Monthly Archives: December 2006

A final thought on Xmas gifts

Ever had that feeling when shopping for Christmas gifts, that the whole store is just a garbage dump in the making? Or that it will take a whole new power plant to keep all the electronics running? Christmas shopping can be depressing enough, especially as you get down to the wire, so my suggestion is that you start with a values check, and then shop proactively.Our recommendation this year is that we all put an E.N.D to waste, by shopping for gifts that are ENERGY EFFICIENT, NATURAL, and DURABLE.

Before you hit the stores, here’s three key questions to ask yourself:
1. Are there gifts that reflect conservation values?
2. Are there options that better reflect conservation values?
3. Can I offset the environmental impact of a gift?

Ideally, we are all shopping locally, buying locally-made or fair-trade products, and focussing on quality, long-lasting gifts that will have special meaning. The reality is, we all have wish lists to fill. My son wants LEGO, my daughter wants a sled. Not much choice in the LEGO, but with the sled we are shopping around for an alternative to the cheap plastic toboggans that wear out in a couple of months and wind up in the garbage.


Going green for Christmas by Rosslyn Beeby

Thanks to Murray Scown for this fantastic article….

THIS Christmas, if every family reused just one metre of festive ribbon, the 60,800km of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet. It’s a sobering statistic provided by Friends of the Earth in a campaign to take the trash out of Christmas. No figures are on hand for the amount of festive season waste generated in Australia, but reports show Britain piles up more than 3 million tonnes of waste each Christmas more than 160,000 tonnes of food waste, 80sqkm if wrapping paper, 6 million discarded Christmas trees and 4200 tonnes of aluminium foil.



Why bother installing an energy efficient lightbulb when a man in Lanarkshire boasts of attaching 1.2 million Christmas lights to his house?” asks The Guardian’s eco-columnist, George Monbiot in his new book, Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning. While others are worrying about the contribution of their reasonably modest fossil-fuel burning habits to climate change, the man from Lanarkshire needs two industrial metres to measure the electricity he uses in festooning his house with winking lights.“One year his display melted the power cables supplying his village.


The name of the village which proves, I think, that there is a God is Coalburn,” writes Monbiot.



Christmas has become a time of recklessly high fossil fuel consumption, with any reminders of curbing greenhouse emissions briskly dismissed as smacking of the Scrooge spirit. At Christmas nobody wants to be reminded that climate change can somehow be connected to the amount of beer consumed at the office Christmas party. Or that plantation-grown Christmas trees contribute to land clearing and loss of wildlife habitat. Risk a comment and you’ll be compared to the Grinch, the Christmas-hating Dr Seuss character whose heart was “three sizes too small.”



But the Green Christmas movement is growing, and there’s a cool new Santa in town the Green Santa. Launched in Australia last month by the Gould League, the Green Santa wants to trim the trash and take the crass out of Christmas. “More than ever before the world is facing the environmental challenges of climate change and Santa Claus has decided to change his traditional costume from red to green to express his concern. “As part of the change Rudolph the red-nose reindeer now has a new name Gary the green-nose reindeer which will mean the famous Christmas carol will be re-written,” says a Gould League statement.



But Green Santa isn’t a new concept. It’s a global movement that started in Turkey in 1993, as an attempt to reclaim the reputation of St Nicholas, an archbishop born in the old Turkish city of Patara in the 4th century. He was originally depicted in a green cloak, and revered for his generosity toward the poor. Known as Noel Baba in Turkey, Pere Noel in France and Sinter Klaas in the Netherlands, the venerable saint received a modern make-over in a 1930s advertisement for Coca-Cola, with red suit, white whiskers and jingle-belled reindeer. In 1993, a Turkish mayor organised a global “Santa Claus Call For World Peace Activities”, changing the saint’s costume to green.



“Our children will ask, ‘Why did you change the colours of Santa Claus into green? We will tell them that one of the biggest, the most important, the most urgent problems of our world is the protection of wild life,” the mayor of Demre said, when announcing the new Santa movement. “We will draw the attention of children on the issue of protection of the environment through the green Santa Claus. We will use the colour green to create a magic effect. “It seems to be working, with more people wanting to cut consumption and reclaim the spiritual meaning of Christmas.


Here are 10 helpful hints that will bring a green glow to Christmas without any accusations of Grinch-like behaviour:

  1. Cut down your Christmas beer miles and drink a local brew. It takes fossil fuel to transport beer from around the globe or interstate. Smaller breweries will also have less greenhouse emissions so opt for a beer like Blue Tongue ( Hunter Valley) or Wollongong‘s Five Island. How painless is that resolution? Ditto for local wines.
  2. Give an e-gift that makes the world a better place for animals. The International Fund for Animal Welfare offers gift programs that will help save seals, care for Russia‘s orphaned bears and protect animals from poachers. Browse online and download a voucher that explains what’s being supported a $25 donation buys a health check for an orphaned bear cub or a pair of socks for a ranger on elephant patrol.
  3. Give the one you love a fly-proof loo. Care Australia offers plenty of eco-choices that will help the world’s poorer communities. Gifts range from $10 to provide a mosquito net, $20 for a water bucket and $48 to stop the spread of diseases with a fly-proof loo. If you really want to splurge, $342 will fund training of a nurse.
  4. The Sydney suburb of Leichhardt has a tradition of neighbourhood Christmas nativities. That means less garish greenhouse lights, more creative effort and reduced contribution to global warming.
  5. Cut down on bags when shopping. Funny how plastic bag-fever can take hold during the festive season, with a new bag for each purchase.
  6. Give gifts that encourage people to use-less-stuff (the catchy title of a new anti-waste website). If you don’t know what they like, give them a voucher or cinema tickets.
  7. Buy a potted tree that can be reused or planted out in the garden after Christmas. A grevillea, banksia or bottlebrush won’t contribute to carbon emissions caused by landclearing and will provide food (when planted out) for native birds.
  8. Buy gifts from local craft stalls or farmers markets. You’re supporting local artists and farmers, rather than mass-produced merchandise made by offshore companies.
  9. Reduce wrapping by making it part of the present. Put gifts in a basket, terra cotta garden pot, or woven bag. Use ribbon to tie a bow on larger presents
  10. Buy Fairtrade coffee, tea and chocolates that support a fair price for farmers in developing countries.

Source: The Canberra Times

Sustainable tips for holiday giving

No one wants to give up on the holidays or the sense of abundance that the season bestows. The only question is how to be generous without bankrupting the earth. Here are some thoughts. 

 Give things people need and can use, rather than products plucked from the shelves simply because they look good. 

Choose gifts made of sustainable materials — bamboo rather than wood, hemp, organic cotton and wool, fleece made from recycled soda bottles, post-consumer recycled paper, natural cosmetics and organic, fair-trade chocolates and coffees. 

Buy locally made products, as the energy used to transport goods to the stores is one of the huge, hidden environmental costs of the holidays. 

Look for used things with a good story. Old books and maps, retro clothing, antique jewelry and the like are one-of-a-kind gifts that collectors will appreciate. 

Give things that reduce energy usage, such as commuter bicycles, solar-powered products, battery rechargers and carbon offsets. 

Avoid excessively packaged products. The packaging wastes resources without adding value and, if made from plastic, can release toxins after being discarded. 

Give tickets for concerts, shows, museums, sporting events, outdoor activities or parks. 

Give a party rather than presents — and tell your guests that the party’s gift-free. 

Give of yourself. Promise a shift of babysitting or dog-walking or a service that uses your special talents or skills, such as a webpage, a bridge lesson or home improvement help. 

Swap contributions. Set up a registry listing your favorite non-profits and suggest to your friends that they register, too, so you can give to their causes while they give to yours.

Most important, remember that the greatest gift of the season is the holidays themselves. It’s the one time of year when society permits you — indeed, encourages you — to escape from the daily chores and experience the meaning and poetry of life. Don’t miss the chance.

Source: Natural Resources Defence Council

Workshop update

Hi all,

Julia here from the ACT pilot project. We are currently in our third week of the workshop program, and I am discovering that the course can be educational AND a whole lot of fun!

We have already had two sessions, that have been full of information and interactive. In the first sessions we looked at individual consumption patterns through the use of an ecological footprint calculator, which showed us how our lifestyles contribute to global resource consumption (for a good one check out We also looked at the life cycle analysis of everyday objects, to see how their whole manufacturing, use and disposal can contribute to creating waste and depleting the earth’s resources.

In the second session we looked at the media, including the different messages is sends, how powerful it can be in trying to send out a particular message, and how it can also be harnessed to convey alternative messages, like culture jamming (see for more on this). We also talked about the different barriers we might encounter in trying to get others in our different groups to start living sustainably.

Last Saturday we braved the Canberra heat and went on a site visit to see some local sustainable projects from around the region. First we visited the ANU food co-op on Acton, a co-operative group (meaning they are run by volunteers and do not operate to make a profit) to provide cheap organic fresh food and dry food to the Canberra community – see for more. Next we moved onto the eco-home of local Canberra personality Derek Wrigley, who has retrofitted his standard 1980’s home to generate its own heat and electricity, and save water (all with easy to source products and a bit of DIY know-how (for more information and to see details of the book he wrote that charts his journey log onto

This Wednesday we are having our final workshop, where we will be planning the sustainable projects we are going to be starting in 2007. I have already seen some fantastic and innovative ideas come out of the previous sessions, so I am looking forward to seeing what will emerge from such a diverse and enthusiastic group of young people!!!

Cheers, Julia Collin ( or (02) 6257 6321).

How you can reduce your impact on climate change

There is a wealth of simple things that can be done on a personal level to help reduce carbon emissions.

ABC Science recently published very simple guidelines for the average consumer

The Australian Conservation Foundation GreenHome project has inventory checklists and guides on how to make minor adjustments that have big impacts

The Total Environment Centre also have loads of handy hints

The NSW Environment Trust website Its a Living Thing also have a section on Living Sustainably

“I will if you will” Advancing Sustainable Consumption

The UK Government recently convened a Sustainable Consumption Roundtable to advise the government on how to create consumer choices that say within environmental limits. Its final report, called “I will if you will – Towards sustainable consumption” is a ground breaking, thoughtful and easy to read document full of great policy and practical recommendation for more sustainable consumption in developed countries.

You can download the report from the following link:

The primary emphasis of the report – as reflected in the I Will If You Will title – is that sustainable consumption is everyone’s business and it will take collective action on the part of government, business and the community to make significant progress. Individual business doesn’t want to be the first to adopt new potentially risky innovations that threaten their profits if other companies are not doing anything. Consumers and home owners want to feel as though they are part of something big, that others are doing it too, that they are not fighting an unwinnable battle against the major trends. Government has a clear role for creating the right regulatory environment to facilitate collective action on the part of business and the community – and they need to act fast.

Interestingly, the report benefits from a ‘host-positive’ government environment. Blair has been an outspoken supporter of Kyoto and they have set individual emmissions targets for each person in the UK. The Roundtable’s report is an important part of the overall approach to finding ways to reduce emissions across the country to achieve these targets, involving a combination of production and demand side processes, and driving rapid change towards more sustainability – in fact, as the UK Government policy framework puts it, “from a 3 planet economy to one”.

The core of the report is built around discussion and recommendations on 4 areas – how we run our homes, the food we eat, how we get around, and how we travel on our holidays. These four areas generate 80% of an individuals’ overall environmental impact. The report believes that “a mass of people are ready and willing to see new policies introduced that will help them change their behaviour in the face of climate change and global poverty”.

Download the report and post your comments:

Big Picture Action Ideas from Al Gore

Hi everyone

Just been reading a speech Al Gore gave back in September.

You can read it here.

Some quick points I got:

  • we – meaning all developed nations (with the hope that developing countries would follow our example) – need to adopt a forward looking energy policy that emphasises and values the future and recognises the necessity of doing what has to be done now – and creating the right political, economic and regulatory environment to make it happen
  • this quote gets at the heart of the value shift required – then economics, politics, society, culture can follow:

“This is not a political issue. This is a moral issue. It affects the survival of human civilization. It is not a question of left vs. right; it is a question of right vs. wrong. Put simply, it is wrong to destroy the habitability of our planet and ruin the prospects of every generation that follows ours.”

  •  the possibility of replacing a payroll tax with a carbon or pollution tax – I think we need some good economic incentives and regulation and this seems like a good one to me!
  • there are some great examples of things already being done and other ideas on what can be done, such as:

At least one entire community — Ballard, a city of 18,000 people in Washington State — is embarking on a goal of making the entire community zero carbon

Democrats and Republicans joined together in the largest state, California, to pass legally binding sharp reductions in CO2 emissions.

295 American cities have now independently “ratified” and embraced CO2 reductions called for in the Kyoto Treaty.

85 conservative evangelical ministers publicly broke with the Bush-Cheney administration to call for bold action to solve the climate crisis.

Really, its a good read. A bit long, a bit complex in places, but I recommend it.