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Sustainability ideas for the holiday season

December 14, 2016 — 

The Office of Sustainability is full of people who enjoy the holidays and who think a lot about how to make our festivities more sustainable. Here are some of our favourite ideas.

For friends and family who do not want anymore “stuff” for Christmas, Leanne Shewchuk our new director of sustainability at the U of M makes a charitable donation in their name.

“It’s kind of a double whammy  – giving to an organization like the United Way brings a smile to their face and a helping hand to someone in need,” says Shewchuk.

Tamara Thomson, the Office of Sustainability project coordinator, bakes gingerbread cookies and gives them as gifts, often using reusable tins or gift bags instead of wrapping paper.

“My brother has used the same tin to gift me Christmas fudge for the last five years,” says Thomson about her family’s tradition of giving each other sweet treats for the holidays.

To make your holiday food even more sustainable, consider buying local; fair or direct trade; and sustainably raised, grown or harvested ingredients.

Green Action Centre has a great list of resources on eating local in the winter. Food Matters Manitoba has a handout on where to find Traditional Indigenous Foods in Winnipeg and Fair Trade Manitoba’s search feature can help you find fair trade sugar, cocoa and more for your holiday baking.

A homemade decoration maven, office administrator Melissa Gayle Smith likes to give experiential gifts for the holidays.

“I buy gift certificates for my family to pamper themselves,” says Smith.

The Office of Sustainability offering up some of its favourite ideas for making festivities more sustainable.

Office of Sustainability staff (left – right): Evan Allan, Jessie Klassen, Michael Hall, Leanne Shewchuk, Matthew Robinson, Tamara Thomson, Melissa Gayle Smith and Anna Weier.

Fort Whyte Alive has many workshops great for experiential gifts throughout the winter, such as Winter Survival, Open Fire Brewing, Igloo Building and Growing Winter Greens.

Sustainable Christmas tree options are often a hot topic when folks are trying to decide between fake or real trees. The Office of Sustainability transportation planner, Jessie Klassen, harvests tree of branches from her family’s yard to make a tree.

“We get to have a real-like Christmas tree and it regenerates every year,” says Klassen.

Klassen also suggested sustainable transportation options.

“The journey is half the fun! If you’re travelling to visit family and friends, carpool together to save gas and enjoy extra time with your loved ones,” says Klassen. “If you’re journeying to neighbourhood festivities, bundle up and walk or ski there. Youngsters love an impromptu toboggan ride.”

Evan Allan, a city planning student and sustainability research analyst is the thrift guru in the Office of Sustainability. He visits the University of Manitoba ReShop every Tuesday, where used office furniture is available for on or off campus use.

Allan’s tip for a sustainable holiday was, of course, to buy thrifted gifts.

“It takes time to look, but high quality used gifts are definitely out there,” says Allan.

Evan’s most recent thrifting scores include a stove-top espresso maker and some nice office duds.

The holiday season is not easy for everyone. Anna Weier, engagement coordinator, suggested “reaching out to people in your community and asking how to be supportive. It’s a good way to have the holiday spirit.”

Reaching out can happen on a personal level with folks you know or it can mean reaching out into our wider Winnipeg community.

Local Investment Towards Employment (LITE) has an Alternative Christmas Hamper which uses donations to directly purchase products from inner city businesses and social enterprises. This money gets used to alleviate need and it goes towards ensuring employment opportunities exist for inner city residents breaking the poverty cycle.

Giving people thoughtful handmade gifts and sharing your unique skills gives the gift of your time.

City planning student and sustainability research analyst Matthew Robinson is using his design skills to create custom made posters for friends and family.

“I love giving gifts to friends and family that represent an interest we both share, like a Star Wars themed poster for my sister,” says Robinson.

Michael Hall is an MBA student in the Asper School of Business and this year he and his daughter handmade all their Christmas cards with items from around the house.

“Spending time doing crafts together to prepare for the season is a lot of fun,” says Hall.

Arts Junktion is a Winnipeg charitable organization that reclaims “waste” materials from businesses, which would otherwise end up in the landfill. They are a great place to get craft supplies.

We would love to hear any ideas or suggestions that you might have and we wish everyone a fantastic holiday season. Please email any sustainability ideas or suggestions to Anna [dot] Weier [at] umanitoba [dot] ca


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