Greening the Garlands: Tips for a Happy Human Impact Holiday

Human Impacts Institute Holiday Tips

According to the CNBC, Americans are expected to spend an average of $742 each this 2012 holiday season despite the looming fiscal cliff. This holiday season, why not save money and really show that special someone you care with a sustainable holiday season? Join the Human Impacts Institute(HII) and make a positive Human Impact on your community and the planet for the holidays!

Holiday Ideas for Going Green and Making a Positive Human Impact!



Christmas Trees:

Real or Plastic?The debate between plastic and real trees for Christmas is a hard one. Unfortunately, neither is a great option in terms of environmental sustainability. The best choice is to purchase a potted tree or make your own tree sculpture (see below) and have it for all seasons to enjoy. However, if you are on the market, check out some of the pros and cons of your tree options below:


  • There were 8.9 million artificial trees imported to the United States in 2008.

  • Today’s artificial trees are typically manufactured with metal and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a non-biodegradable, petroleum-derived plastic. In addition, many older varieties may contain lead, used as a stabilizer in the manufacturing process. (

  • 85% of plastic trees are imported from China, which creates a huge carbon footprint (

  • It takes 15 years of re-use for an artificial tree’s carbon footprint to be lower than that of an actual tree’s. (

  • To get a fake tree from Shanghai to Kansas takes 2,193 lbs of fuel! (


  • It is predicted that in 2012, 22 million real trees will be sold in the U.S. (

  • There are a diversity of pesticides used on christmas trees that you might not want in your home!

  • It is estimated the average conifer tree can absorb 1 ton of carbon dioxide over 60 years.

  • NOTE: If you do get a real tree, regift it to NYC Parks as mulch! Check out the NYC Department of Sanitation’s site for free tree composting/mulching in your neighborhood. All trees need to have lights and ornaments removed before leaving them for pickup.

THE BEST THINGHow about making your own Christmas Tree Sculpture with the family from books,shelves, or other around-the-house things? Check out some creative ideas fromEthical Ocean! Or, purchasing a small, potted tree at your local farmer’s market or plant store will not only add to your holiday cheer, but can be planted in your yard, community garden or local schoolyard. For a list of local farmer’s markets in NYC, go to: LIGHTSUsing LED holiday lights can reduce your holiday lighting energy usage as much as 90%


PRESENTS: Save money, show your love, reduce waste: CREATIVE GIFTS

  • Give homemade gifts, such as cookies, handcrafts, or framed photos.

  • Gift certificates are great for a homemade dinner, one-on-one time, or foot rub!

  • Give entertainment, such as museum memberships; tickets to movies, theater, concerts, or sporting events; gift certificates to a favorite restaurant.

  • Give learning, such as language or music lessons; classes in cooking, photography, or other favorite hobbies.

  • Give your time or talent, such as baby-sitting, pet-sitting, computer help, or home repairs.

  • Give fitness, such as gym memberships, personal training sessions, or classes in yoga, pilates, or dance.

  • Give pampering, such as a massage, facial, manicure, or pedicure.

  • Give to the greater good by making a contribution to someone’s favorite charity.

  • Send email greetings rather than paper cards to cut down on paper waste.

  • Wrap gifts in reusable gift bags or create your own gift wrap using maps or comics. (If you do buy gift wrap and greeting cards, make sure they’re made from post-consumer recycled paper.)

  • Do a “Secret Gift” this year: Less is often more when it comes to being green for the holidays. This year, why not bring some fun and games to holiday giving and have each family member/friend choose the name of one person to give to in your group this year. That way there will be less waste and each gift will be even more special!

  • Batteries: According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, about 40 percent of all battery sales occur during the holiday season. Buy rechargeable batteries to accompany your electronic gifts, and consider giving a battery charger as well. Rechargeable batteries reduce the amount of potentially harmful materials thrown away, and can save money in the long run.

  • Need more ideas? Here are some places to buy “green gifts” for the holidays:

  1. Etsy ( Support artists and creatives from around the world and find many repurposed and recycled holiday gifts!

  2. Uncommon Goods Green Gifts: ( Similar to Etsy, support innovative artists and their repurposed designs!

  3. Sustainable NYC ( Get all your green gifts–from dishwasher soap to bracelets–at the 2011 Green America Green Business of the Year!

  4. Check out TreeHugger’s amazing 2012 Holiday Green Gift Guides for more ideas! ( and Inhabitat’s Green Gift Guide( You can also visit local thrift stores! Buying used is always a more sustainable gift option!



  • Farmers Markets ( There’s nothing like strolling through the local farmer’s market for holiday food shopping. Purchasing local foods not only cuts down on the environmental impact of shipping food thousands of miles, but you also support small-scale farming and often have many organic options to boot! In NYC, you can find the farmer’s market nearest you at GrowNYC’s website above.

  • Community CSAs ( Another way to support local, small-scale farming in your community is to join a Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) in your neighborhood. CSA members purchase “shares” in a season at the beginning of the growing year and get weekly deliveries of fresh, local produce: A win for farmers and for you! This holiday season, give the gift of a CSA or signup for next year to ensure a green holiday to come! In NYC, you can find your local CSA at Just Food’s website above.

  • Slow Food ( Join hundreds of thousands across the globe in the Slow Food movement, supporting slow, local and healthy foods and the restaurants that promote healthy communities and a healthy environment. See how you can join the movement in your community and check out the Slow Food restaurants in your area for the holidays!

  • Meatless Mondays ( The typical holiday meal puts a large piece of meat at the center of every plate. How about for this holiday season you commit to at least one “meat free” day for you and your loved ones? It promotes good health, reduces environmental impacts, and gives kids even less of an option when asked to eat their veggies! Check out some great meatless holiday recipes at Meatless Mondays!

  • Post-Holiday Cleanup ( We all know that holidays involve a lot of cleaning-up. Whether it’s frantically scrubbing floors before mom arrives, or washing dishes left over from a dinner for 20, you want to be sure that you’re cleaning with products that are safe for your loved ones’ health and for the environment. Check out Environmental Working Groups Healthy Cleaning Guide to see the ratings of your cleaning products and to find healthier alternatives for you and yours!



Instead of plopping in front of the TV post holiday eating this year, how about bring in some fun, challenging games into the mix with friends and family?

  • Human Impacts Muir Web Game

Materials Needed:, Scrap paper, Pens, Stopwatch/timer, Internet accessInstructions: Split into teams of 3-4 players each. Each team will write up to 5 everyday items (processed food, clothing, electronic, etc) on one scrap of paper per item, fold them over, and put them in a pile (or hat) in the center of the room.Each team should then set up one full sheet of scrap paper with three columns on it:

  • Column 1: Item

  • Column 2: list of raw materials/ingredients for each Item

  • Column 3: country of origin for each material/ingredient

Once all teams are ready, take turns picking one item from the center. Set the timer to 60 seconds and press “start” upon reading the item selected out loud. Each team should try and list all of the ingredients or raw materials that they think were needed to make the item (i.e. chocolate would be sugar, milk, cocoa, etc) and then for each ingredient your team should guess what country they think that ingredient would come from (i.e. cocoa from Costa Rica). Once you have done as many items as there are teams (i.e. if there are 4 teams, start with 4 items), then each team will be responsible for looking up ingredients for one of the 4 items to share with the group (approximately 5 minutes internet search). The group with the most “correct” answers wins the first round! Continue with discussion and/or the next round of Muir Web items!

  • Human Impacts Institute’s Holiday List of Thought-provoking Green Videos and Films: So, you can’t keep the family away from the TV? How about watching some short, eco-conversation starters with your loved ones? See some of the HII crews’ favorites below and some of our recommendations for follow-up questions! All of the videos recommended are suitable for kids, as well!

Entertaining Green Shorts

  • The Girl Who Silenced the World for 5 Minutes (Youth and Sustainability)

  • The Impossible Hamster (Economic Growth and Eco Impacts)

  • Plastic State of Mind (Plastic and Waste)

  • Story of Stuff videos (many on water, corporate responsibility, etc)

  • Ted Talks! (there are many on a diversity of topics from science to art)

Informational Conversation Starters on Eco Impacts and “What if?”

Corporate responsibility:

  • The Sins of Greenwashing and TerraChoice 4:55 (Good Morning America)

  • What if your family got sick from using a product that was labelled “all natural”?


  • E-Waste: Dumping on the Poor 4:35 (Asia Society)

  • GOOD Magazine: E-Waste (1:46)

  • What if your family lived next to an ewaste dump?

Water quality:

  • The World Is Thirsty Because We Are Hungry 1:33 (UN World Water Day)

  • Imagine a Day Without Water (1:00) Water2Life Grundfos

  • What if you didn’t have clean water for a day?

Air Quality:

  • China’s Grime Belt Air Pollution Extreme 2:55 (BBC)


  • What if the air quality was so bad in your community, that you couldn’t walk down the street without a mask?

Healthy Food and Workers Rights:

  • Fingers to the Bone: Child Farmworkers in the United States 5:42 (Human Rights Watch)

  • What if you had to work full-time (40 hours a week) and go to school?

Green space:

  • The Real Slumdog Millionaire 3:36 (CBS)

  • Prescribing Green Space (3:33 Green Space)

  • What if there were no green spaces in your community for kids to play in?

Human Impacts Holiday Eco Challenge: You Talk the Talk, Now Let’s Walk the Walk!For many, the holiday season is a time for celebration and time with friends and family. For others, it’s a time of stress, overstuffed bellies, and debt. Now is your chance to try out living with less negative impact on the earth and your community. We have given you five holiday human impacts challenges below that you can do on your own or as a fun competition with family and friends!

The Human Impacts Institute crew challenge you to complete at least three of the five AND tell someone close to you–a friend, family member, teacher, or neighbor–about what you are doing and why it’s important to you. They will then write one sentence about how the issue your human impacts challenges address are important to them. By doing that, you are not only taking action, but also fostering community conversations around sustainability! Share what you’ve done with us on the Human Impacts Institute’s facebook page:


As the (circle one) friend/family member/teacher of the Eco-Challenger above, I (insert your name here), ______________________, think sustainable transportation options are important because


As the (circle one) friend/family member/teacher of the Eco-Challenger above, I (insert your name here), ______________________, think reducing harmful mining is important because


  1. ITEM NAME _____________________ LOCATION MADE

  2. ITEM NAME _____________________ LOCATION MADE

  3. ITEM NAME _____________________ LOCATION MADE

As the (circle one) friend/family member/teacher of the Eco-Challenger above, I (insert your name here), ______________________, think sustainable consumption & production is important because


As the (circle one) friend/family member/teacher of the Eco-Challenger above, I (insert your name here), ______________________, think reducing harmful chemicals in the household is important because

⬰WASTE: I SPENT ONE DAY MAKING NO WASTE.As the (circle one) friend/family member/teacher of the Eco-Challenger above, I (insert your name here), ______________________, think reducing waste is important because

Now share what you’ve done and your thoughts on the Human Impacts Institute’s facebook page!

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