How to have a low-carbon Christmas SEARCH NEWS

Potted Christmas Trees

Streams of lights have adorned the streets, filled by determined crowds of shoppers with bags stuffed with presents, and everything that cannot protest has been wrapped in tinsel- Christmas is upon us!

To help the environmentally conscious avoid getting coal in their stockings, Natalie Singleton, who manages WLT’s Carbon Balanced Programme, shares her top tips to minimise the carbon cost of Christmas.

Real vs fake Christmas trees

Generally speaking a real tree has a much lower carbon footprint than a fake one, particularly if you get one locally (or on a journey you are already making) and then dispose of it properly at the end (which is actually where most of the environmental impact comes from). You can also get FSC certified trees, rent a potted Christmas tree or (even better) buy a potted tree that you can plant in the garden and then use year on year.

Conversely, in order for a fake tree to outcompete a real (cut) one, you would have to use it for many years to make up for the footprint of manufacturing, particularly when you take into account that most manufacturing takes place overseas. If you are going to buy a fake one, it would be better to look for one that is manufactured in the UK, and you would have to use it for at least 10 years to make it a good low carbon choice. It is also worth bearing in mind that fake trees are often made from small pieces of PVC, which isn’t usually recyclable. More information »

Christmas lights

Lights on the tree

Switching off Christmas lights every night or when you’re out of the house will help reduce your footprint (you can also put them on a timer), and if you’re going to buy new lights this year then buy LEDs, which save energy and last much longer.

The presents underneath the tree

From an environmental point of view, it would be better to avoid physical gifts (for example, gifting an acre of rainforest) but if you are giving physical gifts, try to avoid items with a large carbon footprint. For instance it is best to avoid gifts that are manufactured overseas and in multiple countries, and it is also worth thinking about what their lifespan will be (e.g. novelty gifts that get thrown away) before ending up in landfill or being recycled. All of this requires energy.

Generally, non-electronics have a lower carbon footprint but if you’re going to buy electronics, aim for energy efficient ones. Even better, buy gifts that actively do good by looking for companies that support conservation through purchases or carbon balance their emissions (WLT have put together some suggestions).

If you are wrapping your presents, avoid shiny metallic or glittery paper (also a microplastic) as these usually can’t be recycled.  Reuse wrapping paper wherever you can, or use brown paper and newspapers (more Christmas recycling tips). Buying online can also reduce your footprint and if you sign up to Give as you live, every purchase you make with major brands like Amazon and eBay could support WLT (at no extra cost to you).

Christmas cards

Christmas cards

WLT’s range of Christmas cards have been printed by Kingfisher Press, a Carbon Balanced printer, and the sales of these cards (and everything else in WLT’s shop) support WLT’s conservation projects so have a positive impact on the environment. If you can, save and reuse the Christmas cards you receive (as tags or postcards) and then recycle them.

Christmas dinner

Eating and drinking counts for around a fifth of a person’s carbon footprint in the UK. So try to keep the carbon costs of Christmas dinner down by making sure that you only buy and cook what you need, cook efficiently (don’t overheat the oven, turn it off afterwards, and put lids on pans), store leftovers, and dispose of any waste properly.

“Studies have shown that adopting a vegetarian diet can have huge impacts on your food-related emissions… they could be reduced by half”
Natalie Singleton

Livestock production is estimated to match or exceed transport related emissions; they are estimated at 14.5-18 per cent of global emissions. Of these emissions beef and milk (including cheese) account for the most, followed by pork, meat and eggs. Studies have shown that adopting a vegetarian diet can have huge impacts on your food-related emissions, and one study suggests that they could be reduced by half. If you are going to eat meat, look for lower carbon options like turkey, salmon and goose, the more local, the better, and look for labels identifying high welfare and sustainability standards.

For extra points, think about how to save energy while washing up. More information »

Energy consumption

With Christmas visitors and cooking a big meal, it is likely that your home will be a lot warmer than usual, so you could turn the heating down for the day. If you get a bit chilly, you can put on a festive Christmas jumper and close the curtains when it gets dark, rather than turning the heating up- it is estimated that turning the thermostat down by one degree will save 350kg CO2e.

Family time

You could go a step further by making sure that your house is well insulated and switching to a green energy supplier. By going on a green tariff, you still receive the same energy as your neighbours as electricity is provided from a grid with a mix of different fuel sources (fossil, renewable, nuclear). However, if you are on a green tariff, for each unit of electricity that you use they will produce a unit of energy from a renewable (or green) source and put this on the grid.


Usually travel makes up for a large part of Christmas carbon footprints (on par with food emissions), so a good one to reduce where possible. Walk to the pub or your parent’s if possible and avoid flying if you can take public transport, and if you need to travel, your emissions can be easily offset through WLT’s Carbon Balanced programme. The average family car travels 608 miles over Christmas, so using an average car calculation from DEFRA, this would equate to around 0.18 tonnes CO2 e which would cost £2.70 to offset.

Further reading

There are plenty of online resources to advise on how to lessen your environmental impact, as well as helpful tools such as WLT’s Carbon Calculator to help you calculate your emissions and offset them. To read more about the carbon cost of Christmas:

The real cost of Christmas, Independent

Top Christmas Tips, The Carbon Trust

The true cost of Christmas (Infographic) by Commercial waste

And on a (slightly) lighter note, here is an infographic breaking down Santa’s carbon footprint by Grist. Because even a mythical man on a magical reindeer-drawn sleigh has emissions to worry about.

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