An Efficient Holiday Season: Eco Entertaining

Guest Blog | December 16, 2011 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy

I wanted to wrap up our holiday series by addressing a final, major seasonal activity that is generally high in energy consumption: holiday entertaining.

I know that party planning can be a daunting task at times, and just having a few relatives and friends over for a quiet evening can require hours of preparation. There’s always cleaning and decorating to be done, food to be made, possible gifts to manage, and piles of supplies to purchase beforehand. With all you have to do, there can be very little time leftover for energy considerations. In terms of party planning, the last couple blogs in our holiday series should have given you a few useful tricks for making some of your preparations more energy-conscious. If you haven’t already, take a look at these posts to help you make use of more efficient cooking methods, gifting and shopping ideas, and environmentally-friendly decorating options.

In addition to those ideas, though, I have just a little more information  I’d like to share with you for greening up your holiday activities and events. This year, maybe you can take some time to consider how you can make your seasonal gatherings put less stress not only on yourself, but on the power grid as well.

Make use of e-invites before the party. While this one is slightly controversial as it requires a computer and electricity, the process of sending and receiving paper invitations uses more energy and resources than the same number of emails will. According to the Guardian, the average carbon footprint of an email is about one-sixtieth that of a letter; meaning, as long as you are not sending 60 email invitations for every one paper invite, you will still generate less of an impact. If you prefer the traditional snail mail, however, consider reusing ones from a previous year, or opting for cards made out of recycled paper.

Encourage your guests to travel smart. If several of your guests live near each other, recommend coordinating or try to coordinate a carpooling system for them. And if you live in an area that offers convenient mass transit systems, suggest that they make use of those modes of transportation – this can have safety benefits too, if you plan on adding alcoholic treats to the menu that night. Perhaps you could even include the schedules for nearby bus or train systems in your e-invite.

Consider planning activities that don’t involve electronics. Instead of settling in for a holiday movie, or sending your kids off with their cousins to play with their new PS3, why not play a game of charades or Monopoly? Better yet, bundle up and go for a walk around the neighborhood to get in some Christmas light viewing! Just make sure to turn off all the lights and turn down the thermostat if everyone’s out.

When serving food, use real silverware and plates already in your home. I know throwaway serving options are the most popular for fast and easy clean-up, but consider using your own dishes and cups this year. Not only will you be reducing waste, but you will most likely be saving water and energy as well. The creation of a new paper plate takes about 8 gallons of water; running an entire load in your dishwasher requires only about 6.  Yes, it takes more energy and produces more carbon to create a ceramic plate initially, and running your dishwasher to clean it does require 1 to 2 kilowatt hours; however, when used in place of clean paper plates enough times – and taking into consideration the transportation of those paper products, and the energy required to process them as waste – ceramic often comes out on top as the best option.

Choosing biodegradable products to serve your food is also an idea, but make sure of your choices. Since most recycling centers won’t accept paper products that have had food on them, you’ll create less waste if you use the dishware that you already have! Ask your friends to bring some of their own, too, if you’re missing key pieces, and you may even be able to get them to help with clean up afterward.

Once your guests arrive, turn down the thermostat a few degrees. Having a large group of people in your house can generate as much warmth in the room as it does in your heart. The more bodies you have in your home, the lower you can set the dial on your thermostat.

Also, keep the thermostat down when using your fireplace. A roaring fire may seem like the best option for heating a room, but fireplaces are only about 10% efficient at heating a home. If you’d like to have one though, make sure to lower your thermostat from its usual setting ahead of time; so much heat escapes from the chimney that you’ll be warmer adding an additional sweater when sitting by the fire than if you keep your heat on high.

Switch off the lights whenever guests leave the room, or whenever they’re not in use. If your guests have all migrated to the same area, try to keep the lights off in other rooms. Maybe you don’t need to have extra lights on when you’ve got a roaring fire going, or a brilliant tree or menorah lighting the room. Enjoy your holiday celebrations to their fullest, without that added lighting glare from overhead lamps. Perhaps you could even incorporate it into your event: plan to make s’mores, and have everyone roast marshmallows and share stories together with nothing but the light from the fireplace and your LED-lit Christmas tree.

Unplug any electronics that aren’t in use, wherever possible. Several household appliances, like your TV, have standby modes that consume electricity even when they aren’t being used. Make sure to unplug any extra appliances you had on before or during the party, ones that you won’t be using again in the near future. Switchable power strips can be a big help with this; plug your TV, Wii, and PS3 into one power strip, and you can disconnect all 3 at once with the flip of a button.

And finally, make responsible clean-up choices. The average amount of household waste increases by about 25% over the holidays; this year, try to reduce waste and recycle as much as possible. In addition to using reusable flatware, linens, and tupperware containers, try and make sure that your guests know the proper place to get rid of their recyclable waste, so that you can make sure it stays out of the landfills. Perhaps you could even try for a zero waste party, and compost your food waste as well! This one isn’t as directly tied to energy conservation in the home, but it will keep any negative environmental impacts from your holiday festivities down to a minimum.

This season, try to figure out the best ways you can save energy by altering your habits and traditions, without having to sacrifice any of the seasonal merriment. Think about the best way to incorporate these ideas into your own party planning, and you may be well on your way to the most energy efficient season that you and your family have ever had. Happy Holidays!

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