17 days of sustainability: a holiday challenge

This holiday season, let’s pave the way for a better 2022 by working towards sustainability in all areas of life. The FAO suggests 17 ways you can help, including wasting less food and choosing local, seasonal food that is produced sustainably

There are so many things you can do this holiday to make it a better one for the planet, for others and for yourself. Let these tips help get you started. Photo: Supplied/FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

There are so many things you can do this holiday to make it a better one for the planet, for others and for yourself. Let these tips help get you started. Photo: Supplied/FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

During the holidays, we spend more time with family and friends, cooking, exchanging gifts or travelling to meet loved ones. All of these actions can be done in a more sustainable way, respectful of ourselves, our cities and our planet.

Sustainability, in fact, goes beyond the environment; it includes other things that people need, such as jobs, equal opportunities, health, education, safety and a vibrant quality of life. Shaping a better future is the spirit of the holidays and the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Here are some things you can do to make this holiday sustainable, merry and bright, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations. Each of the suggestions below are in line with different goals.

1. Put others first: Today, more than 700 million people live in extreme poverty, many without access to basic needs like healthcare, food, education, water and sanitation. Why not dedicate some time to volunteer at a local food kitchen or homeless shelter? Make sure that nobody feels excluded or alone.

2. Be mindful of your food: Waste less food and choose local, seasonal food that is produced sustainably. Alternatively, donate non-perishable items to your local food bank. Over 800 million people are hungry this holiday season, and the Covid-19 pandemic has only increased those numbers. Food is a gift, don’t waste it!

3. Lead a healthy lifestyle: Regular access to enough nutritious food is key to an individual’s health. It allows us to grow, fight diseases and live productive lives. This holiday, add nutritious foods to the menu, don’t forget about daily exercise and fight the urge to overindulge!

4. Give or donate a book: In 2018, about 20% of children and youth around the world were out of school. Without a good education, children not only put their own livelihood at risk but also their chance to contribute meaningfully to society. Promote education by donating books or giving school supplies this holiday.

5. Support other women: Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and half of its potential! But gender inequality persists everywhere. This holiday, celebrate the women in your life and in the new year, support women as leaders in your community. If you are a girl, make sure to complete your school education and aim for the career you want.

6. Cut back on your water usage: There is no life without water. We need it to drink, grow food, clean, cook and much more. But one in three people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water. This holiday, use less water by switching off the tap while doing the dishes and challenge yourself to take five-minute showers.

7. Reduce your energy consumption: The holidays are a time for lights, but globally, one in ten people lack adequate access to electricity. This year, if you use lights to decorate, opt for LED technology or other energy efficient solutions. Switch off the lights when you leave a room and why not look into solar panels for the new year?

8. Shop with socially responsible companies: Look to support companies with a good track record of labour conditions. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 1.6 billion workers are at risk of losing their jobs. Support your economy by buying local products and services.

9.  Be innovative: Think outside of the (gift) box this holiday! Innovative practices and technologies can advance society in a myriad of ways.

10. Be aware of inequalities: This season, get to know the issues in your own community and look for initiatives that work to eliminate inequalities. Explore opportunities for volunteering or participate in donation drives.

11. Advocate for a sustainable city: Cities often reinvent themselves for the holidays, donning lights or other decorations to show its cheer. What if it could reinvent more than just its façade? For the upcoming year, advocate for the kind of sustainable city you believe in! Speak to your city council, get involved in city clean-up initiatives or even donate a tree to your city.

12. Adopt a low-waste lifestyle: Remember to reduce, reuse and recycle. Look for foods and products with less packaging. Give sustainable gifts, find eco-friendly ways to wrap them and support brands that are socially responsible.

13. Be climate aware in your eating and shopping: This holiday, consider the environmental impact of the foods you eat. Add more pulses to your diet; they are nutritious and take little water to produce. Reduce your carbon footprint by driving less, buying seasonal produce and bringing your own shopping bag.   

14. Be ocean-friendly: Choose fish that has been caught or farmed sustainably, such as eco-labelled or certified fish. Avoid buying food items with excess plastic packaging that often ends up in our waterways.

15. Keep parks and soils clean: Holidays can generate a lot of waste. Be sure to dispose of it responsibly. Chemicals from batteries or leftover cleaning detergents, for example, can seep into soils and pollute them.

16. Promote inclusion and respect for others: This season, make an effort to learn about other religious traditions and holidays. Not everyone may celebrate in the same way as you. Learning more about others helps to cultivate respect towards people of different ethnic origins, religions, gender, sexual orientations or opinions.

17. Share what you have learned: Share this story and show support for local initiatives that promote sustainable development. Team up with a community to make your voice stronger! Oh, and remember to not let your good habits end after 17 days.

ALSO READ: 5 reasons why small farms are key to food systems future

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