The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: How to Enjoy Happy, Sustainable Holidays!

Image from Elf copyright by Warner Home Video

Happy Holidays, Ecocentric fans! Every holiday season presents an overwhelming array of decisions, conundrums and opportunities for fun - and we've been mulling over some good ones (we think) you might also find interesting as we embark on The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. These trivia tidbits could also be wonderful to have in your back pocket for inquisitive family members just when you need a little harmless conversation! (You're welcome.) Mainly, we want to wish you and yours a merry, safe, festive holiday season. (And if you're headed on the road shortly, remember to check out last week's holiday dispatch for some sustainable travel tips!)

Turkey vs. Tofurky™: A water footprint showdown - Kai Olson-Sawyer
 What's that, you say? You accept the challenge to lower your Thanksgiving feast's water footprint no matter what? All right, sport-o, that feat really begins and ends with the traditional centerpiece of the meal: the bird. Engaged in this battle is turkey's longtime veggie competitor, the Tofurky™.  (For this battle, we'll consider Tofurky™ tofu-based product; we know there are less-processed and more delicious options, but bear with us!) For comparison purposes, stack the global water footprint of one pound of turkey meat against its pressed-soy (and wheat) nemesis. A smashing result--Tofurky™ wins hands down with a water footprint of 286 gallons to turkey's 491 gallons. Choosing Tofurky™ over turkey has a water savings of more than 40 percent. (Gobble, gobble.)

Should you roast or fry your turkey? - Peter Hanlon
So you asked if it's more energy efficient to roast or fry your turkey?
Okay, well, let's just say you did. When it comes to roasting that bird, Florida-specific electricity figures indicate it takes 2.76 kilowatt hours per turkey, while a more general look at national numbers estimate 17.6 kWh. That's a big difference, mostly because the latter number assumes the oven is cranked to full blast for four hours - not a likely scenario, so let's stick with the lower figure.

Now, how about frying? Well, you'll need to immerse the turkey in 350° F degree oil for 3.5 minutes per pound. Let's say you're serving a 17-pound turkey which translates to about one hour of cooking time, which requires a...certain amount of propane... and, well... You know what? There are a lot of variables so let's just leave it at this: PLEASE be careful if you deep fry your turkey! Seriously, defrost that sucker and cook it outside because, you want to avoid a well, BOOM!

Holiday Décor: Buy or Make? - Rich Sanders
The question is really about who provides your holiday decorations: Mother Nature or a high-pollutin' factory somewhere that fabricates indistinct Mylar widgets the other 10 months of the year. Tough choice?

I didn't think so.

If home is in a part of the country where chilly temperatures impart a breathtaking array of fall color, you may be able to ferret out some ornamentation from your own yard. Gravity has done the work; now you only need to gather nature's suggestions. If you live in evergreen territory, arrange a swath of pine boughs, a cluster of pine cones and a few pomegranates - when the holidays are over, you've got mulch or compost and a tasty treat.

Celebrating in a warmer clime? You'd be amazed at what you can fashion wreaths from: kumquats (with their leaves intact) or chili peppers (who needs leaves?) or even dainty, supple twigs with tiny dried flowers interspersed. Or you can simply create a bundle of short, straight twigs decorated with dried berries or leaves and tied together with a festive bow to dress up your front door. Remember the pomanders we made in school? Press cloves into oranges in a pretty pattern - looks elegant and makes your house smell like a home.

Yule Log or Electric Fireplace? - James Rose
Ah, the holidays, a great time to cozy up with a nice fire. What's that you say? You don't have a working fireplace? Well, I have two options for you: you can turn your TV into a Yule log "burning inferno" or you can "fire" up an electric fireplace. Cost-wise, you probably already have a TV, so no need to shell out another $450 for that; if the Yule log isn't broadcast in your area, there are plenty of cheap DVD options.

But the TV can be so, well, cold. If you want heat, many electric fireplaces can provide that for you. A 5000 BTU electric fireplace can be had for around $380; it will cost you about a dollar a day to operate the thing. For those of you wanting to watch a fire on the cheap, you'll probably opt for the Yule log on TV. But for those of you who can't miss the big football game (or the new Madden with your uncles), at least you can still cozy up next to an electric "fire."

Dishwashing: By hand at your sink or load the machine? - Robin Madel
If you're faced with a kitchen full of dishes after your holiday gathering, load those into the dishwasher instead of washing by hand. Most dishwashers use 5-7 gallons of water per load, whereas most faucets flow at 2.5 gallons per minute. (Think about how many minutes you'll be running the faucet to wash and rinse all those platters, pans and dishes.) Just scrape the plates (compost what you can; see Dawn's tips below!) and load the dishwasher right on up. Then you can spend all that free time with the family you hardly ever get to see - so it's a win-win...right?

Leftovers or the compost bin? -Dawn Brighid
It's the end of the day and you and your friends and family have eaten all you can. But there is still so much food. It always happens, so now what? Leftovers are good for a day or two, but then, seriously, if I have to look at another mash potato/stuffing/cranberry sandwich, I will throw up. (Dawn is not alone - ed.) You are a conscious consumer, so of course you froze anything you might want to eat or make stock from for later use. You packed some up for your Uncle Robert to take home. You gave all the cooking scraps to your next door neighbor so that he could feed them to his hogs. And as for anything else that can't be stuffed into Tupperware or given away, you will compost them. (Remember, in New York City, you can also drop your compost scraps off at a variety of NYC Greenmarkets or BIG! Compost sites.)

Time for your long winter's nap: Go warm up the car or share a long goodbye? - Kyle Rabin
When saying farewells to your Thanksgiving dinner/holiday guests this year, be sure to make them indoors (where it's warm) and not with your guests hanging out beside an idling car. Encourage your other departing guests to do the same (which could cut down your departure time by about 30 minutes, which may be incentive enough for some of you). Oh and there is no need to "warm up" the car for it to work properly; even in cold weather, engines only need 30 seconds to warm up! Keep in mind: two minutes spent idling burns the same amount of gas as one mile of driving. According to Sustainable America's anti-idling campaign, 3.8 million gallons of fuel is wasted by idling in the US every day. That is equivalent to $13,444,400 and five Olympic-size swimming pools filled with fuel or 200,000 barrels of foreign oil imports every day.

So in the name of conscious fuel use (and your wallet, in case you needed further convincing) we're advocating a cheerful, quick exit - with your designated driver at the wheel if it's been an indulgent day.