Lorelei Bowman

Lorelei Bowman

Social Media & Content Writer

With the holidays fast approaching, businesses across the world are gearing up for the festivities of work parties, office trees and customer Christmas cards. While there’s nothing quite like walking into a tinsel-adorned office to improve a dark, chilly Monday morning - amid the climate crisis, the festivities can sometimes feel a little hollow. So this year, instead of thinking ‘bigger and better’, let’s think ‘greener and cleaner’.

At Benefex we love Christmas, and minimising the festivities isn’t on our agenda – but let’s consider the sustainable switches that employers can make to lessen our impact on the environment this holiday season. We’re not looking to disrupt traditions, just make them a little kinder to the planet.

Make your Christmas lights green

Whether they’re flashing multicoloured or subtle and silver, we all love the merry twinkle of Christmas lights. Switching yours to LED bulbs or purchasing them second-hand doesn’t change their level of holiday spirit, but it’s an easy green swap.

Another simple change is remembering to turn them off! We know turning off lights isn’t going to save the planet on its own, but too often, the Christmas lights get forgotten about and left on 24/7 throughout December. This adds to light pollution and global warming – not to mention the electricity bill!

  • Use lights with a built-in timer
  • Instruct employees to switch everything off on a ‘last one out’ basis
  • Designate specific people to turn off the power when they leave
  • Request your cleaners ensure everything is turned off overnight
  • While you do this, why not also encourage employees to turn plug sockets, computers, monitors and meeting room lights off when not in use? Even unplugged or on stand-by, these all emit energy and heat!

Naturally, some workplaces are staffed 24/7, but whether you’re in retail, hospitality or a standard 9-5 office, most places have a period of time when no one is there to enjoy the lights. So, wherever you work, you can make it a mission to ensure the lights are turned off every night.

Invest in a real Christmas tree

While fake trees have their perks – namely, their lack of dropped needles – they are in fact the less sustainable option. It may feel counterintuitive to cut down a tree to help the environment, but these trees contribute to oxygen as they grow (oxygen which would never be produced if there weren’t demand for Christmas trees) and even continue to release traces of oxygen when in your home. Depending on how it was harvested, you can also replant or recycle the tree after its use!

Alternatively, faux Christmas trees are made from plastic, which carries significant carbon emissions and is normally non-recyclable. Their manufacturing and shipping to stores also adds to their carbon footprint. According to the Carbon Trust, fake trees have an average carbon footprint of 40kg (not factoring in transportation), vs. natural trees of 3.5kg-16kg (dependent on their disposal). Thus, in order to balance out the CO2 emitted from a plastic tree, it would need to be reused for over 10 years.

Of course, a real tree isn’t always practical for work, and if you already have a faux tree, then absolutely continue to use it! But if you’re looking to purchase a new one – go with the real thing.

Send e-cards rather than posting

Like many sustainable swaps, the difference between sending an email and sending a letter isn’t as simple as ‘one is better than the other’. Email also carries a carbon footprint, from the power used to type it out, to the servers delivering it. In fact, recent reports show that the UK sends over 64m unnecessary emails every day, equating to approximately the same CO2 output as 81,000 flights to Madrid.

However, generally speaking, an email is still greener than mail – the average email has a carbon footprint of 4g, versus the average letter 29g. When you account for the sheer number of cards being sent, and the inclusion of any international postage, going digital wins out.

Of course, we all love receiving letters in the post, and a more personal business letter will really stand out among the junk emails. But at Christmas time, you’re more likely to stand out by going virtual – and, you could minimise your carbon footprint at the same time. Especially if you explain the green reasons behind it!

E-cards don’t need to be boring (or worse, garish!), they can represent your business at its best – show off your internal graphics team or support a local creative to design something special. Virtual cards can think outside the bi-fold box and be interactive, animated or personalised! This year, demonstrate your values and your festivity.

Maximise ethics and minimise waste for your holiday gifts

Businesses that send their clients gifts are always popular in the office, and it’s undeniable that employees love receiving a little something on their desk. But t’s easy to buy 400 presents which only 10 people will use, leading to a large amount of wasted money and resources.

There are two main ways to help the environment when gift-shopping:

  • Know your recipient and tailor their gifts to minimise waste. You know your clientele and employees better than anyone – prove it with a personal present that won’t get lost among the mass mailing from competitors. You could even send out a short survey to get a feel for people’s interests this year and get them excited!
  • Prioritise ethics and sustainability. Of course, buying in bulk can make it difficult to pin down ethical manufacturers that don’t come with a high price tag, but it is possible. And sometimes, paying a little extra is worth it. Look at products made from recycled resources, or buy locally and support small businesses – this not only minimises the carbon footprint from transportation, but shows your support for the community.

Host a plastic-free Christmas party

It’s safe to say we all know the damage that single-use plastic can do, and even reusable or recyclable plastic eventually ends up in the ocean or a landfill. Why not challenge your company to make the festive party plastic-free?

Plastic cups, disposable cutlery, food packaging, plastic cracker prizes and oh-so-much glitter and table décor – even paper plates come with a plastic film which makes them difficult to recycle. Whether you host in-house or hire a venue, make no-plastic a priority. You could even go one step further and find a venue which is run from renewable energy! If Glastonbury can go plastic-free, then so can we.

Turn down the heat, turn up the festivity

In an ideal world, we’d all power our businesses with renewable energy, but until this is possible, let’s minimise our power consumption. As discussed, things like leaving the lights on contribute significantly to global warming, and the power used for this adds to CO2 output.

Did you know turning the office temperature down could even save you 1% on your heating bill for each degree? Contrary to belief, buildings also stay warmer for longer when set at a cooler or middle temperature, as the rate of cooling is relative to temperature (so the lower the temperature, the slower the heat loss). And let’s be honest, with 100 people and computers, do you really need the thermostat to be set to 25c?

Save money and power by keeping the office at a consistent temperature and encouraging employees to dress appropriately for the weather. You could even provide USB heaters (and fans in the Summer) to accommodate those who get particularly hot or cold!

Ensure your wrapping is recyclable

An easy change to help the planet is by ensuring your wrapping paper is all recyclable. While it seems obvious that wrapping paper should be recycled, some is not in fact paper at all, or it includes a plastic coating.

Any paper or gift bags with glitter, embossing or a shiny texture cannot be recycled. An easy way to see if paper can be recycled is the ‘scrunch test’ – most recyclable paper-based wrapping will stay scrunched up, whereas non-recyclable or plastic-based wrapping will simply crease and then unfold.

One alternative to traditional wrapping paper is brown paper, which is not-only simple and classic, but recyclable and cost effective. Tissue paper is another great option if you’re looking for something with more colour – maybe you can theme the wrapping around your brand colours!

Whatever you do this year to decrease your impact on the environment, let’s all make a pledge to make greener business a goal for 2020.

Find out more about how you can improve your organisation's impact on the planet, year-round, in our full report: The Benefits of Sustainability in Business

Lorelei Bowman

Lorelei Bowman

Social Media & Content Writer

Lorelei is an avid proponent of iced coffee, video games and anything to do with outerspace.

Copywriter by day, filmmaker by night – Lorelei graduated from university with a degree in Film and Screenwriting, and continues to write and direct films with their production company. When not at work, you can probably stumble upon Lorelei buying overpriced cold brew in a hipster coffee shop or rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the 100th time.