Reclaim the Holidays by Reducing Stress and Environmental Impact
Focusing on money, possessions, or other people’s opinions often leads to increased stress and negative environmental impacts, particularly during holidays. But when people instead set goals of fulfilling personal growth, accepting themselves as they are, having close relationships with family and friends, and contributing to their communities, they are happier and more satisfied, and they feel more alive and vital. Research shows:
- People behave and talk in more environmentally positive ways when they have been asked to think about their intrinsic values or when environmental behaviors are framed as relevant to their intrinsic goals.
- Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans generate 25 percent more waste per week than during the rest of the year. This creates an additional 1.2 million tons per week, or an extra 6 million tons for the holiday season.
- Each additional five hours of television that consumers watched per week led to an additional thousand dollars of spending per year.
- Humans over the past 50 years have consumed more resources than throughout all previous history. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, but was responsible for about one-third of the world’s total consumption from 1975 to 1995.
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has begun “Connecting Families to the Environment.” This effort is believed to be the only interdisciplinary Cooperative Extension initiative in the nation focusing on families and environmental behavior. This program is one of several educational strategies being explored across the state.
Iowa is committed to improving Iowans’ health and wellbeing. Through the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative, individuals, families, businesses, faith-based organizations, not-for-profits and the public sector are working together in community-focused efforts to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016. To measure progress, the initiative uses the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which tracks the well-being of U.S. residents throughout the year. The scientific survey measures six domains of well-being, including emotional health.
Connecting with nature strengthens emotional health, noted Kristi Cooper, a family life program specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach who serves on the leadership team for Connecting Families to the Environment. “When we create the connection, it helps us become more resilient as human beings,” she said.
Cooper was invited to partner with the University of Northern Iowa Center for Energy and Environmental Education (UNI CEEE) “Reclaim Your Holidays” project. Cooper assisted UNI’s leadership in conducting focus groups in Cedar Falls, piloting a series of workshops in Iowa City and Coralville, holding a green holiday open house, and developing the Reclaim Your Holidays website and Facebook page.
Cooper and the team conducted interviews and surveys to collect stories and identify the need for varied educational materials for educators to use in their organization and communities. She also contributed educational resources and assisted in the design of the professional training, marketing, and evaluation. Other partners include Interfaith Power & Light and its Cool Congregations network, county conservation boards, and solid waste educators. Resource Enhancement and Protection and Solid Waste Alternatives Programs through Iowa Department of Natural Resources funded the project.
The Reclaim Your Holidays professional development training was held in Ruthven, Des Moines, and Toddville. The target audience was ISU Extension and Outreach county and field staff, county naturalists, librarians, wellness coordinators, churches, and environmental educators. Cooper co-facilitated the trainings with Susan Salterberg, Andrea Geary, and Carol Yates, of UNI CEEE. Thirty-eight professionals representing 29 Iowa counties participated in the three-hour training events. The professionals learned how to use resources on finances and minimizing stress, give gifts of experience, share family stories, plan a community event, and secure local partnerships and funding. They also received environmental gift and green entertaining ideas, media releases, four hours of workshop lessons, holiday tips, a resource bibliography, a display, and access to a Facebook page. Each participant received a free Reclaim Your Holidays poster, the “Gift of Nothing” book, and access to the abundance of materials developed for this project.
A post-pre reflective instrument was used to gather data on knowledge, skills, and attitudes about concepts presented in the training. Participants also created and shared action plans for the next six to 12 months. A follow-up focus group/survey will be conducted to evaluate the participants’ completed or modified plans. Two-thirds of participants indicated they planned to use the educational materials in rural areas and small towns across Iowa, and one third planned to reach urban and suburban audiences.
Professionals indicated they had plans to use the materials in the next six months in library programs, early care provider trainings, and presentations to community groups; or with senior groups, ministerial alliances, 4-H volunteers, RSVP volunteers, parent groups, or church groups. They planned to hold special events such as holiday open houses, make-and-take workshops, faculty and staff brown bag lessons, and alternative gift fairs; and to post tips in restrooms, on fitness equipment, in banks, or in chamber of commerce, church, or utility newsletters. Others spoke of developing relationships with local organizations such as scouts, nature centers, chambers of commerce, resale businesses, or elementary, high school, or college students.
Personal impact included using the materials to begin conversations with family members, making a plan for self-care during the holidays, and modifying traditions to be more meaningful and environmentally friendly. As a result of the Reclaim Your Holidays training, participants showed the largest gains in their
- ability to set realistic expectations for the holidays,
- confidence in using the materials and lessons,
- knowledge and ability to reduce their personal environmental impact,
- comfort in advocating for environmentally sound choices at the holidays, and
- feeling connected to others who strive to create less waste and more meaning during the holidays.
All of the participants indicated they would recommend the training to others and several did so, resulting in registrations for the second and third training events. One woman stated, “Now I realize that (being ‘green’) is MORE than just recycled ‘stuff.’” Another commented, “Thanks for the inspiration and tools to spread the word!” Other participants said
- “Now I see the importance of exploring personal values and how those can drive plans for reclaiming and finding balance during the holidays.”
- “Do what you can and don’t feel guilty!”
- “I gained the encouragement to change the world (or my little section of it)!”
Kristi Cooper, ISU Extension and Outreach Family Life Program Specialist
- University of Northern Iowa Center for Energy and Environmental Education (UNI CEEE) Hasser, Crompton, 2009
- The ULS Report, 4th Quarter 2009: Volume IX, Number 4
- Schor, Juliet B. The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need; New York: Harper Perennial; 1999, p.49-50
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Sustainable Materials Management: The Road Ahead 2020. Draft, 2009, p. ii,