planning, employee engagement and time and money spent on projects. Have your investments paid off?  

Once you’ve reviewed wins and losses, make a list of what you'll keep and what you'll stop.   

Pick a Focus

Pick a Focus  

Once you've got your successes down, pick a few areas to focus on "greening up" for the new year. If your previous year focuses are still serving you, keep them! Take the opportunity to iterate and refine, but don't feel pressured to add new priorities or shift gears.  

However, if you need a project for the year, look at your current sustainable impact and how you can adjust. Can you reduce waste or water? Are there suppliers you can collaborate with to make changes?   

Right Partners

Find the Right Partners 

If you've narrowed down your focus to itemlike waste management, community engagement or energy efficiency, who can help with those items? Think outside the box and consider people in your broader community that can help propel these plans forward.   

For instance, if you're focused on energy, can your local utility company come and provide an energy audit? If you're focusing on reducing waste, can you hold consignment drives in partnership with a local non-profit? If you're starting to scope your carbon footprint, are you taking steps to offset carbon?  

You’ll come to find stronger sustainability success when you utilize partnerships, consult experts, and continue to think outside the box. Start brainstorming with likeminded groups, companies, non-profits, and resources that can support your sustainability focus.   

Data System

Set-up a Data System  

We know, we know, setting up a system can be a pain. But the benefits are significant! If you're going to start focusing on waste or water, it's crucial to have a system in place to track progress and share information. Use an excel sheet or similar document to collect and track data.    

Taking 35 minutes a month for 12 months is efficient in the long term compared to spending half a day next December to find bills and track down usage from the prior months.   

Team Meeting-1

Make Sure Your Team is On Board  

Without the consensus of your teams, you'll get nowhere fast. Share your plans with all employees and ask for their feedback, especially if you're stuck on any of the above points. Ask your team what worked and didn't and where they want to focus. Then, once you've gotten feedback, set up a plan to engage them in these initiatives and updates throughout the year.   

Having a stellar sustainability year is possible, with a little planning and foresight. Taking some time now to develop plans will pay off all year long.   

Here's to a prosperous and conscious New Year!

eliza erksineEliza Erskine has a Master’s in Sustainability from the Harvard Extension School and a BA in Business Administration from Boston University. She founded Green Buoy Consulting in 2018 to help small and early stage businesses with sustainability. She grew up in the Pacific Northwest and lives in New York City

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