The holidays are a time for warm gatherings, quality time with loved ones, cold-weather escapades, festive decorations and lots of good food. Spend your holidays the Phipps way this year by celebrating while keeping the planet in mind. May your days be merry and bright, and may all your holidays be green!

1. Keep It Real

Photo © Paul g. Wiegman

There’s nothing like the real thing when it comes to holiday trees. From the lush branches to the delightful smell of evergreens filling your home, a real tree brings something special that can’t be replicated by artificial ones. Good news — it’s also the sustainable choice!

The phrase ‘buy fresh, buy local’ applies to the winter season as well — Pennsylvania is home to 31,000 acres of cut tree farms! These trees are a renewable and recyclable resource that help stabilize soil, provide refuge for wildlife and protect watersheds. Buying a real tree locally helps to support open space in our state and supports farmers who are able to maximize their land by planting cut trees grown on soil that cannot grow other crops.

     — Jordyn Melino, Associate Director of Exhibits

Steps You Can Take

  1. Don’t Fake It. Local tree farms are abundant in Pennsylvania. Find your closest tree farm here. Because trees are a renewable resource and benefit their surrounding environment, real trees are the way to go. Likewise, you’ll support local tree farmers and your community at large.
  2. Ditch the Dump. Be sure to dispose of your holiday tree responsibly. You can easily recycle your tree through the City of Pittsburgh by bringing it to a convenient drop off location. After collection, the City takes trees to their Forestry Division, which sends some to be recycled through specific wood-disposal procedures and others to be converted to mulch that residents can use at home.
  3. Make It Last. Artificial trees are made of a combination of materials, so unfortunately they cannot be recycled. If you have an artificial tree, keep it around as long as possible so as to minimize waste in landfills.

Dig Deeper

Pennsylvania’s Resource for Christmas Trees | Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association
Christmas Tree Recycling Program | City of Pittsburgh
What to do with Christmas Trees | Recycle Now
Here’s How You Can Recycle Your Christmas Tree | Country Living

2. Deck the Halls!

Nothing quite gets you into the holiday spirit like decorating your home. Use gifts from nature found in your yard to create an eco-friendly (and free!) festive flair. And when it comes to lights, there are plenty of options that will shine as brightly as the twinkle in Santa’s eye while still conserving resources.

When you prune your garden in late fall, you can reap a variety of materials that can be used in festive holiday decorating. For example, grape vine can make a nice wreath that you can adorn with dried hydrangea flowers and seed pods from perennial plants like black-eyed-Susan, Echinacea and Baptisia. Looking for holiday colors? Red-twig dogwood branches, deciduous holly berries, birch branches, evergreen holly clippings, boxwood and many evergreen branches are all beautiful additions to containers and wreaths that can last for weeks as part of your holiday décor. Get creative with materials found right in your own backyard!

     — Jessica Horenstein, Outdoor Foreman

Steps You Can Take

  1. With Boughs of Holly. Use your green thumb to decorate with branches, blooms, vines and wreaths. Bringing the beauty of nature to your indoor and outdoor spaces looks classy, smells wonderful and is a much better alternative to the hard-to-recycle decorations commonly sold in stores. Looking for inspiration? Phipps offers a variety of holiday decorating classes! Or, gather your friends and family and make a group bonding activity of searching for materials in your yard and assembling decorations.
  2. Let It Glow. Choosing eco-friendly holiday lights gets easier every year! LED lights come in a variety of vibrant colors, last longer than traditional holiday lights and use less electricity. Use a timer to keep lights off when they need not stay on. Likewise, look for solar-powered and battery-powered lights, which reduce energy use and costs significantly! If you like to burn candles, look for natural options made from soy or other vegetable waxes.
  3. What’s Old Is New. Family heirlooms are a great choice for holiday decorations that remind you of cherished memories spent with loved ones. Consider creating your own heirlooms by shopping for vintage items rather than brand new ones.

Dig Deeper

This Year Make an Evergreen Wreath (From Scratch) | Garden Therapy
Floral Design Classes | Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Lighting Controls | Energy.gov
Lighting Choices to Save You Money | Energy.gov
Choosing the Best Energy-Saving Light Bulbs | Consumer Reports

3. Give Green Gifts

Photo © Rachel Lovas

Purchase meaningful gifts this year that will fill your loved ones’ lives with fond memories rather than material presents that will end up collecting dust. If you can’t resist having packages under the tree, choose gifts that will empower your friends and family to embrace a healthy lifestyle in the new year.

Some of my favorite gifts I’ve ever received have been experiences (sporting events, classes and even a Phipps membership) with friends and family, and now I always try to gift that way myself. If you’re searching for an item you can wrap up, try to shop in-person from local vendors to get unique gifts they can’t find anywhere else and don’t require shipping. The Shop at Phipps has a variety of products that are locally made that your family and friends will love and they’ll be able to use again and again. Stop in to see us and let us help you find the perfect sustainable gift for anyone in your life!

     — Kelly Donaldson, Retail Manager

Steps You Can Take

  1. Give the Gift of Memories. Whether it be tickets to a show, a class, a visit to Phipps or even a Phipps membership, there are plenty of ways to gift memories. Set aside time to spend together after the holidays and enjoy a fun experience together.
  2. Give Gifts That Last. When you’re making your holiday shopping list, carefully consider the lifespan of the item. Opt for gifts that you know will be cherished and used for many years to come, rather than a fad item that will be forgotten in a few months. Your loved ones will be touched by the thought that went into the gift.
  3. Give Green. Choose gifts that will empower your friends and family to live a healthy, eco-friendly lifestyle in the new year. Is your friend asking for new cookware? Give them a sustainable set of pots and pans! Are they trying to find a better way to get to work? Consider a bike! Find some ideas for eco-friendly holiday gifts here and here.

Dig Deeper

Classes and Programs | Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Tickets to Holiday Magic! | Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
The Ultimate Eco-Friendly Holiday Gift Guide | Eco Enclose
21 Eco-Friendly Gifts to Give This Year | BuzzFeed

4. Wrap It Up

Get creative with your gift wrapping by trying out eco-friendly alternatives to traditional wrapping paper. Creative minds can draw festive patterns on brown paper for a recyclable option, or think outside of the box (literally) by wrapping the gift inside of another gift (such as a bag or scarf). Your friends and family will be tickled by your creativity, and after all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Although beautiful, most traditional wrapping paper is difficult or impossible to recycle. Add some holiday pizzazz and a personal touch with creative alternatives! Wrap your gifts in the colorful pages of a flower catalog or favorite magazine. Folks will love personalized, hand-drawn or stamped paper wrappings, and the whole family can enjoy a night of crafting. An attractive fabric square tied with a cloth ribbon can be washed and reused as well. My favorite is a gift I once received wrapped in a reusable grocery bag — two gifts in one!

     — Jennifer Torrance, Research and Science Education Facilitator

Steps You Can Take

  1. Unleash Your Inner Artist. Get creative and wrap your gifts in recyclable paper and decorating the paper yourself. You can personalize the wrapping to the person receiving the gift. Have a sister who loves penguins? Try doodling your own penguin design on the paper for a meaningful and festive touch. If you need inspiration, there are plenty of D.I.Y. design suggestions on the web!
  2. Pass It On. After you’ve received a gift, recycle as much of the wrapping paper as possible, and hang on to containers like bags or boxes to use for giving gifts in the future. If you receive a gift with wrapping paper that isn’t recyclable, see if you can find a crafting or decorative use for it around the house.

Dig Deeper

8 Recyclable Wrapping Paper Picks for a More Eco-Friendly Holiday | Best Products
Quick and Easy D.I.Y. Wrapping Paper | D.I.Y. Network
Personalize Your Wrapping Paper with These 25 D.I.Y. Designs | DIYs.com
D.I.Y. Gift Wrapping Ideas | Amanda Rach Lee
12 Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Wrapping Paper | Tree Hugger

5. Select a Sustainable Sleigh

Whether you’re going home for the holidays or traveling over the river and through the woods to visit Grandma, you have the power to travel sustainably. The best part? Eco-friendly travel options often provide invaluable family bonding time too.

Traveling is a great opportunity to make informed decisions about your carbon footprint. Hybrid and electric vehicles are becoming more popular and accessible to rent, which is a great way to test one out and see if you would consider purchasing one. Some travel companies offer carbon offsetting within your purchasing options, a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. While we can never completely eliminate our footprint and impacts we all make on the planet, let’s do what we can to reduce it. With over 300 million Americans making these decisions, we can truly make significant change to protect our environment, communities and families.

     — Michelle Allworth, Facilities Project Manager

Steps You Can Take

  1. Come Together. Spend more time with loved ones and reduce the amount of cars on the road by carpooling to holiday gatherings. If you have a long drive ahead of you, pick out some road games before leaving and prepare for fun family bonding time.
  2. Leave the Sky to Santa. If possible, try out alternative transportation options to flying, like taking a train or bus instead. These options can often be significantly less expensive, too, and keep the sky clear for Rudolph.
  3. Set It Off. Sometimes air travel is unavoidable, and that’s okay! Terrapass allows you to calculate the amount of emissions you create when you fly and gives you the opportunity to purchase carbon offsets so you can have a guilt-free holiday trip and give back. They can even be bought as gifts for the eco-minded friend or family member!
  4. LEED Your Lodging. If you’re staying at a hotel during your holiday travels, choose one with green certifications. There are many LEED-certified hotels that make their environmental impact a top priority.

Dig Deeper

Purchase Offsets | Terrapass
6 Questions about Carbon Offsets for Flights, Answered | The Washington Post
Hotels Worldwide Are Going Green with LEED | U.S. Green Building Council

6. There’ll Be Parties for Hosting

Give your traditional holiday party a makeover by trying out new, delicious recipes and swapping out disposable dishware for classier (and planet-friendly) reusable dishes. Simple, easy choices you make during party planning can have a big impact!

There’s no denying that a hearty, delicious meal is one of the best parts of the holidays. This year, wow your guests with recipes that showcase the outstanding flavor of seasonal fruits and vegetables. From creamy butternut squash and savory leeks to tart cranberries and crisp pears, the possibilities are endless! Opt for organic and locally-grown options. If you’ll be serving meat, make sure it is humanely raised — key terms to look for include pasture-raised, grass-fed and Certified Humanely Raised and Handled. Cheers!

     — Amy Reed, Café Phipps Manager

Steps You Can Take

  1. Opt for Organic and Local. Organic, locally-grown foods are better for you and the environment, ensuring ethical, quality produce from farm to table. When you serve food made from such quality ingredients, guests will notice and appreciate the care and thought you put into their meals. Plus, sharing sustainable food practices will encourage loved ones to do so as well!
  2. Power to the Produce. Embrace a plant-rich menu that highlights the delicious flavors of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Dazzle your guests with savory Good Housekeeping recipes like lemon-ricotta ravioli with creamy herbed mushrooms or quinoa-stuffed acorn squash with cranberries and feta. And of course with pumpkin, pears, apples and more sensational fruits in season, the delish dessert possibilities are endless.
  3. Make Smarter Meat Selections. While we generally recommend minimizing meat intake due to the carbon emissions caused by meat production, the holidays are a time to indulge. Maybe this is the one time of the year that you enjoy beef, or perhaps you make the more environmentally conscious (and equally delicious) choice of chicken, turkey or fish. Of course, always look for humanely raised options no matter what meat you choose.
  4. Get Into the Sustainable Spirit. From the way alcohol is produced to the packaging it comes in, there are many environmental issues to consider when stocking your bar. Look for organic liquor and shop from local breweries and wineries if possible. When the party’s over, be sure to dispose of the packaging, bottles and cans properly.
  5. Keep It Real. Invest in a beautiful set of dishes — perhaps a festive set that you only pull out for the holidays, or even a standard set that you can use all year long. Real dinnerware, silverware and glasses are elegant and reduce the amount of single-use plastic you throw away. Concerned about the price? Shop around at thrift stores and garage sales. You can find a beautiful dish set for a fraction of the cost of a new, store-bought set.
  6. Waste Not, Want Not. Reduce your food waste by donating untouched food to those in need or sending your guests home with leftovers packed in reusable containers. Cook proportionally to reduce the amount of leftovers you have at the end of the night. If you can’t stand the thought of eating the same meal for several days in a row, cooking websites have plenty of creative recipes that will transform your leftovers into fresh new meals.
  7. Give It Back to the Earth. Set up and label bins for compost, recycling and landfill at your party so your guests can easily dispose of their food scraps in a responsible way. Composting reduces food waste, reduces energy lost and provides a nutrient-rich resource for your garden.

Dig Deeper

38 Hearty Recipes for the Vegetarian Holiday Dinner of Your Dreams | Good Housekeeping
Vegetarian Holiday | Food & Wine
The Environmental Benefits of Organic Agriculture | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Eat to Beat Climate Change | Vegetarian Society
Sustainable Liquor: What to Know When Shopping for Eco-Friendly Wine and Beer | Green Matters
That’s the Spirit: A Guide to Sustainable Liquor | Grist
Reusable Dishware | City of Portland
Healthy Tips: Using Up Holiday Leftovers | Food Network
How to Use Up Those Holiday Leftovers | Cooking Light
Reducing Wasted Food at Home | United States Environmental Protection Agency
Composting at Home | United States Environmental Protection Agency

7. A New Home for the Holidays

Before you bring new presents into your home, go through your belongings and make a box of everything you no longer need to donate to charity. You could be making a special holiday memory for a person in need, and you may even find items that you can repurpose into gifts!

When I think about donating and repurposing during the holiday season, I am excited by the creativity that can be shared with friends and family! Making handmade gifts and getting creative with how you wrap them, such as using a pillow case rather than wrapping paper that will be thrown away, is a good way to promote sustainability and give something special to loved ones. Whether it’s using old wood found in my attic to make a farmhouse table, to something as simple as making a handmade card from recycled paper, I find great meaning in giving something a new purpose and sharing it with others!

     — Ashley Dean, Human Resources Manager

Steps You Can Take

  1. Tidy Up. Before receiving gifts, take a note from Marie Kondo and tidy up your home. Compile items that you no longer use — from clothes you never wear to toys your kids have outgrown — and donate them to a local charity. Items that mean little to you could mean the world to someone in need.
  2. Get Crafty. If you stumble across items or materials during your tidying that can be repurposed, put on your crafty cap and create a gift for a loved one. Whether it’s a ball of yarn you knit into a cozy winter scarf or a homemade sugar scrub, you can get creative and make a meaningful gift out of unused items.

Dig Deeper

What Is the KonMari Method? Here’s How to Declutter the Marie Kondo Way | Good Housekeeping
Find Your Local Campaign | Toys for Tots
Where to Donate to this Holiday Season | Angie’s List
7 Items that Make Great Charitable Donations During the Holidays | Mental Floss
Location Search | Salvation Army
85 D.I.Y. Gifts That’ll Mean so Much to Your Friends and Family | Country Living
75 Crafty Gift Ideas | HGTV

8. Green Season’s Greetings

Photo © Amanda Rach Lee

Rethink your traditional holiday greeting card by trying out eco-friendly options. E-cards, 100% recycled cards and handmade cards all bring the festive flair you want while being mindful of the planet.

I love sending holiday greeting cards, and there are so many fun, eco-friendly options! Handmade cards add a special touch and allow you to stretch your creative muscles with fun doodles. There are plenty of ideas online — my personal favorite is Youtuber Amanda Rach Lee’s video on making handmade cards — or you can come up with your own design! If that idea sounds intimidating, there are also responsible professional printers, and e-cards are a great option that saves time, money and resources.

     — Jenna Bodnar, Communications Manager

Steps You Can Take

  1. Oodles of Doodles. Purchase some recycled paper, get out your crafting gear and get doodling! Making handmade cards is a fun way to spend a snowy afternoon and add a personal touch that you won’t get with a store-bought card.
  2. Choose Planet-Friendly Paper. If you want to have your cards printed professionally, use 100% recycled paper and plant-based inks. Paper Culture is a wonderful company that uses 100% recycled paper, offsets their carbon emissions and plants a tree for every order! You can choose from photo cards to share your holiday family portrait with friends and family, and they also offer a lovely selection of classic, non-photo designs.
  3. Go Tree Free. For those who are particularly eco-minded (and convenience-driven), e-cards are a great option! You’ll save time, money, paper and emissions from transportation, while still sending a festive greeting to your loved ones. Greenvelope is an excellent website that offers a nice selection of holiday designs and donates a portion of your purchase to environmental charities like the National Park Foundation.

Dig Deeper

Handmade Card Ideas | Amanda Rach Lee
23 D.I.Y. Cards You Can Make in Under an Hour | BuzzFeed
Holiday Greetings | Greenvelope
Why Paper Culture? | Paper Culture

9. Explore the Outdoors

With the kids home from school for an extended period of time, don’t let those days go to waste! Bundle up and get outside to create fun family memories in the beauty of nature.

Pittsburgh is the perfect place for outdoor adventures during your holiday vacation! My own holiday tradition is to participate in one of the longest-running citizen science efforts in the world — the Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. There are different days to volunteer in this effort depending on your neighborhood, and there even entire counts dedicated to our youngest birders! Also, our county parks and state parks have a variety of wintry activities, from guided hikes to ice skating to winter painting. And of course, a thermos of hot chocolate adds a dash of holiday magic to a family walk in one of our city parks.

     — Maria Wheeler-Dubas, Science Education Outreach Manager

Steps You Can Take

  1. Get Out and About. The holidays are a wonderful time to enjoy nature with the kids. There are tons of things to do around the city that connect you with nature. From a local bird count to sledding in the park to winter hikes, get out there and enjoy the outdoors!
  2. Your Own Backyard. You don't have to travel to enjoy nature this winter! Lots of family fun can be had right outside your front door, from building a snowman to blowing frozen bubbles.

Dig Deeper

#bioPGH Blog: A Seasonal Tradition of Citizen Science | Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Christmas Bird Count | Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania
County Park Winter Activities | Allegheny County Parks
State Park Winter Activities | State of Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh City Parks | Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
50 Outdoor Things to do with Your Kids in Winter | CBC

10. New Year, New Commitment to the Planet

Photo © Adam Milliron

Ring in the New Year with a fresh commitment to sustainability! By resolving to make more and more eco-friendly decisions and adapt a sustainable lifestyle, you can effectively develop consistent, green practices.

As we continue to grow and work on ourselves, why not include Mother Earth in the process? Collectively making small eco-conscious changes has the power of generating big environmental impacts. While it’s easy to get stuck in “big picture mode,” creating small, maintainable goals rooted in self-joy is essential for making lasting lifestyle changes. If you like to cook, try your hand at one new meatless meal a week. Interested in fashion? Lead a clothing swap with friends and family! And remember to take time (even if it’s just a small pause) to celebrate each accomplishment you make.

     — Maris Altieri, Let's Move Pittsburgh Program Coordinator

Steps You Can Take

  1. Start Small but Dream Big. Make a resolution to be more eco-conscious in the new year! You can start with a small change, like bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, or take on a bigger challenge, like starting a compost pile or biking to work. Need inspiration? Check out Phipps’ Easy Steps with Big Impact for Climate Change to read 10 simple ways you can make a big difference.
  2. Take Up a Healthy Hobby. Consider pairing your eco-goals with personal goals. Looking to get into shape in the new year? Try running outside or biking to work. Want to eat healthier? Take up gardening and grow your own fruits and vegetables. Human and environmental health are connected, so there are many ways you can incorporate eco-friendly practices into your health-related goals.

Dig Deeper

6 New Year's Resolutions that Will Help You Help the Planet | Green Matters
Easy Steps with Big Impact for Climate Change | Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
How to Start Running Today: A Beginner's Guide | Runner's World
Bike to Work Guide | Bike PGH
How to Build a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden | Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Pittsburgh Garden Resource Directory | Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Square Foot Gardening Guide | Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Indoor Seed Starting Calendar | Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Crop Planting Calendar | Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens