CMU's Green Design Institute Shares Green Tips for Harried Holiday Shoppers

Advice Helps Consumers Determine if They're "Naughty or Nice" When it Comes to the Environment

Dec 10, 2010, 11:23 ET from Carnegie Mellon University

PITTSBURGH, Dec. 10, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- If you eat less meat, buy local and consolidate your shopping trips, you may make it to the top of Santa's green gift list this season. But your ascent may not have that much of an impact on your environmental footprint.


Based on their work over the past 10 years, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Green Design Institute have compiled their own holiday checklist to see if consumers are "naughty or nice" when it comes to reducing the environmental impact of holiday shopping.  

"Around this time of year, we routinely get asked questions about how best to protect the environment during the holiday rush, so we put together this suggested shopping advice," said Chris Hendrickson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon.

"For the average consumer, generally the two biggest sources of your environmental footprint come from your residence, and the kind of car your drive," said H. Scott Matthews, a CMU professor of civil and environmental engineering and engineering and public policy. "For example, our previous work shows that about two-thirds of your carbon footprint comes from these two categories. So, if we are really trying to reduce your impact, those are the places that matter the most. And these are just two pieces amidst thousands of decisions that a household makes in a year."

The researchers found that there are relatively few holiday gifts that one could buy (or not buy) that have a significant effect on your "footprint" despite all the marketing messages saying otherwise.

The green holiday season and shopping tips include:

  • Buy and eat less red meat and dairy, since environmental impacts of both are larger than other foods.
  • Bike, walk or take a bus to the store. That activity lessens the carbon footprint of purchases by about 50 percent.
  • Shop in advance, buy multiple items at the same store or choose the slowest online delivery service since overnight transport increases transportation and fuel carbon footprints by 20 percent.
  • Recycle gift-wrap.
  • Buy replacement appliances, lights and cars that are energy efficient.

"If you have an artificial Christmas tree, use it as long a possible — the higher impacts of manufacturing it 'pay off' in environmental terms compared to a natural tree in about 10 years. Similarly, look for efficient lighting. Households use about 20 percent of their electricity on lighting. Energy efficient bulbs, including Christmas tree lights, are a great thing to buy," Matthews said.

About Carnegie Mellon University: Carnegie Mellon ( is a private, internationally ranked research university with programs in areas ranging from science, technology and business, to public policy, the humanities and the arts. More than 11,000 students in the university's seven schools and colleges benefit from a small student-to-faculty ratio and an education characterized by its focus on creating and implementing solutions for real problems, interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation. A global university, Carnegie Mellon's main campus in the United States is in Pittsburgh, Pa. It has campuses in California's Silicon Valley and Qatar, and programs in Asia, Australia, Europe and Mexico. The university is in the midst of a $1 billion fundraising campaign, titled "Inspire Innovation: The Campaign for Carnegie Mellon University," which aims to build its endowment, support faculty, students and innovative research, and enhance the physical campus with equipment and facility improvements.

SOURCE Carnegie Mellon University