Tips for a GREENER Holiday Season

by arlene on December 15, 2009

Wondering how best to incorporate Green ideals into your holiday preparations? That was the challenge discussed at the recent meeting of the Berkeley Association of REALTORS® Green Council, concluding its first year as a group. I am proud to have founded this group of dedicated agents, and to serve as their Chair. Following the basic principles of reduce, reuse and recycle, the Green Council came up with these practical suggestions:

If you’re going to decorate with lights, use LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes). They’re much more readily available now than in previous years, and in many great styles and colors. They use only 10% of the electricity used by incandescent lights, and in general they are much better made and more likely to last longer. The bulbs are advertised to last up to 100,000 hours, and many are Energy Star approved, and are cool to the touch.

Decorations for the tree can be inexpensive and fun to make as a family. How many of us remember stringing popcorn (much of which got eaten in the process!) and cranberries? Or making garlands from loops of colored paper? Snowflakes cut from recycled paper are always a favorite on windows or on the tree. Bring out your inner Martha Stewart and use dried flowers, such as hydrangeas or babies-breath, to place on the branches to give them a snow-laden effect.

Shop Local: if possible, shop for any gifts at local, independent stores. When possible, support a local business that displays a Bay Area GREEN Business Program sticker in their window. The East Bay is especially fortunate to have so many active artists, and this weekend many studios will be open. Buying directly from the artist is an especially satisfying way to do your holiday shopping. Check for a map and schedule.

The iconic local shopping experience is at an organic Farmers’ Market. Possibilities include:

-     gifts of preserves made from locally harvested fruit. A local favorite is marmalade from Kensington Marmalade Company, made by Alexandra and sold at the Sunday market (10 – 2, at Colusa Circle). Flavors include Blood Orange, Meyer Lemon with Bergamot, and Tangerine.

-    Bouquets of flowers from the market are always welcome, or get creative and make bouquets of various veggies and fruits mixed with evergreens.

-     Handcrafted soaps or beeswax candles are often available at the markets, as well as olive oil or spice mixes. Each market tends to have its own local craftspeople selling their wares.

This Saturday, Dec. 19th from 10 – 4 the annual Holiday Craft Faire will be held at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market. You’ll have many vendors offering solutions to your holiday shopping challenges, and a full lineup of musicians will be there to entertain you while you shop! For the schedule check the Ecology Center Calendar.

Buy organic: look for organic cotton or hemp products, such as linens, towels, socks or other clothing. If at all possible purchase organic and fair trade chocolate, tea or coffee products. For very local chocolates consider Charles Chocolates in Emeryville.

Consider the double reuse: shop at thrift or consignment stores for “gently used” items.

To encourage family members and friends to take public transit, buy them a BART pass or other transit pass for their area. It’s much Greener than a standard gift card!

Books can make valued presents, especially if purchased at a local, independent book store. Our group suggested the works of local authors. Especially fitting titles would be those that encourage us to explore our local area, ideally on foot.

  • For Berkeley, consider Richard Schwartz’s books: Berkeley 1900 or Eccentrics, Heroes, and Cutthroats of Old Berkeley
  • For Oakland, consider Analee Allen’s books, including Oakland, Postcard History.
  • For Alameda, consider Alameda, by Greta Dutcher and Stephen Rowland. This is from the Images of America Series, and anything in that series is worth a look. Some are quite specific in topic such as Rockridge, Oakland Hills and Theatres of Oakland.
  • Also consider The East Bay Then and Now, by Dennis Evanosky, or his latest work, San Francisco Then and Now.

To wrap your gifts? Besides reusing wrapping paper from years past, consider using remnants of wallpaper, the colored Sunday Comics pages, old maps, or a personal favorite, covers from the New Yorker magazine. You might also consider presenting your gifts in reusable stuff bags, the type that fold up into a small pouch. Many of those are constructed from recycled water bottles.

The ultimate Green gift: no thing. Lest you think we’re suggesting being a true Scrooge, we’re suggesting gifts that are not things, but fall into other categories, such as services or privileges. Older kids will appreciate certificates that excuse them from doing the dishes, or entitle them to breakfast in bed one weekend morning. The gift of time is perhaps the most precious of all: offer to babysit or petsit for friends, or walk their dog; offer to pick up groceries for a month for someone who isn’t mobile; or give a gift certificate redeemable for transportation to and from the airport. Think of projects that are difficult or unpleasant for a friend, but easy for you. A few hours of gardening would be a super gift for someone with a black thumb, or offer to repot your friends’ orchids if that’s your fancy.

Giving time to people you don’t know can be very rewarding. Volunteer to help deliver holiday meals through Meals on Wheels, or to serve at any local church or synagogue food kitchen. The possibilities are endless, and you’re likely to get more in return than you give!

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