Go Green > Season’s Greetings

Making green choices can be complicated–and it gets even harder during the holidays, when we buy more and have less time to carefully consider our purchases. But it’s worth keeping in mind that Americans create 25 percent more waste between Thanksgiving and Christmas than we do at any other time of the year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. “I think the important message about green decorating at Christmas can be summed up in one word: less,” says Jessica Barber Goldblatt, who owns Interiors Green in Littleton, which sells eco-friendly construction products for builders and homeowners. “Produce less waste, buy less and make quality local choices when you do buy.”

When it comes to decorating, going green is a matter of changing a relatively recent, over-the-top aesthetic to one that’s more traditional, thoughtful and resourceful. “Over the past several years, the reigning decorating style has been pretty fancy—collecting imported, elaborate glass ornaments, for example,” says Debbie de Moulpied, owner of Real Green Goods in Concord and founder of Green Concord, a collective of eight green businesses. “But if we look back to Yankee traditions, or even further back to pagan rituals,” says de Moulpied, “the greening of your home is about reclaiming and recycling what’s available in your own environment.”

Natural Decoration

Use a little Yankee ingenuity by gathering greens from your back yard and neighborhood (or buying them from a local grower) to make your own swags, wreaths and centerpieces. Be creative about what you decorate your greenery with–recycle old ornaments, reuse ribbon, wire-on dried flower bunches. If you use live greens and seasonal fruits as decoration, they do double-duty: potted herbs donned with ribbons look festive, smell great and can be used in your cooking all winter long. Bowls of pomegranates, apples and cranberries displayed tastefully with greens and pinecones may be eaten later–or composted.

You also can make simple pinecone ornaments by drilling a small hole in the base of a sturdy cone, hot-gluing a loop of wire into the hole and adding some festive ribbon. Hang your ornaments on your tree, create roping for railings and swags for window dressing, or decorate packages. If you store your pinecone ornaments carefully after the holidays, they’ll last for years.

Be creative with what you use as containers, and you’ll have unique centerpieces. A vintage garden cloche or a trifle bowl look great filled with ornaments; or stuff an old toolbox with greens and candles, and wrap the handle with ribbon. You can recycle food cans, paint them in Christmas colors and use them as planters for Christmas cactus or mini-evergreens. Or punch holes in them and add a candle, and they become luminarias.

Rethinking Your Collections

Being resourceful doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have an au natural Christmas. Last year, designer Simon Doonan of Barney’s in New York created holiday mosaics in the storefront windows by using empty soda cans (in holiday colors, of course) and making wreathes out of silver pot scrubbers.

It’s a matter of looking at the items you have in a different way. For example, instead of throwing out the collection of small, kitschy (and unrecyclable) plastic toys that your children collected over the years, wire the most festive with some glittery ornaments to form a wreath. Or get out your boxes of costume jewelry and use them to decorate your greens–beaded necklaces attached together can make an eclectic garland and wiring a collection of Christmas pins to a wreath creates a new context for your old things.

Changing your artwork also can transform your home at the holidays. One easy, inexpensive way is to frame your favorite Christmas cards from years past, using leftover wrapping paper as matting. Cut up other old Christmas cards and create gift tags, embellishing them with beads and glitter.

Buying Tips

When you do purchase new decorations, try to make green choices.

LED (light-emitting diode) lights can last as long as two hundred thousand hours (as opposed to two thousand hours for standard incandescent bulbs) and require only 10 percent of the energy used to power a traditional strand of lights. While LEDs are more expensive initially, you’ll save money in the long run. Plus, LEDs are widely available, and come in a variety of patterns and colors to match your décor.

To make LEDs–or any lighted decorations– more green, turn them off when no one is home or put them on a timer programmed to be on only in the evening when they’ll be seen by the most people.

For entertaining, rent extra glassware and china rather than buying disposable plates and cups. Also, consider making your own holiday linens, or investing in some that are made from organic cotton or recycled fabrics. Sue Bartlett from Bartlett Home Design Studio in Concord carries organic cotton placemats and runners made in New England; throws made from bamboo; recycled glass vases and paper wastebaskets; accessories made of scrap metal; and other organic and locally made accessories for the home. “I like to tell people that locally made products qualify as ‘green’ because they don’t get transported as far and therefore consume less fuel,” Bartlett says. “Although we do carry some imported items, a lot of our furniture and accessories are made in the U.S.”

One Storekeeper’s Methodology

De Moulpied uses a “three-pronged approach” when making purchases for her store. “I consider the item’s carbon footprint. That is, how much carbon dioxide and energy was used to produce and transport it. Supporting local businesses, farmers, artists and craftspeople really reduces the carbon footprint, and you’re also investing in your community,” she says.

“I also consider the chemical footprint: Is it made of something toxic, does it have lead in it, if it’s plasticized, is it leeching something, does the paint emit fumes?” de Moulpied continues.

“And finally, I consider the social footprint,” she says. “For overseas items, I look for things that are certified fair-trade, and I research the working conditions of items manufactured in our country.”

Two popular holiday ornaments de Moulpied carries are etched gourds in a variety of earth tones (these also are sustainable–you can compost them when the holidays are over), and small ornaments and stockings made out of recycled felted sweaters by a local artist.

Her soy and beeswax candles are also best sellers. “Traditional candles that you buy at the mall or candle stores are made from paraffin, which is the sludge at the bottom of the oil barrel and, when burned, creates black soot that gets really deep in our lungs. Also, the artificial fragrances that are used in candles are all petroleum-based, and some are carcinogenic,” de Moulpied says.

“I only sell candles that are scented with pure essential oils,” she continues. “It’s energy efficient to have our homes airtight during the long winters, but it reduces the quality of the air we breathe, so it’s important to be careful of what we’re burning.”

Going green at the holidays is also a matter of rethinking the waste that we make. “You can cut down on paper by using fair trade baskets or organic shopping bags as ‘wrapping,’” says Interiors Green’s Goldblatt. “And if you buy heirloom quality antiques as gifts or for decorating purposes, you’re recycling, and the items are often so much more interesting and unique. And you won’t be throwing them out once Christmas is over.”

Once the holidays are over, look ahead to next year by saving packing material, wrapping, tissues, bows and ribbons, and other things that you can reuse in your holiday décor. It’s another green way of keeping Christmas in your heart the whole year through.