Decreasing our carbon footprint during the holidays

By The Proulx-Coll Household

For this challenge, we are sharing ways to decrease our carbon footprint during the holidays. From what we read, air travel, gifts and our food choices all significantly impact our carbon footprint. In this blog post, we are tackling the first 2: air travel and gifts.


Air travel is the action with the largest impact on our personal carbon footprint.

The aviation industry accounts for 2.0% of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion but because aviation emissions occur higher in the atmosphere they have an amplified effect on global warming.

A round trip from Vancouver to Toronto amounts to about 1/8 of the average Canadian’s individual household emissions!

We are lucky because our families all live within 3 hours so we won’t be flying anywhere this year.

If you do fly here are some tips to decrease your carbon footprint:

  • Choose lower emission mobility options
  • Choose direct flights
  • Fly economy instead of first class
  • Consider fewer trips, longer visits

(Source: Canadian Geographic)


Did you know that 10% of greenhouse gases come from the Canadian retail sector and only 1% of everything a person buys is still in use within 6 months? Let’s be conscious gift givers!

We hope to inspire you to think about your gifts this holiday season. Here are our 12 days of net zero gift ideas:

Day 1: DIY cookies in a jar

Who wouldn’t want a mason jar filled with the ingredients to make the perfect chocolate chip cookies? These ingredients fit perfectly into a 4-cup mason jar and make exactly 12 cookies.

Here are the ingredients to add to the jar:

1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup quick oats

Watch my 5 year old prep the cookies in a jar and then make them

Here’s how to make the gift:

In a 4-cup mason jar, mix the flour, salt, baking soda together. Add the brown sugar, oats and chocolate chips.
Decorate the jar with whatever you can find at home (optional).
Include the instructions to bake the cookies on a paper that you can tie to the jar.
Here is what to write on the paper:

Preheat oven to 375F. Pour the contents of the jar into a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup oil, 1/4 cup milk and 1 egg to the bowl. Using a spoon, drop 2 tbsp of dough for each cookie onto a lined baking sheet. Press down lightly with your fingers. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Enjoy!

This recipe is fun for kids as young as 4 years old as it’s super easy to make your own cookies (with the help of an adult). It can also be offered to teachers. We tested this recipe and I must say: the cookies are worth making for yourself! They’re super easy to make and absolutely delicious!



Day 2: Wrapping with used grocery paper bags

I’ve always had a hard time with wrapping paper. Part of it is that I consider myself “bad at wrapping” but also: most wrapping paper isn’t recyclable and there is so much waste.

Canadians use 6 million rolls of tape to wrap up Christmas presents every year. According to a 2017 study from Zero Waste Canada, 545,000 tonnes of waste is generated from gift wrapping and shopping bags in our country alone each year. That’s the equivalent to the weight of 100,000 elephants or 4.5 CN Towers 😯

Instead of using wrapping paper, you can:

  • Reuse grocery paper bags for a simple wrapping job 
  • Draw on the paper bags to make them more personalized
  • Use a drawing as the wrapping paper
  • Use newspaper as wrapping paper
  • Reuse gift bags from previous years
  • Place the gifts in reusable cloth bags
  • Wrap your gifts in fabric (the art of Japanese fabric wrapping is called Furoshiki) – this can be fun! No tape needed.
  • Use clothing that doesn’t fit anymore to wrap gifts- we haven’t tried this one yet but plan to and keep you posted!

Watch Cedric as he sticks a drawing on a gift as wrapping paper

Day 3: Don’t even give a physical gift. Make a coupon for an experience!

Our second child created a coupon for her friend for a morning at the climbing gym & lunch at our place afterwards. We just recently started gifting homemade coupons as gifts for birthday parties. At first I was a bit shy to send my kids off to birthday parties with a simple coupon as their gift but after I received feedback from a mom that it was her son’s favourite gift, we continued!

The experience can be something as simple as an hour play date with popcorn or it can be something more like concert tickets, spa day, massage or an escape room outing.

Something I learned: Be specific with the activity and schedule it soon enough. This makes sure that the experience will actually happen!

Day 4: Give something you already have at home as a gift.

Offering toys, books and anything you already have at home as gifts isn’t something that’s done that much unfortunately. Many people buy new items as gifts but it really isn’t necessary.

If the item is still in good condition and you know that the person will enjoy it, there is no need to buy it new. It saves money and decreases your carbon footprint.

Let’s make second hand gift giving acceptable!

Day 5: Make homemade playdough as a gift for kids

Watch Sasha as she prepares no-cook playdough (the video is in French)

Day 6: Offer the gift of time like a babysitting voucher.

This can be a great gift idea for parents, especially as schools remain closed here in Quebec 😉

I created a template for you if you want to offer a babysitting voucher to someone as a gift.

Customize it here

Who would be happy with this gift?

Day 7: Wrap gifts in clothing!

OK, this one is a bit extreme but after we found out that Canadians use 6 million rolls of tape during the holiday season and that most wrapping paper isn’t recyclable, we figured it was worth trying.

It worked quite well!

To make the wrapping more festive, you can add a branch of a tree from outside as an accessory.

Day 8: For gift exchanges, set up an online system to create wishlists to avoid receiving a gift you don’t want like

It’s the second year we use this system for our family gift exchange. I found it practical because:

#1) You don’t all need to be together to draw names because the system does it automatically for you
#2) You can create a wishlist so you won’t receive a gift you don’t want and
#3) As the person you picked adds items to their wishlist, you get an email

Day 9 of our net zero gift ideas: Simply buy less stuff.

The Canadian retail industry contributes to 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. “One purchase requires a lot of precious resources, from mining rare metals for electronics to thousands of liters of freshwater to produce clothes.

“Buying presents is probably the clearest way that consumerism has infiltrated Christmas. Ads and commercials constantly trick us into believing that we need to buy presents in order to show our affection.Giving someone a present is a nice gesture, but why do presents need to be material things? We all have plenty of stuff in our lives. One of the most important things we can do as consumers is to stop being consumers. We need to become citizens who find value in life through relationships and experiences. Not in what we buy and consume.” Fork Ranger. 

Day 10 of our net zero gift ideas: Offer a day pass for an activity.

Here are the ideas I have in Montreal:

  • Ecomuseum
  • Parc Safari
  • Biodome
  • Spa
  • La Ronde
  • Ski day pass at Rigaud
  • Arboretum
  • Science Museum
  • Music show

Day 11 of our net zero gift ideas: Give something consumable

Here are some ideas of consumables: fruit basket, chocolates, local food like fancy nut butters, coffee gift card, wine, cheeses.

Day 12: Personal hand written card (simple)

It doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated, especially knowing that only 1% of anything purchased is still in use after 6 months.

I still remember crying when I read the card my sister wrote to me last Christmas. When I read forums about what teachers want to receive as gifts, a hand written card always comes up.

Keep it simple. Write something from the heart.

This concludes our 12 days of live net zero gift ideas for Canadian Geographic’s Holiday Challenge. We hope to have inspired you to think about your carbon footprint over the holidays.

Thanks for following along! We will tackle our food choices during the holidays in our next blog post. Stay tuned!

Written by The Proulx-Coll Household

Read more of their stories as they vie with the other seven households to reduce their carbon footprint.

Meet the The Proulx-Coll Household
Back to top