Jingle all the way: Going eco-friendly with holidays – in academia, (example of good practice)

While we usually demonstrate eco-friendly behaviour on a regular basis and think twice when choosing plastic over paper, we somehow repeatedly get infected by the shopping craze during the Christmas holidays, not thinking ‘green’. Wherever you set your foot in December, you can witness how Christmas is overburdening businesses, schools and households with an excess of unrecyclable wrapping paper, plastic trees and tons of super expensive shiny decoration.

The world Economic Forum reports on the devastating environmental impacts of our 21st century Christmas: globally, celebrating Christmas intensifies consumerism so much that of all the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remains in use six months later. Unfortunately, holiday shopping and the culture of gift-giving has become a vulgar extension of the consumption economy – it is said that households debt burden continues to rise in Canada, the United States, Australia, China and elsewhere. In 2018, Australians wasted an estimated 10 million dollars on unwanted gifts. The total amount of wrapping paper used only in the UK can cover the world 9 times over. Businesses feel forced to decorate their facilities early in December or even earlier.

To raise the awareness of the ‘toxic’ character of the Christmas spending sprees and to prevent unreasonable spending, especially in the workplace, the role of public educational institutions during this time of the year seems crucial. A wonderful example of good practice comes from the University of Kragujevac, Faculty of Technical Sciences in Čačak. Since the National Foundation for Environmental Education Serbia awarded this Faculty in recognition of their excellent achievements in ecology the status of an international ECO-school, based on the strict criteria, an Eco-friendlier approach to Christmas decorations the Faculty displays in its public premises has been adopted there. Every year in December, the entrance, halls and classrooms get changed into festive clothing, yet, all the materials used for the decoration are recycled or re-purposed: old cotton, hemp sacks, used chipboard, woollen ropes, upcycled glasses used as light bulbs etc. As a rule, unused or old pieces of furniture and thrift shop items are collected throughout the year and carefully stored so that they can be used later for this project. After both teachers and students carefully design a non-spending agenda for the forthcoming holidays, they brainstorm the ideas. Several teams partake in the crafting sessions, unleashing their creativity. Being accustomed to seeing many creative displays, the Faculty employees, students and visitors look forward to a new Christmas design hoping for a magical Eco-friendly atmosphere with zero waste.

The last December (2019) the Faculty went the extra mile. The traditional Christmas decoration project of the Faculty was enriched with a wider organizer’s initiative, with the right cause: for the first time, stakeholders and NGOs were actively involved in the process. The highlight of the 2019 event was the lecture given by the representatives of the Birds lovers’ association ‘Owls on Alert’ and Shabby Chic Design Studio, on how responsible spending habits and implementation of circular economy in everyday actions can help save the planet. Finally, at the end of the sessions, the mayor’s assistant in ecology gave a talk sharing an official 2020 Eco agenda on behalf of the local authorities, hoping to motivate students to broaden their eco-perspective and encourage their further activism in the community. It is estimated that the 2019 decoration project had engaged more than 200 students and teachers, both in lectures and decorating sessions.

It is essential that, at the times of the year when we might be less conscious of our actions, the initiative to ‘go greener’ takes place in academia, i.e. the adult educational institution. As a gathering place of young adults, educational professionals and industry representatives, academia serve as a fantastic eco-hub for the community, capable of mapping the spots of eco-intervention which might bring about the change. With the reputation universities have especially perceived as centres of science and progress, similar projects would likely be warmly welcomed and learned from, for the benefit of local communities and their inhabitants no matter their age or profession.

Universities, with their wide range of educational practices, have proven to possess the know-how, public attention and creative potential to change the negative trends in ecology. Academia easily adopts the role of a nucleus which incites collaboration, disseminates knowledge and searches for solutions in the field of sustainable development. Sometimes it is not enough to offer undergraduate or graduate studies in ecology or provide certificates for students who attend eco-seminars. Neither it is always necessary to write complicated eco-projects with big budgets whose first results are to be seen in the distant future. In many cases, what we need to see is small but sustainable actions of goodwill in which diverse structures of participants are involved in the same task – to demonstrate that we can bring about the change – here and now.

So Marry Christmas and happy ECO New Year.