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Ayres Hall in the snow

Sustainable Holidays

Winter break can be a wonderful time for giving gifts, eating delicious food, spending time with loved ones, and caring for the planet. Here are a few ways to reduce your environmental impact while enjoying the holidays:

If you’re traveling, carpool or take a bus if possible. If you know someone else who is going to the same place or passing through where you want to go, carpooling can be a good option. It’s not just environmentally friendly, but you can also save money on gas by splitting the cost! Another option is a bus for UTK students that goes to Nashville, Memphis, and Jackson, Tennessee (round trip tickets are $55 for Winter Break in 2019).

Be mindful of what you eat. Some foods take more resources and have a bigger carbon footprint than others. You can reduce your impact by eating local, in season foods when possible, as well as by eating more plant-based foods in place of animal products. is a great resource for finding what’s in season near you, and local food can be found in farmers’ markets and co-ops. Many stores sell plant-based foods, and it’s even possible to find alternatives to traditional holiday foods. Reusable plates, utensils, and cups are best because they aren’t put in the landfill after use. Food waste is also an issue, so get creative with leftovers! Try to make new meals out of the food you already have, and if you have any food items left that are unopened (canned cranberry sauce or veggies, stuffing mix, etc), donating them is a great option.

If you’re interested in giving or receiving more sustainable gifts, the template below is a good resource. If you want to let your friends and family know that you’re interested in green gift giving, all you need to do is copy the text and paste it into an email or a social media post!


Dear friends and family,

The holidays are coming up, which means people are starting to buy presents for their loved ones. This year, in an attempt to be more environmentally friendly, I would like to encourage anyone who wants to give me gifts to consider a few alternative gift giving ideas. For example…

  • Second-hand items: It takes resources to create new items, and giving old items a new home prevents them from going to the landfill. You could gift an item you already have that you no longer use, or shop at a thrift store or vintage store. They even have places to shop online for second-hand items. 
  • Handmade gifts: They’re a great and personal way to show someone that you care, and making things out of stuff you already have is even better!  
  • Reuse gift bags, wrap gifts in a scarf or shirt, or skip the wrapping altogether: Gifts are just as special no matter what they are wrapped in, and skipping the disposable wrappings reduces waste. Plus, it makes clean up after the presents are opened a lot easier!
  • Quality over quantity: It is much better to get one gift that can be cherished for a long time than lots of gifts that aren’t very durable and will eventually end up getting thrown away.
  • Experiences instead of a physical gifts: Experiences can be a great alternative to physical gifts. Experiences for one person can be fun, and experiences for a group can be a great way to spend quality time with friends and family. Some examples are concerts, movies, plays, escape rooms, day trips, cooking classes, and art classes. 
  • Online gifts: Online gifts are great because they do not create waste, but are still a good way to show someone you care. Some things that make great gifts are online gift-cards, digital art, and money sent through something like Venmo or Cash App. Another great idea is donating to a cause that the person finds important. 
  • Sustainable products: If you are going to get something new, try to get products that are made in a sustainable way. Buying from local businesses instead of big chain stores supports the local economy, and it benefits the environment, too! Chain stores have to get products shipped to them which requires the use of a lot more fuel than things that are made and sold locally. Some brands also put more effort into ensuring that the materials and processes used to make their product are more environmentally friendly. Some great places to buy sustainably made gifts are your local farmers’ market, local businesses, and online companies that sell sustainably made items. 


Thank you for your consideration!