The holidays wouldn't be holidays without festive lights, holiday parties, food, and gifts. Luckily, being festive does not have to equate to being wasteful. There's no reason why businesses can't enjoy holiday extravagances and, at the same time, save money and energy.
Let's start with decorations. New on the market are LED (light emitting diode) Christmas lights that use 10 percent of the energy that typical incandescent Christmas lights use. Also they are safer than typical lights because they do not generate heat. They are inexpensive and beautiful, and using LED lights to decorate the office or a display window could save a business up to 90 percent on its holiday lighting costs.
"My electric bill used to be so big during the holidays that I almost thought about taking down all of the lights around my store. Luckily I can afford the new LED Christmas lights and I haven't had to detract from the holiday feel of my shop," says one central Missouri retailer.
Next, how about a green-themed Christmas party? Save paper and money by e-mailing holiday cards and party invitations. Web sites like evite.com offer a variety of free, eye-catching invitation choices, along with party ideas.
If the party is after hours or at an off-site location, encourage carpooling for employees. This can be as simple as posting a ride-share board so people can match themselves. Other incentives used by businesses include valet parking or prizes for those who arrive with three or more passengers in a vehicle.
When it comes to serving food, reusable plates and glasses will reduce waste and save money if they are used for other parties. Reusable party kits can be bought from vendors such as greenpartykits.com, or the office can create its own green party kit with a large, transportable bin and a collection of light weight, non-breakable dishes and cloth napkins. If you must use disposables, buy recycled and biodegradable products that are readily available in stores.
Some parties even encourage employees to bring their favorite dish to use, which can double as a "to go" container for dividing leftover food at the end of the party. If food is being served in abundance, refresh trays rather than putting all of it out at once to prevent spoilage. Any food that has not been put out at the end of the party can be donated to a local shelter or food pantry. Not only will this reduce waste, but will enhance the spirit of Christmas by giving to those in need. Call ahead for details on what the shelter can use and how to deliver to it.
If you want to go all out green, the party can feature games that challenge employees to think of ways to save energy and reduce waste, with prizes for the ideas that everyone agrees to try. This is a fun way to raise awareness and get people thinking about changes that can make the company greener in the New Year.
Finally, when it comes to giving gifts to employees or to customers, think practical and green. Give gifts of locally produced food and products in attractive, cloth shopping bags with your company's logo — or in baskets. Reusable coffee cups or travel mugs can also be purchased with company logos. Companies such as envirotote.inc, ecobags.com and riptidepromotions custom make reusable bags and travel mugs for any business. Not only will these gifts encourage recipients to reduce their use of disposables, but it is an excellent marketing technique that gives visibility to your company every time it is used.
"I love seeing my customers using my company tote bags. Not only do I save money on plastic bags, but they walk out of the store and into the street with my company logo," observes one mid-Missouri business owner.
Other "green" gifts include money or gift cards for groceries, gas or other services. You can be sure these will not be discarded.
Remember, a little green will go a long way. Happy holidays from the Environmental Assistance Center and don't forget to contact us about your company's efforts to go green.
This story was featured in the Dec. 2009 newsletter
- Leah Christian, Missouri Environmental Assistance Center