Whatever holidays you may be celebrating this season, odds are that there will be some gifts and decorations involved! During this high-consumption time of the year, is it also possible to be eco-conscious and give Mother Nature a little gift of her own? Why don’t you join the Homewood campus, already wired with LED holiday lights, and celebrate sustainably? The News-Letter caught up with Jon Smeton, the Students for Environmental Action Membership Outreach Chair, and Ashley Pennington, the freshmen ECO-Reps advisor and Hopkins Office of Sustainability Outreach Coordinator, via email to ask about their shopping tips and tricks for this holiday season, as well as some goals for the campus.
The News-Letter: How does sustainability play a role in your holiday preparations? Do you think it’s important to consider sustainable products at this time of the year? If so, why?
Ashley Pennington (AP): Naturally, I think it’s important to consider... choosing more sustainable products — essentially voting with your dollar — any time of the year, but the holidays present a unique opportunity to engage this part of the sustainability conversation, because they’re so consumption intensive. Whether it’s food, products or travel, it goes without saying that people spend more, buy more and consume more around the holidays.
Jon Smeton (JS): Yes. Climate change, environmental degradation, deforestation, species extinction, and all other environmental issues don’t go on holiday when we do. This is a time to celebrate how fortunate we are, and that includes how fortunate we are to live on this planet. No matter the holiday, there is an impact in the decisions we make to celebrate them, so we should be conscious of the choices we make in this and any season.
N-L: Are there any specific products that you recommend? Why do you support them?
AP: I continue the same efforts I do throughout the year to go local for food. For gifts, I opt out of wrapping, or get creative (like using napkins or hand towels people can then put to use, reducing waste at the source and through a product that will continue that pattern), and I really try to customize gifts in personal ways that are also practical.
JS: Specific gifts aren’t too important, because no matter what you buy, I can guarantee there is an environmentally-friendly version of that product. Looking for certifications like Energy Star, Fair Trade, USDA Organic, Made of Recycled/Post-Industrial Content, EPEAT is a good way to know someone thought about the Earth when they were making your present.
Another good idea is to go to a craft show and see how people have recycled old products and turned them into amazing presents. This is doubly good because it also supports local economy. Look into where the products you buy come from and choose a supplier that treats its workers and the planet right.
Gifts aren’t the only things that matter, using reusable dishes at your friend and family celebration is a good way to reduce your environmental footprint. Buying gift bags or adopting the German tradition of reusable wrapping paper to hold your presents is also good. Avoiding bottled water when you have a tap water alternative is important as well.
N-L: Are there holiday-related sustainability measures you’d like to see implemented on campus? Suggestions?
AP: I’m not sure about what kind of energy setback program might be in place for buildings on campus when they’re less occupied during the holidays. We did this at my old institution (University of Florida), where buildings that weren’t in use when the campus was closed were essentially shut down.
JS: If people are throwing things away when they leave for the winter, it would be awesome to also have collection bins so their junk can have a second life. Additionally, having clear and campus-wide opportunities for students to volunteer would be great, but this doesn’t have to be sustainability-related.