Have a Merry (Green) Christmas!!
Archive for the ‘holidays’ Category
After a delicious Thanksgiving holiday I headed home from St. Louis with my parents in my dad’s 2005 GMC Yukon. In my ideal world we would have taken my mother’s 2003 Toyota Prius which gets about 40 mpg. However as my aunt had made my mom a sizable piece of furniture for her birthday we needed the Yukon’s trunk space and so settled with the painful 17 mpg highway. To be completely honest, we probably would have taken the Yukon anyway, even though it costs $120 more in gas and releases 1236lbs in extra CO2 roundtrip. My dad prefers the Yukon’s roominess. I must admit it’s pretty easy to fall asleep in the backseat, but I abhor driving this behemoth.
This was easily the “worst” leg of my journey environmentally. But it fascinating to learn just how “green” the Prius really is when compared to the current kings of the road. My efficiency data came from www.fueleconomy.gov; a site I highly recommend for anyone considering a car purchase. Besides showing the EPA’s estimate of gas usage, they display information graphically and with “real-life” assessments such as “how much does it cost to drive 25 miles?” Nearly all makes and models from 1985-present are included. Surprisingly, the figures were recently recalculated to reflect more accurately driving speeds and climate, which has caused most of the ratings to go down. Go see how your car compares!
Other posts in this series:
Roll Up Your Sleeves is a series of sustainable DIY ideas.
If you actually know me, stop reading now. Seriously.
In trying to be more eco-conscious I’m leaning more toward consumable gifts that maximize experience rather than object gifts that sit around until they take their final trip to the local landfill. This year I think I’ve come up with a gift idea that can be enjoyed by nearly everyone on my list, won’t cost too much, and will only minimally impact the environment. Drumroll please….
Dinner in a Basket
What is it? All the fixings for a wonderful meal for two (or more), premeasured and packaged with an easy-to-follow recipe. The beautiful thing is that not only are you giving a delicious meal, but you’re giving them time with someone they care about. You’ve provided an occasion to create memories. Let’s see a paperweight or tie do that.
How to make it: Pick an easy recipe anyone can make. Ideally it should have very few to no ingredients that require refrigeration, especially if you’ll be mailing the gift. I recommend a pasta with homemade tomato sauce and garlic toast as a simple winner. To make it extra-special, try including fresh peppers and smoked Italian sausage. Food Network and Allrecipes have tons of recipes if you want more options. Measure out the ingredients and place them in small baggies; mix together what you can to reduce the number of bags you need. If there are one or two perishable ingredients that are common, you can assume the recipient will have them on hand. Just make sure they are clearly marked on your recipe! Add a bottle of wine and some nice chocolates or cookies to complete the meal.
Presentation is key. As we’re trying to be sustainable here, I recommend reusing a strong gift bag or basket to store all the different items. A seasonal ribbon if cut long can be easily reused. Make sure to include a copy of the entire recipe along with your abbreviated directions so if they like the meal they can make it again!
Dinner in a basket is a gift appropriate for roommates, couples, and families, and pairs wonderfully with a coupon for an evening of babysitting. This Christmas, my mom and I will be mass producing this gift for 4-5 couples we know. By multiplying the meal we can save on ingredients and spend an afternoon together- a gift itself.
If you have any suggestions on how to improve this gift, especially packaging alternatives, please comment and let us know! Recipes would be great too 🙂
Although Black Friday was over a week ago, I am just now putting together my Santa’s list for my gift-giving this year. As I become a more conscious environmentalist, its value in my consumer ethos has increased. Therefore, here are my 3 sustainable goals for gifts this holiday season:
1-Give gifts that enrich the lives of their recipients rather than quickly becoming another piece of clutter in their lives. The key to this goal is the experience. Many people see gifts as objects, when in fact service-oriented gifts can be just as rewarding. Verda Vivo offers great examples of this. However, this doesn’t preclude material goods provided they fulfill a need or want in the recipients life, such as a digital camera for an aspiring photographer or a tool kit for a recent grad. For the person that already has everything, a consumable gift can be a great choice, such as lotion or a specialty food item. A truly valuable gift is one that is used by the recipient rather than continually being set aside until enough time has passed to throw it away. Give these kinds of gifts and you’ll not only get better reactions, but you’ll be reducing superfluous materiality.
2-Give gifts that don’t break me financially. It’s important to have sustainable financial habits as well as environmental. Maintaining control over holiday spending results in the freedom come January to continue pursuing your green dreams without the fear of debt overload. Our society tries to put a price tag on love, goodwill, and the holiday spirit. But there is a lot of truth to the old saying “It’s the thought that counts.”
3-Give gifts that have a minimal negative impact on the environment, and optimally have a positive impact. Even when a gift meets the first two qualifications, there often remains some leeway on this one. When faced with two equally appropriate gifts in your price range, choose the one that’s better for the earth. Maybe it means organic, locally produced, or perhaps even “pre-owned.” Don’t be afraid to re-gift an item in good condition that just isn’t working for you; especially if it will work better for someone else.
Still don’t know what to get for someone? Tomorrow I’ll spill the beans on my Top-Secret Sustainable Holiday Gift Idea. Just don’t tell my friends or family 😉
This is the third post of a 4-part series evaluating my varied travel experiences over a week holiday.
I was looking forward to my first Amtrak train ride that was the result of research into carbon emissions of different methods of transportation. Picking up my ticket upon my arrival to Chicago instead of just before boarding made catching the train far less stressful than it could have been, as there was a lengthy line for a security checkpoint with a K-9 unit. The security came as a slight surprise after my experiences in Europe last year, but is still far less than any airport.
The train itself was a pleasant surprise. Amtrak’s superliners are two-level cars, with the main seating areas and car-to-car access on the upper level. The lower level hosts extra luggage storage, handicapped seating, 5 toilets, and 2 “dressing rooms.” The dressing rooms were probably geared more towards overnight passengers, but were a perk for an afternoon ride. The best part by far are the seats; I could have sworn I had accidentally entered first class. There was more legroom than I had ever seen, with a fold-up legrest that along with a tilted back allowed for lazy-boy posturing. Again, while this may be only tolerable for overnight passengers, for this trip it was fantastic. My train also boasted a lounge and a dining car. The lounge car had skylight windows and conversational seating arrangements, although I preferred my own car with its more comfortable chair. The dining car appeared to have reasonable offerings and prices, but I overheard some extensive delays with the reservations.
My carbon emissions for this trip were probably higher than I previously calculated. The cars were slightly over half full, and I was grateful for the empty seat next to me. But the reservation delays were blamed on the high volume of passengers traveling that day, so I don’t believe that Amtrak regularly runs full trains. This changes the per capita carbon emissions for my journey. As I had a similar experience on Megabus, I think in the future it is imperative to calculate the carbon emissions based not on full occupancy, but instead on the price point load for each system, assuming that information is available. The train would probably still be a better choice than the bus, but both might more closely approach air and car travel levels.
If there was one thing I regretted bringing, it was Dramamine. The second level of the train swayed far more than I expected, and the overall track condition was worse than I had experienced in Europe. The first few hours of the trip were filled with trying to sleep away a stomachache. However the other passengers seemed to be doing just fine, so I would recommend motion-sickness pills only if you have had problems in similar situations, such as riding in a car through mountains or on an airplane.
Surprisingly, Union Station was not Union Station. We were approximately 30 minutes late arriving into St. Louis, the result of traffic on the rails. We pulled into Union Station and I “detrained,” only to find myself on a gravel shoulder next to a parking lot and a building smaller than the train it serviced. This was not the grand St. Louis Union Station with food and entertainment at which my parents were waiting. After a hectic phone call and some visual reconnaissance we determined that the two were only three blocks apart, and I was indeed not lost in the middle of industrial St. Louis at night. Apparently Amtrak will be constructing a more formal train and bus terminal soon, but I’ve learned it’s always a good idea to check your depots on Mapquest rather than assuming they are the traditional stations of 60 years ago.
Recent events shouldn’t make passengers more wary of train travel. A speeding Amtrak train coming to Chicago from Michigan rear-ended a freight train that was on the same track. 71 out of 187 passengers were taken to area hospitals, although only 3 were held overnight. While this collision could have been avoided, no transportation method is completely safe. What is significant is that even with such a collision there were no fatalities or permanent disfigurements. I can’t recall hearing of that kind of outcome in any recent plane or bus crashes. The risk of injury in a train crash can be lessened by some common sense practices: don’t be out of your seat more than necessary and don’t leave extraneous objects unsecured where they can become projectiles in a crash.
Overall, I would highly recommend train travel for 50-500 mile journeys. It was an extremely comfortable ride aside from the swaying and my stomach. There was far less stress surrounding boarding and packing than compared with air travel, and I reached my destination with reasonable timeliness. Once I move to Chicago after graduation I anticipate utilizing Amtrak frequently to visit my relatives and new niece in St. Louis.
Other posts in this series:
This is the second post of a 4-part series evaluating my varied travel experiences over a week holiday.
I have to admit, thinking about bus travel usually causes me to flashback to the 22-hour ride from Florida to Ohio with my high school band. After incurring a delay, we got in hours late and approximately 2 days since any of us had seen a shower. And somewhere in the process of generally occupying 3.75 square feet of space for almost a day I managed to pick up a freshman stalker that followed me around for the rest of junior year. Overall, the experience doesn’t make my top ten favorites.
Even with that as prior experience I was looking forward to my 7-hour Megabus ride to Chicago, mainly because it was 7 hours I could sleep instead of drive. The bus was pleasantly empty, with only 12 passengers the first leg of the trip and perhaps double that for the second. Our chariot was a late-model coach liner that seemed very clean and provided appropriate temperatures, lighting, and a restroom that didn’t even smell bad. Even with a 20-minute stop for lunch, one passenger stop, and a driver smoke break we made it to Chicago on time, early even. Perhaps that’s just good estimating, but I have great appreciation for transit that gets me somewhere when it said it would. The only sour note is that since Megabus has not paid for an indoor waiting area in Union Station all passengers must wait outside unless they patronize one of the shops within. While this was no inconvenience during drop-off, if one were waiting for a ride in winter I could see a slight problem.
In terms of cost, financially this trip set me back a whopping $20.50, saving at least $10-15 in gas costs. A carbon footprint calculator says 63 lbs of CO2 were released with my journey, although my share is probably much higher given that the bus was sparsely populated. However, it still doesn’t reach the 190 lbs of CO2 that would have been released had I driven.
Overall, if you are a single traveler with a slightly flexible schedule, I highly recommend utilizing inter-city bus transit. If you’re part of a couple it’s still probably worth it. Not only will you save the environment and cash, but you’ll free yourself from the hassles of driving and the risk of falling asleep at the wheel. If you are traveling with a group, the cost benefits decrease, so it’s important to look at what works best in each situation.
Other posts in this series: