There Is No Place Like Planet Earth for the Holidays

Holiday season is here and we all know what is on everyone’s mind: waste. Well, not really…but as offices have their gatherings, it is easy to imagine banquets of food and boxes of presents.
NRDC San Francisco's living holiday tree

Holiday season is here and we all know what is on everyone’s mind: waste. Well, not really…but as offices have their gatherings, it is easy to imagine banquets of food and boxes of presents. This is followed by the not as joyful clean-up of uneaten food, plastic containers, and torn wrapping paper. However, the holiday season doesn’t have to be blue; this season, you can make your office green.

As a country, Americans produce more waste between Thanksgiving and the New Year than any other time of year, amounting to roughly 25 million tons annually, or about 1 million tons per week extra. Being mindful of proper waste diversion (i.e. recycling, landfill, compost, and reusables) in the office can help to keep those numbers down. According to, 40% of food in the US gets wasted and each of us tosses nearly 300 pounds of food every year. While holiday leftovers are always welcome, the folks at have come up with the “Guestimator” dinner party calculator, to estimate the amount of food needed for the perfect guest-appropriate, waste-reducing, and leftover-friendly meal.

Another waste culprit: office decorations. To help cut down on tinsel-filled landfill bins, use reusable and versatile pieces, such as honey comb balls or fabric flags. Plants also create a natural touch while improving air quality; but be sure that you compost them once the season is over. Reach out to your local plant nursery to find the best fit for your office or a plant rental company for temporary decorations. Hosting a living holiday tree like NRDC’s San Francisco office is also a great option, as this tree will eventually become a gift to the city when it's planted on the streets to continue growing.

If your office does its own gift exchange, give items that are durable, promote an experience (such as tickets to a show, or class), or are made from recycled material.  Wrap these gifts in newspaper, magazines or brown packing paper, or place the gift in a reusable bag. If your ‘secret snowflake’ is of a giving mind, donate money in their name to a cause they find important.

Whether you plan to select a caterer for your office holiday party or will be catering the event yourself, make a guide to sustainable catering your first step. If catering yourself, use reusable dishware and utensils, compost uneaten food scraps, and make sure the dishwasher is fully loaded before running. Keep in mind that if you choose to hand wash, continuously running water during the process counteracts the environmental benefit of forgoing paper and plastic alternatives (running water uses roughly two gallons per minute). If you do not have reusable dishware, check online for wares that are certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), or the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) whose products promote sustainable forestry. Beware of companies that feature FDA and EPA “approved” fluorinated alternatives as this does not guarantee that they are safe for the environment and can cause confusion at composting facilities.

Before joining any office event, be sure turn your computer and monitor off. It is also important to be mindful of any unnecessary plugged-in cords that are not in immediate use (like toasters or phone chargers); you might also consider plugging your cords into a power strip so there is only one switch to flick to help conserve energy. For more helpful tips on energy efficiency, check out these NRDC blog posts on ‘Environmental’ gift-giving and other Energy-Saving tricks.

Throughout the holiday season, it is possible to keep sustainability at the forefront of everyone’s mind without sounding like the office Scrooge. For additional tips, check out the EPA and the CDC for their guides on going green for the holidays. 

Authored by guest writer, Chris LaCour.