Drop in holiday card sending a positive for the environment

This holiday season, many consumers resolved to limit their spending, purchase American products and look for environmentally friendly products that could help reduce the use of natural resources during this time of year. While this all contributes positively to the green movement, a report by The National Retail Federation (NRF), conducted before the holiday season, found that a number of trends – brought on by economic problems and other larger market forces – could be contributing positively to environmental initiatives.

According to the report, consumers expected to allocate the smallest percentage of their budgets to the sending of holiday greeting cards when they were polled this December. The survey found that consumers expected less than 4 percent of their seasonal budget to go toward this expense, a sharp drop off from previous years.

Part of the reason for this shift is that more environmentally conscious consumers are sending their holiday greetings via email. This means that while the United States Postal Service will not be experiencing a strong revenue boost, its carrier vehicles may not have used as much fuel delivering these well wishes between friends and relatives.

In addition, Marianne Bickle, a retail expert and Forbes contributor, found that many neighborhoods chose not to decorate their homes this year with potentially energy-sucking adornments for their shrubs, trees and gutters. Still, due to the steep discounts offered by many stores, she indicated that the NRF report found that roughly 8 percent of consumer budgets were expected to go toward decorations.

Overall, these trends may help contribute positively by reducing America's reliance on foreign fuels until renewable energy can provide a suitable alternative. However, it remains to be seen that in the event of an economic upturn, consumers may revert to their old energy use habits in the future.

Getting involved with the federal Green Ribbon Schools program

Announced in September of 2011, the Green Ribbon Schools program is a new federal initiative by the U.S. Department of Education that aims to recognize schools that are doing their best to save energy, invest in environmentally friendly products and that feature sustainable learning spaces. Overall, the goal is to create happier, healthier environments for students, teachers and the surrounding communities.

While this program was only recently announced, some schools have been leading the charge when it comes to going green for some time. For example, Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., was profiled by area TV news source WJLA for its environmental activism, which it says has been ongoing for some time.

The newly renovated green building that houses the school comes complete with green roofing, an eco-lab and solar panels, and instructors have even altered curriculum to include classes that are focused on the environment and sustainability. These features will allow it to compete against other schools in the country as part of the new federal initiative, but it has other benefits.

"Definitely environmentalism and sustainable growth and sustainable use of resources are something these kids care about," Alex Wilson, director of academic development, told the news source.

According to the Green Ribbon Schools program's official website, parents can play an important role in raising awareness about the program with local educators. When schools decide to participate, parents can continue to play a crucial role, agreeing to host green activities and help enhance their child's career and technical skills.

As a result, parents may want to visit the program's website greenribbonschools.org to find out how they can get involved in spreading this initiative to their city or town.

Buying ideas: Purchasing quality secondhand clothes this holiday season

While green consumers are typically guided toward environmentally friendly products in the supermarket or at high-end electronics stores through the use of labeling, in other industries, this marketing is less pervasive. For example, many green consumers – and even those who otherwise pursue green careers – still buy their clothing at trendy outlets, where often the only information that's available comes on the manufacturer's tag.

Now, savvy green consumers likely know to avoid certain products – say, cotton, which uses a number of the top pesticides in the course of its production – in favor of alternatives such as organic cotton, soy, modal and wool. But, instead of buying new goods that have less of a carbon footprint, environmentally conscious consumers may want to consider the secondhand clothing market.

According to a recent report from The Green Blog of The Boston Globe, many secondhand items – those not initially used in Salvation Armys, Goodwills or other big consignment stores – end up overseas, where they threaten local industries.

This news source highlighted the efforts of Sean Hewens and Ross Lohr, the founders of two Boston-based nonprofits, who thought of a creative way to resell these shirts through their No More New Campaign. Using Kickstarter to raise the funds, these eco-warriors are buying back the t-shirts and working with African artists to redesign the shirts for American consumption.

"The idea is so ridiculous that it resonates with people," Hewens told the news source.

The two founders hope to raise awareness about consumption in the United States and how it affects other industries abroad through the program. Consumers who want to join in the effort – and purchase a stylish new shirt for a friend or loved one this season – should take note, or at least think twice about their holiday clothing purchases this year. 

John Hopkins student wins national green competition

While many college students do their part to help the green movement by recycling and spreading awareness of new environmentally friendly products to their friends and family, some go above and beyond by enrolling in challenges that inspire them to get more young adults to commit to helping their favorite cause. Recently, Teens Turning Green asked high school and college students to partake in its Project Green Challenge, a month-long lifestyle competition. 

Participants who applied for entry were then asked to create innovative projects based around social initiatives. The grand prize winner, Raychel Santo of John Hopkins University, had prior experience inspiring others to lead an environmentally friendly lifestyle. Santos had engaged in environmental activities during high school and later founded a chapter of the national Real Food Challenge when she arrived at college.

Santo later joined the sustainability board at John Hopkins, where she worked with the organization's "Meatless Monday" campaign. She was named the winner at a Teens Turning Green gathering in San Francisco, where she competed against 12 other finalists, including a sister team that also hailed from John Hopkins.

"I intend to continue to subtly model sustainable behaviors to my family, friends, community, and now I guess the nation," Santa said after she learned about her victory. "While many may have initially been resistant to change, my hope is that once they can see how normal and exciting a green lifestyle can be, they will slowly adopt and promote greener lifestyles, too."

To find out how they can get involved in similar initiatives, college and high school students may want to speak with their student advisers or search the internet for similar porgrams. Some may involve exciting scholarship or learning opportunities that could eventually lead them to the best green careers when they graduate.

Creating an eco-friendly baby room with a smartphone app

Since young Americans are increasingly concerned about the environment (the Environmental Protection Agency says that more than 60 percent of Teen People readers buy environmentally friendly products), these individuals are influencing the values of their parents. However, it's also important for expecting parents to do their best to raise their child in an environment that's free from toxins and chemicals, even if they don't have an older son or daughter to point the way.

Those who are expecting a bundle of joy this holiday season can turn to smartphone apps to help them make the best decisions when it comes to furnishing their new baby's room. For example, the Peaceful Nursery app looks to make shopping quick and easy for busy parents by providing easy-to-access information at their fingertips.

Available at the iTunes store, the app has received many positive reviews since it was first introduced in April. Parents say they can use the app to make clean, user-friendly lists that help them navigate the many tasks they need to tackle before the big day.

Less focused on specific brands than other apps, this relatively inexpensive tool – it costs $1.99 – aims to teach parents about what environmentally friendly products contribute to the safety and health of their child. By using this app as a guide, parents may be able to reduce the amount of potentially harmful substances the baby is exposed to in its nursery or in other parts of the house.

The app also provides advice on what kind of plastics and shampoos are safe for their use. As a result, those who are expecting this holiday season may have more of a reason than ever to invest in smartphone technology, however, they should be sure to conduct research into the best green smartphones available before making a purchase as well.

Report finds that the recession is changing the environmentally friendly products market

While the recent economic recession has changed the green buying habits of many Americans, the number of die hard green consumers has increased, according to newly published research. In a November report by Grail Research, researchers found that overall, the enthusiasm of the pro-green consumer segment of the population has remained despite the prevailing economic pressures many Americans are facing.

Overall, the research group found that 9 percent of all consumers identify as "dark green" – meaning that most of the products they buy are environmentally friendly. This represented an increase from figures found in 2009, which indicated that 8 percent of the population fell into this group.

This data suggests that tried-and-true eco-warriors have been spreading the word about their way of life and how they make their buying decisions, and that they have been successful at converting friends and family to this method of thinking. However, the report said that companies could do more to help consumers make the best green choices. It suggested that many businesses fail to advertise their green characteristics, which may entice more buyers away from more harmful products.

Researchers said that green messaging on the package is one of the first places consumers gain information on not only that specific product, but also on how it compares to their other buying options. As such, this simple exchange of information can prove highly valuable at changing the purchasing habits of consumers.

Businesses could benefit by putting certain information on the package itself. For example, the report indicated that the display of natural ingredients, green certifications and the recyclability of a product favored most heavily into the consumer perception of green products.

Smart transportation systems could help create new green careers

Americans looking for work in the automotive sector may soon be able to rely on new openings fueled by the creation of smart transportation systems in cities around the United States. A newly published report suggests an influx of capital in certain sectors of this industry could soon create a number of sustainable green careers.

According to the market forecasting firm Pike Research, intelligent transportation systems (ITS) will see increased investment over the next five years. The report, which was released by the organization on December 7, indicates that ITS will see investments totaling upwards of $13 billion between 2011 and 2017.

The keys to this growth, according to the report, will be embedded intelligence that allows the vehicles of everyday Americans to communicate with transportation management systems via vehicle-to-vehicle safety technology. Overall, these advances are expected to provide a number of benefits for the environment, including reduced emissions and decreased fuel consumption.

"Most of this investment will be in intelligent traffic management systems, as this is the sector with the broadest range of potential applications," Lisa Jerram, a senior analyst, said in the press release. "It is also the sector that is applicable for all cities, and cities in the developed world are starting to deploy technology for traffic management, monitoring and demand management."

New jobs are expected to be created as the high-tech system requires professionals to ensure the maintenance and management of its basic operation systems. As such, individuals who are looking for an exciting new career may benefit by conducting research into the kinds of certifications that will be required of professionals in these positions.

In another recent report, Pike Research predicted that green career growth will also be seen in the electric vehicle sector, as more infrastructure upgrades are expected to take place in this area of the automotive industry.

Electric vehicle sales may soon spur job creation

In recent years, more Americans have been looking to enter educational programs that can give them the tools to pursue new green-collar jobs. However, while some industries are booming, others have seen a slow start after initially high expectations. While trumpeted as the vehicles of the future and widely considered better for the environment than gas-powered cars, electric vehicles (EV) have seen slow sales in the United States.

But, according to a December 13 report by Pike Research, a market research and consulting firm, the environment for electric cars is expected to change over the next five years. Charging equipment sales are expected to reach $4.3 billion worldwide by 2017 as more consumers make the switch to electric, the company's report indicated. By comparison, the sales of these environmentally friendly products only amounted to around $400 million in 2011.

In addition, the Pike report found that the price of this equipment is also expected to drop, which in turn could help contribute to accelerated consumer demand. As of 2017, the price of EV charging accessories are expected to be nearly 40 percent lower than they are today, according to the report.

"With each new electric vehicle model that gets launched, makers of charging equipment, city planners and retailers gain an increased sense that EVs are here to stay," research director of Pike Research John Gartner said in a press release. "This will encourage both the production and purchase of charging systems."

This added revenue will likely go to private companies in this energy sector that can then create more green careers, as qualified individuals will be need to be hired to design new EV charging accessories, create the green buildings to house manufacturing plants and even work at charging stations around the country.

Going green for the holidays: Eco-friendly gift wrapping

Even most die-hard eco-enthusiasts will likely admit that a gift just doesn't have the same magic without the addition of truly spectacular wrapping. At the same time, individuals who want to do their best to help America conserve resources this holiday season know that they should be careful not to waste paper. But, by conducting some smart holiday shopping this winter and turning to environmentally friendly products, each American can do their part to make this Christmas greener than the Grinch himself.

One way green-minded individuals can help their favorite cause is by changing the way they open their gifts. While ripping and tearing may be part of the fun for small children, these actions create wasted materials that need to once again be extracted from nature next year.

When opening their gifts, these individuals should undo wrapping in a way that leaves most of the paper intact. This way, they can put the wrapping paper aside and save it for next year's gifts. If done right, the future recipient of the gift will hardly notice that he's been handed an iPod in reused wrapping paper – especially, if there's an iPod inside.

Gift wrapping isn't just limited to paper, however. Tape and scissors also need to be utilized depending on the gift. To make the best purchase, consumers can look to alternative environmentally friendly products such as green tape. For example, Scotch recently released the Scotch 75-percent Recycled Magic version of its signature product, three-quarters of which is made out of plant-based or recycled material.

Paper bags are also a good environmentally friendly product consumers can give out this holiday season. To provide helpful knowledge as well as the intended present, gift givers may want to encourage their friends and family to reuse these bags next year when they wrap their own presents. 

Green shopping for the holidays: Buying a new computer

While Apple may have a nature-friendly name, it may not be the best purchasing option for consumers looking to provide their friends and loved ones with great gifts that aren't only exactly what they want, but also what the environment needs. However, to determine this conclusively, shoppers will need to conduct research before heading to their local electronics stores this season.

Before purchasing a computer or eco-friendly products to go along with it – such as cases, hard drives and other accessories – consumers who want to make sure their money is well spent can go online to determine the materials that go into each company's computer. HP, Apple and Dell are a few of the companies that post this information. For example, on HP's website, shoppers can find a detailed breakdown of the percentages of each material that make up a given computer.

Apple's website, on the other hand, details how it has elimated or is working to reduce the levels of harmful chemicals such as polyvinyl Chloride, arsenic, mercury and cadmium from its products, and provides information on the minerals and chemicals it still uses. But, to further help the environment, computer shoppers may want to pick up some essential accessories away from the store.

For example, extra power chargers, cables and accessories can often be found from secondhand stores. By buying these items at consignment locations, consumers are helping to increase awareness about how recycling can reduce the mining and other harmful processes that go into making these essential computer tools.

Still, the best gift addition may be for green consumers to package their gift with some tips to reduce the computer's energy use. By reminding the recipient that they need to turn off their PC, turn off power strips and save ink and paper when printing, consumers can satisfy their friends and family while also proudly displaying their commitment to a greater cause.