Tips for an Environmentally Friendly Thanksgiving Celebration

Show your gratitude with an environmentally friendly Thanksgiving celebration

thanksgivingEven the most avid “greenie” can become a little overwhelmed during the holiday season, and perhaps even find that they forget some of their regular environmentally friendly habits. Keeping the spirit of sustainability alive all year long – yes, even during the holidays – is really not as difficult as you may think. There are many changes you can make on Thanksgiving to reduce your environmental impact without sacrificing any holiday rituals. This year you can spend Thanksgiving with friends and family and also have the satisfaction of knowing you did your part to help the environment. Now that’s really something to be thankful for.


Top Tips

Plan your meals wisely. Naturally, the most eco-friendly and less impactful meal would be a 100% vegan menu.  Let’s be honest, though…do you really want to celebrate with turkey-shaped soy?  If you do, more power to you.  If you don’t, we don’t blame you; but there are other options.  Choose a turkey that is USDA-Certified organic and free-range, meaning it is given organic feed and is free of confinement.  You can find a list of farmers at Local Harvest who use organic methods to raise their birds; perhaps there is one near you.  If not, you can probably find organic free-range turkeys in your grocery store.

If you do choose to enjoy soy for Thanksgiving there are many vegetarian and vegan soy “turkeys” available for you to purchase, or you can even try making your own.  This article offers many non-meat turkey options.  There are also some vegetarian gravy options if you want the full Thanksgiving meal experience.

‘Tis the season for pumpkin, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams.  Traditional Thanksgiving food is usually made of that which is in season anyway, but why not get the freshest possible ingredients for your mashed potatoes and pies by visiting your local farmer’s market?  Eating produce that is in season – especially if it is grown locally – cuts down on the carbon emissions needed to grow, plow, ship, truck and fly it from the farm to your table.  If you can’t find a farmer’s market in your area, try to purchase as many organic, in-season ingredients at the grocery store as you can.  Here is a list of recipes by in-season ingredient that you can try for your Thanksgiving meal.

Make sure you plan ahead and know how many people are coming.  Making too much food only leads to more waste.  While we all love left-over turkey sandwiches for two weeks, some food may spoil very quickly, forcing you to throw them away.  Get a head-count before preparing your Thanksgiving meal to ensure that you make the right amount of food.  Ask your guests to bring a reusable dish so you can share the leftovers when the meal is done.  If there are any scraps left, try composting them to limit waste and add nutrients to your garden.

Be cool. With the oven on all day and the house full of people, your home may heat up pretty quickly.  Autumn weather is beautiful; let the fresh air in and keep the temperature in your home low by opening windows and doors rather than cranking up the AC.  There’s something weird about turning up the air in autumn anyway.

Green decor. Not green décor, but “green” décor.  Although Thanksgiving is usually a low-maintenance holiday when it comes to decorations, the decorations you do have can be eco-friendly.  Light candles made out of soy or beeswax instead of paraffin or petroleum.  Soy and beeswax candles are sometimes difficult to find, but they are definitely worth it.  They last longer and burn cleaner without all the toxic chemicals found in candles made of paraffin and petroleum.

Collect colorful leaves from your backyard and put them in a basket you may have laying around your home for a nice, festive look.

Celebrate in style. Send guests invitations by e-mail, or make it even more personal by inviting people by phone.

Forget the cheesy disposable plates, paper napkins and plastic cutlery.  When it comes to the linens and dishes, opt for the real deal instead.  If your party is too large for reusable items try more biodegradable and sustainable party supplies that can be composted after use.      

Make sure you recycle the glass and aluminum, and compost the leftover treats after the party.


Other Considerations

Read labels. Because of the popularity of organic products, companies are starting to slap on organic labels for items that are not truly organic.  Just be careful and read the labels carefully.  USDA’s National Organic Program regulates the standards for any farm, wild crop harvesting, or handling operation that wants to sell an agricultural product as organically produced so look for anything USDA-certified.  Why pay for a product that is not going to give you your money’s worth?

Price. You may find that turkey that is free-range, organic and free of antibiotics is a bit pricier than the others at the supermarket.  However, it is a better choice for the environment, your health, and the taste is incomparable.  If that’s not enough, just remember that following the rest of the tips – like making less food, not buying disposable plates and cutlery, reducing electricity, using natural decorations, etc – will end up saving you money.

Host a potluck. Make your Thanksgiving meal a potluck and ask your guests to bring different side dishes so all you have to worry about is getting the best possible turkey.  E-mail them vegan, vegetarian, in-season and organic recipes as a little hint.



…to you

  • The taste of food that is organic and free of chemicals is incredibly healthier for you than food that is not. 
  • Aside from the health benefits of organic food, you and your guests will be able to taste the freshness. 
  • Since traditional Thanksgiving food is usually made up of in-season ingredients anyway, you should have a grand time at the farmer’s market!  Don’t forget to bring your reusable bag.

…to your wallet

  • If you decide to have your guests bring the side-dishes (made of organic ingredients, of course) you will save money on the excess food.  Now you don’t have to feel so guilty about purchasing that organic, free-range turkey. 
  • Skimping on store-bought decorations and disposable plates and cutlery will definitely save you money in the party aisle at the store.

…to the earth

  • Purchasing a USDA-Certified organic, free-range turkey supports sustainable farming practices.
  • Buying produce from farmer’s markets not only limits carbon emissions from flying, shipping and trucking the food from across the country – or even outside countries – it cuts the packaging used to ship and sell the items as well.
  • Limiting the amount of food you make and composting the scraps will cut the waste that ends up in landfills.  Besides, you get free nutrient-rich compost for your garden!


Further Reading

Local Harvest

New Green Cuisine

Eat a Low-Carbon Diet

Healthy Eating


A Vegetarian Test Drive



  1. Lorrie November 30, 2009
  2. Jasper December 22, 2009
  3. Gigi39 November 18, 2010

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