Going Green and Improving Health During the Holidays: Tips From a UB Researcher

Holiday fruit.

Published November 20, 2023


Many people set goals for the holiday season. These can include everything from finding the perfect gift for a loved one while staying on a budget to working to maintain a healthier lifestyle. One goal that is often overlooked, but can easily be included on your season checklist, is to “go green” or act more sustainably. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, sustainability means “to create and maintain conditions under which humans and nature exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.”

Kacey Stewart, PhD, a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Environment and Sustainability in the University at Buffalo’s College of Arts and Sciences, notes the importance of living a more sustainable life even during the hectic holiday season.

“It might be easier to just throw a jar in the garbage instead of rinsing it out and recycling it,” Stewart says. However, researchers believe that going green does more than just help the environment — it can also improve our health. And since our health and the health of our environment are interconnected, the actions we take can have real impact on the world around us.

Therefore, lifestyle changes for ourselves and our families — even small ones — can make a difference. Researchers at the University at Buffalo are helping the community to make these changes through groundbreaking research that explores new ways to contribute to healthier, more sustainable living. Some recent examples include projects helping the ocean population, analyzing unsafe cooking fuels, and increasing nutrition access.

“We want to make sure our earth continues for generations,” Stewart says. “We need to ask, ‘How do we sustain ourselves? How can we use clean energy to continue as a species?’”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) shares that “as the climate continues to change, and weather-related events such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and heat waves become more extreme, the risk to human health grows, exacerbating existing health threats and creating new public health challenges around the world.” Now more than ever, then, going green matters.

UB’s Stewart says all of us can start incorporating more sustainability into our lives. Ready to get started this holiday season? Here, he shares five tips to help make it happen:

1. Go green while storing leftovers. Some examples of small changes we can make are not using plastic bags or aluminum foil and switching to glass containers to store holiday leftovers.

2. Shop local for fruit, vegetables, and meat whenever possible. “Shop at your farmers market during warmer months, where you can talk to the person who grew the produce or raised the animals,” says Stewart. Or, watch for foods labeled as locally grown at the supermarket. Knowing how your food was grown and raised not only gives you peace of mind, but also will help your community and reduce emissions from large scale shipping of food sources. As the NIH Climate Change and Health Initiative Strategic Framework states, we can all identify “aspects of food production and distribution that can reduce risk of contamination, maintain nutrient levels, and ensure sustainable access.”

3. Get creative with meal planning. Try to buy less processed food this holiday season. Instead, cook and bake nutritious holiday meals with your family and friends.

4. Beware that it is easy to fall back into habits that might not be as green when you are short on time. Be willing to forgive yourself for non-green behaviors but be mindful of how to act more sustainably in the future.

5. Move the focus away from the consumer mentality. As Stewart puts it, “Why stress about money, finding parking spaces, or finding the perfect gift when instead we can be focused on spending time with family?”

Sustainability does not need to involve a radical change of life. According to Stewart, “We can do small steps that have a large impact. It does not have to be all or nothing. We can start by simply shifting our focus to experiences with one another and experiencing the world around us.”

Read about UB’s sustainability efforts at buffalo.edu/sustainability.html and learn more about sustainable shopping in a recent UBNow feature.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.