Gift Giving With an Energy Mindset

Guest Blog | December 13, 2012 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy

Happy Holidays from SACE! In an effort to remain timely and keep our readers in the seasonal spirit, last week I showed you 6 of our favorite ideas to help you conserve both energy and dollars during the winter season. Today, I’d like to break that down a bit further and help you make one of the most stressful and “energy-hogging” aspects of the holidays more efficient – for you, and for the energy grid.

This season, try to give greenly and keep your energy use – and that of the gift recipient – in mind. Instead of rushing to the store and buying the latest kitchen gadgets or video game consoles, why not consider one of these more energy-friendly gift giving options?

Make a symbolic gift or donation in your loved one’s name. Many would argue that the best presents are the ones given to those people and sectors of society where they are needed most. Material gifts fade or break, get used up or lost, and eventually end up as waste – and all require various amounts of energy to make and use.

Instead, why not give a gift that is meaningful and heartfelt, without adding to that inevitable energy and waste vortex? Donate to a cause near to home, or near to your loved one’s heart. For an environmental option, consider buying a carbon offset, or giving to a favorite environmental activism group or cause. Consider making a donation to support our work at SACE if you want an energy-minded gift-giving alternative.

Remember the age old adage: Reduce, recycle and reuse. Thrift stores are not just for the frugal shoppers. I’ve heard so many men and women tell stories of deja vu moments, of doing a double take when they caught sight of a teenager wearing clothing they swore they had in their own closets 20 years ago. Retro clothing and accessories are the trend these days; why buy a copycat version of a dress when you can buy a loved one the original? And don’t forget about the nostalgic factor for the older generations on your list; I bet your uncle would love a copy of his favorite record album from his childhood. Not only will you be saving yourself a little money and probably helping out a locally-operated store, but buying used or recycled also means that your gift didn’t waste additional resources or energy producing new products.

Break away from the pull of technology and go with non-electric. Remember how excited you were to get that first bike, pair of roller blades or scooter? This year, buy something that can bring joy to your friends and family without an “On” switch. Perhaps a child’s basketball needs replacing? If they really need an electronic device, look for something crank-powered, or even solar-powered. Quite a few of the more common household goods now have solar-powered alternatives: radios, phone battery chargers and even wristwatches are just a few of the numerous options out there.

Give a gift that keeps giving…and saving. Buy gifts that people would, or should, already be buying for themselves: energy-efficient light bulbs, for instance. Have we mentioned the benefits of investing in CFLs and LED lights? A report released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) shows most households that use CFLs tend to use more than just a few and continue to buy them over time. Yes, a light bulb may be an unusual gift for a loved one; however, there’s a big possibility that just such a present will start a trend, or maybe even a lifestyle change. And they’ll have a reason to thank you for the gift, and for saving them money on utility bills, for years to come!

There are so many ways to say you care, without adding more waste or using excess energy that comes with material gifts. And for those kids who may be a little too young to fully appreciate the significance of giving household necessities, have you considered naming a star after them, planting a tree or ‘adopting’ an exotic animal through a local zoo or conservation nonprofit?

Why buy at all? Create! Write, draw, paint, fold, bake, sing and just make use of your own talents! Homemade presents aren’t just for arts and crafts time in elementary school; gifts that cost you more personal time and thought than electricity and money are often some of the best presents you can give. Better yet, plan outings or special activities just for your family that don’t generate any waste or energy loss at all; walk around the neighborhood to go see the lights and decorations, instead of just driving past them on your way home from work. Time together is the reason for the season, after all.

Unavoidable Shopping
Of course, not everyone on your holiday list can be satisfied with homemade jams, recycled board games, CFLs, or symbolic donations. Here are a few hints for cutting back while you shop:

Combine and conquer. Minimize the number of shopping excursions. This will not only cut back on carbon emissions and energy use, but your wallet will thank you too.

72883564Shop online…or shop in the store? There’s a lot of conflicting data about the impacts of one over the other.  A study by Carnegie Mellon’s Green Design Institute found in 2009 that online shopping, at least on, cuts energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by at least 35%. MindClick, a sustainability consulting firm, found similar results when comparing the traditions of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which suggested that online shopping may result in half the environmental impact as traditional store to store shopping. However, a report filed by the Institution of Engineering and Technology found just the opposite, saying that there is only a positive impact if the online purchases replace 3.5 shopping trips, if the order includes a single, combined shipment of at least 25 items, or if a person’s normal shopping trip includes traveling more than 31 miles round-trip.

So which study is right? It depends on the person. All of these reports have several factors involved that are assumed and make generalizations about an average consumer; however, not every consumer has the same shopping habits. You know how many miles you travel on a round-trip adventure to your favorite store, and how many stops you make to drop off your kids or pick up the dog on the way.

The bottom line: Gift smart, shop smart. Only you know your habits and those of your loved ones. Perhaps you can cover everyone on your gift list with charity donations this year; perhaps not. Maybe you can combine all of your family’s present shopping into one online order; maybe you can pick up the ingredients for your famous blackberry jam at the local co-op that you pass on the way to your child’s basketball game. Plan accordingly with your loved ones to minimize your electronic buying, consolidate your purchases and limit your shopping travel. Think about the best way to incorporate these ideas into your holiday habits, and you may be well on your way to the most energy efficient season that you and your family have ever had.

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