How to Green Your Holidays

Take action to reduce your carbon and waste footprint this season.

By Kelley Fairman

December 8, 2022

Pine trees covered in snow

The holiday season is a time of cheer – and elevated carbon emissions and waste.


One 2007 study found that emissions from three days of Christmas festivities amount to 650 kilograms of carbon dioxide per person. That’s the equivalent of burning more than 700 pounds of coal! And with the increase in holiday spending over time, it’s easy to imagine this figure is much higher today. According to the EPA, holiday food waste, wrapping paper, packaging, ribbons, and other throw-away items contribute significant waste to our landfills.


There are many little things that we can do to reduce our carbon and waste impact this holiday season, such as reusing gift wrap, sending e-cards instead of paper holiday cards, reducing food waste, and composting your holiday tree.


Read on to learn more about three high-impact activities that you can adjust to go green this holiday season.

1. Travel green

Transportation contributes to 27% of US greenhouse gas emissions annually, and holiday travel is ramping up following two years of decreased mobility due to COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns. Taking action to travel green this season is a critical step in reducing your holiday carbon footprint. 


PricewaterhouseCoopers’ 2022 Holiday Outlook projects that nearly half of Americans will travel this holiday season and that almost half of those travelers will fly. If you’re traveling by airplane, reduce the weight of your bags, fly direct, and select an airline that is committed to sustainability and has set a science-based target for mitigating air travel emissions.


Air New Zealand, American Airlines, Delta, easyJet, JetBlue Airways, and Lufthansa have set near-term targets independently validated by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). Near-term goals commit the airlines to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in line with limiting global temperature rise to well below 2°C. This differs from a more rigorous net zero target, which is defined by SBTi as a near-term and long-term plan to reduce emissions by 2050. Net zero targets align with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C. While there are no airlines with an SBTi-approved evidence-based net zero target, several have committed to setting a target in the future.


GreenPortfolio analyzed the carbon intensity, or tons of greenhouse gasses emitted per $1M in revenue, of major North American and European airlines using publicly available Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions data. Our analysis found that Air Canada and United had the lowest carbon intensity while American Airlines and JetBlue Airways had the highest.


For additional details on airlines’ commitment to sustainability, see CNN’s information on steps airlines have taken to become more sustainable in 2022. 


Once you reach your destination, select the mode of transportation with the lowest carbon intensity to finish your journey. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions suggests walking, biking, or taking public transit as the best options to decarbonize your transportation and reduce costs. Or, try carpooling in an electric vehicle instead of driving a gasoline car.

2. Give green: climate-friendly gifting

The best way to reduce the environmental impact of gift-giving is to buy fewer gifts, re-gift items you currently own, or purchase second-hand products.


If you shop new, there are ways to buy climate-friendly.

Purchase locally-sourced gifts

Reduce transportation emissions and support your local community. If you shop in person, bring your own reusable bags and optimize your shopping excursions to reduce the number of trips.

Minimize your online footprint


If you shop online, schedule your deliveries for the same day, especially if you live in a rural area. Reuse or recycle packaging.

Buy net zero or go circular

Shop from companies with credible net zero plans validated by the SBTi. You can browse companies taking action here.


If you’d like to go a step further, try to buy circular. The circular economy framework aims to design out waste by shifting from a linear take-make-waste process to a system that infinitely cycles materials through the value chain. Adopting circular principles reduces waste, greenhouse gas emissions, natural resource extraction, and toxicity of materials. To explore circular gifts, you can purchase items that are Cradle to Cradle Certified or browse companies and products recommended by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Give gifts that encourage sustainable habits

You can amplify your impact by supporting others on their sustainability journey. Give a gift card to a local refillery store to reduce packaging waste for food and household items. Gift a bicycle to help your loved one decarbonize their transportation. Thanks a Ton sells greeting cards with a side of carbon removal. Or, you can give a charitable donation in someone’s name to a non-profit that is fighting climate change.

3. Monitor and manage your energy use

The Center for Global Development points to a 2008 Department of Energy study that found that US holiday lights use more energy than several countries use in a year.


A separate study by Arcadia, reported by Forbes, estimated that holiday lights cost Americans $645 million in electricity charges and emit nearly 2 million tons of carbon dioxide in December alone. That’s equal to driving 430,000 gasoline-powered cars for one year.


The climate and monetary consequences of decorative holiday lighting are substantial, but there are steps you can take to mitigate your impact.

Change up your decorations

Reduce your energy use by switching from holiday lights to other decorations, such as garlands made of natural materials.

Switch out your incandescent lights for LED holiday lights

The U.S. Department of Energy outlines several advantages of LED holiday lights. LEDs use over 75% less energy than incandescent lights, which significantly lowers the climate impact of your holiday light usage. Lower electricity usage means several LED strings can be linked together without overburdening a power socket. In addition, the plastic bulbs on LEDs are less likely to break and generally last longer than glass incandescent bulbs, contributing less to your yearly waste.

Limit the hours that your holiday lights are on

Turn off your lights before going to sleep, or use a timer to automatically switch them off. It’s best to unplug your lighting and appliances when not in use.


Other tips to reduce your energy use this season include turning down your heat by a degree or two, covering drafty windows, and conducting regular maintenance on your heating system.

Looking forward to 2023

2023 is a critical year for climate action. The SEC is expected to finalize climate disclosure requirements, and implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act’s $369 billion investment in climate solutions will accelerate.


As the holiday season wraps up and you look forward to the new year, set aside time to think about how you can tackle climate change in 2023.

More articles you'll find interesting

Disclaimer:  GreenPortfolio aims to keep all information on the site current and accurate. However, you may find differences between information listed here and information listed on a financial product provider’s website. Opinions expressed here are not those of any bank, credit card issuer or financial institution, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Please complete your own due diligence before making any financial decisions.

Advertising Disclosure: This article/post may contain references to products or services from one or more of our advertisers or partners. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products or services but this compensation does not influence our reviews or opinions. Read about our methodology to learn how we choose financial products to include on our platform.

©2023 GreenPortfolio Inc.