Sustainable practices abundant this holiday season

The holidays are one of the busiest and most wasteful times of year for many Americans. Luckily, there are plenty of tips you can keep in mind to reduce your environmental impact and still have an enjoyable holiday season.

Lengthy travel plans may be unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be environmentally conscious and responsible while you are away from home. As always, carpooling is usually the best choice in terms of carbon emissions, but taking a coach bus is also a wise and often overlooked option.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “A couple boarding a motor coach will cut their carbon nearly in half compared with driving even a hybrid car.” The motor coach can also cut emissions by 55 to 75 percent in comparison to flying.

Air travel can be the most expensive form of transportation in terms of emissions, but if it is unavoidable, there are ways to reduce your impact. Try flying direct as frequently as possible, as a large percentage of carbon emission occurs during takeoff and landing. Taking a train is often a more carbon-conscious option.

If you will be away for an extended period, be conscious of the environmental impact of your hotel. The Green Hotels Association is an alliance of hoteliers and managers who have pledged their commitment to reducing their impact on the environment. You can go to greenhotels.com/members for a state-by-state list of member hotels to make an educated choice.

If reliable lodging is unavailable, ask that your sheets and towels are only washed upon request, and that your air conditioning be turned off when you are not in the room.

There are plenty of ways to reduce your impact once you make it to your destination. As you head out to shop, remember to bring your own reusable shopping bags with you. Also, make a conscious choice to buy good quality products and avoid cheap, seasonal gimmicks that are likely to wear out quickly.

If you feel like you have everything you want this year, consider requesting that your loved ones make a donation in your name to an environmentally friendly initiative in lieu of a gift. That way, not only will you be eliminating packaging and shipping waste, but you will proactively be working to protect the environment.

For example, Conservation International, a nonprofit organization committed to preserving nature and global biodiversity, allows you to enlist the help of your friends and family to offset your carbon footprint.

At www.conservation.org/act/live_green, you can use the organization’s carbon calculator to determine either your annual footprint, or that of one specific vacation or outing. Then, you can send the information to your friends and family and ask them to donate to one of Conservation International’s many forest conservation projects until your emissions have been offset.

The Conservation website gives you the option of donating to other nature and wildlife projects as well. For $75, you can protect a mile of ocean or for $15, an acre of forest.

It is also important to consider the impact of the gifts you receive. If you are given new electronics this year, make sure that you safely recycle the old. Enter your used gadget’s product information at ecosquid.com to find a worldwide list of cash offers and recycling programs for your electronics. You can always donate them to local schools, community organizations or nonprofits as well.

Sending holiday cards is a tradition for most families but it can be a big problem when it comes to paper waste. Enough cards are sold and thrown away each year to fill a football field 10 stories high.

To reduce your impact, try sending electronic holiday cards this year instead. There are dozens of websites that allow you to upload photos, choose from a list of holiday card themes or design your own. And remember to recycle all the cards you receive.

If you are planning to decorate a Christmas tree, consider checking with your community waste department to look into your city’s tree-disposal program, or if you have the means, mulch or compost your tree yourself. Even better, consider buying a potted, living tree and planting it in your yard after the holidays are over.