Holidays Powered by Energy

According to Pew Research, 90% of households celebrate Christmas. The holiday season is arguably the most joyous time of year (second only to Alaska's fantastic summer season) full of gatherings, shopping, and overall greater consumption of goods and resources. Unfortunately, household waste increases by more than 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day (Jacobo, 2022). The good news? Consumers are starting to prioritize sustainability and making smart decisions to help our planet in the long run. Find out below where energy is supporting Americans' holiday traditions and how we can be smart consumers for the long run.

Christmas Lights

Energy data company Arcadia estimates the average American will use 65 kWh of electricity in December for their lights. If half of the homes who celebrate Christmas use Christmas lights, that adds up to 3.5 billion kWh in the month of December to power Christmas lights in the United States. Based on other proprietary data, we can assume that powering these lights emits nearly 2 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere (Conca, 2020).

Some easy fixes? Swap out your traditional bulbs for LED bulbs for a drop in power usage of up to 75%. Or, opt for more natural and sustainable holiday decorations such as cranberries, popcorn, live flowers, and greenery.

The U.S. uses 3.5B kWh to power Christmas lights for the month of December

Traveling to Visit Loved Ones

The top source of holiday-related emissions is travel, according to the National Environmental Education Foundation. Out of the many ways to get around the U.S., flying has the largest carbon footprint, followed by driving, then bus and train travel (Blount & Hubbart, 2023). The Ipsos Consumer Tracker found that 27% of Americans say they plan to travel for Thanksgiving and/or the December holidays, up from 20% last year (Carmichael, 2023).

Some easy fixes? Carpool to and from the airport or on road trips. Take trains and public transportation whenever possible once you've reached your destination or if you're traveling within the state of Alaska. Try scheduling a longer trip to visit all your family and friends, instead of multiple shorter trips, which can rack up annual emissions.

Plastic Products

Plastic is in what seems like everything. Plastic plates & forks at the company Christmas party, plastic packaging on all of the toys you purchased for your child, plastic in the bows you just stuck on wrapped gifts under the tree. Avoiding it altogether may seem overwhelming, but making small steps to consciously reduce your plastic consumption makes a big impact.

Some easy fixes? Consolidate online orders to minimize delivery trips and packing materials. Shop locally and bring reusable bags with you instead of relying on paper or plastic bags. Reach for reusable silverware and serving items when hosting or attending a gathering.  

Heating Homes

Heating reigns supreme as the top use of energy consumption in homes across the country, according to the latest Residential Energy Consumption Survey released by the Energy Information Administration, accounting for 42% of energy consumption in the residential sector (EIA, 2023). Most homes in the US use either natural gas or electricity (in the form of inefficient electric resistance heaters or more efficient heat pumps) to keep their space warm, with Alaska relying almost exclusively on natural gas and oil (Muyskens, Osaka, Ahmed, 2023). Heating systems also become significantly less efficient in extremely cold conditions like the ones Alaskans experience.

Some easy fixes? Program your thermostat to keep it at or below 68 degrees in the winter. When heading on a holiday vacation, turn the thermostat down lower than usual. Have your heating system checked annually by a professional to ensure maximum efficiency. Make a plan to replace dated heating systems or hot water heaters with more efficient models.  

Wrapping Paper

According to the Clean Air Partnership, roughly 8,000 tons of wrapping paper is used annually during the holidays to wrap presents for family and friends. This equates to around 50,000 trees, one of our best assets for reducing carbon in the atmosphere.  

Some easy fixes? Ensure wrapping paper is the recyclable kind and be sure to recycle it after unwrapping gifts on Christmas Morning. Reuse ribbon and other gift wrapping accessories for a few years to reduce what gets sent to the landfill. Use glass jars to wrap smaller gifts in an endlessly reusable package.


5 Facts About Christmas in America

Michael Lipka and David Masci, Pew Research, December 18, 2017

The Energy to Light Christmas

James Conca, Forbes, December 20, 2020

The Environmental Impact of the Holiday Season

The Clean Air Partnership, December 6, 2016

More Americans Plan to Travel for the Holidays This Year

Matt Carmichael, Ipsos, October 30, 2023

Hidden ways the holidays harm the environment and how you can reduce the waste

By Julia Jacobo, ABC News, November 23, 2022

Holiday gift giving is rife with waste. Here’s how to give greener, according to experts

By Rachel Ramirez, CNN, December 3, 2022

Space heating consumed the most energy of any end use in homes, according to latest data

U.S. Energy Information Administration, June 15, 2023

U.S. home heating is fractured in surprising ways: Look up your neighborhood

By John Muyskens, Shannon Osaka, Naema Ahmed, The Washington Post, March 6, 2023

Energy Saving Tips for Alaskans

Alaska Energy Authority & Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, 2022


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