“THIS year we’re going to have a sustainable Christmas, no gifts,” Emma Thompson said in a recent television interview, kicking off a social media storm thick with comments about her own transatlantic flight habits. “Many of us have got too much,” she added.

Thompson was widely criticised, but the truth is that while some people will be getting not nearly enough this Christmas, others do already have too much, and she is not alone in looking to have a more sustainable Christmas this year. American Express Shop Small found that 85% of Scots said they would be more environmentally-friendly this Christmas.

Presents wrapped in newspaper, energy-saving fairy lights and living trees. This year’s Christmas has become, for many, about sustainability. And that’s hardly surprising. Although it is a festival of consumerism, Christmas has also always been a time of reflection on what we can do to make the world a better place.

Some of our great traditions are having to be rethought in this time of climate emergency and plastic pollution, and Christmas is one of them. But what we learn will reach far beyond the big day. What Christmas offers us is a moment to look at how we might find pleasure in a zero-emissions world.

In the book There Is No Planet B, Mike Berners-Lee remarks that what we need to do is “get better at enjoying things that don’t require much energy. Examples include walks, books, most types of party, most forms of socialising, local holidays and any hobby that doesn’t rely on fossil fuel”.

Sounds like a recipe for a merry eco Christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like nut roast

Tofu on every table ... or is it? Let’s face it, Christmas is a feast day. It’s all about the food, about getting your loved ones round the table and eating more than you normally do. Food is an emotional thing and for many a roast bird resonates festive feeling. If Christmas is anything like last year,

we in the UK will consume around 10 million turkeys.

So, do we have to, in the interests of the planet, go cold turkey and ditch the festive favourite? Perhaps not, though it would go some way towards helping cut your emissions for the day. One study, carried out by the University of Manchester, found that a UK Christmas dinner for six produces the equivalent of 20kg of carbon dioxide emissions, and that 60% of these are related to the life cycle of the turkey. By contrast, a vegan nut roast plus roast potatoes cooked in vegetable oil, vegan pigs in blankets, sage and onion stuffing, and vegetable gravy to feed six emits only 9.5kg of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.

But, at the same time, there are many good things about a traditional Christmas dinner. The vegetables are usually seasonal, of the sort that can be grown locally. A roast turkey is also not nearly as bad as a regular Sunday roast of beef. As Mike Berners-Lee has put it: “Chickens and turkeys are very much at the efficient end of the meat spectrum. Red meats are a quite a lot less efficient. The carbon footprint of beef would be about 24 kilos of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilo of beef, whereas for turkey, it would be nearer three.”

In fact, you might want to be more wary about the sustainability of the party bites and the fancy starters than the turkey dinner. Have the scallops come from a seabed damaged by dredging? Is the smoked salmon from a farm plagued with parasitic sea lice, or that pollutes the sea? Has the farming of those giant tiger prawns resulted in the chopping down of a mangrove forest, a vital carbon sink? Have your avocados resulted in a drought in another part of the world?

Buying local and keeping the transport emissions as low as possible is another way of whittling away at your feasting footprint. Also, remember it’s okay to have a feast, or a moment of indulgence if it is, as tradition dictates, the big blow-out before a winter of scarcity. If you’re just about to embark on Veganuary and you love nothing more than a Christmas turkey – have it. It’s not what you eat on one day that matters. It’s what you eat every day.

Flying home for Christmas?

One of the problems with Christmas is that so much of it is about the love miles. A study into “The Carbon Cost of Christmas” found that the average UK resident will travel around 121 miles to visit family and friends at Christmas. How they do that will have a big impact on their emissions.

Last year, when the Energy Saving Trust looked into the travel emissions impact of Christmas, it took a round trip from London to Edinburgh as an example.

By plane the journey resulted in emissions of 144kg, by train 29kg and by petrol car 120kg (though this would be altered if there was multiple occupancy on the journey). To put this Christmas carbon footprint in perspective, for the emissions tag of that London-to-Edinburgh trip you could sit down to a slap-up meal of nine-and-a-half turkeys all to yourself.

But love miles, and associated love emissions, are the hardest thing to talk about around Christmas. After all, gathering together is what, for many of us, it is all about – and we now live in a world where relationships are stretched sometimes between continents. For many of us, though, there are ways of cutting down the emissions. Taking the train, not plane, for instance, is one. Sharing a car journey with others is another.

On the first day of leftovers, my true love made for me …

A spiced turkey naan and a nut roast falafel wrap. Or one of the other wonderful recipes that can make Christmas leftovers such a treat. According to Zero Waste Scotland, “50,000 tonnes of food and drink is thrown away from Scottish homes in December alone. Avoiding just 10% of that waste would save nearly 5,000 tonnes of carbon – the equivalent of taking 2,600 cars off the road in the UK for a year”.

There are, of course, several other ways of reducing waste. Cooking only what you need, paying attention to portion size, and not getting sucked in by a particularly attractive BOGOF are part of the formula – as well as picking every last shard off that turkey carcass and making the feast last.

Simply having a wrapping-free Christmas time

That moment when the floor is covered in torn wrapping paper is no longer a feelgood one. You can cram it into that bin liner as fast as you like, but the truth is that a lot of wrapping paper, particularly the fancy stuff with the glitter on, or foil or plastic incorporated, isn’t recyclable. Scots, a new guide by Zero Waste Scotland claims, are expected to use upwards of 19,000 miles of wrapping paper this Christmas. “If we were to cut that down by just a quarter we could save around 1,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from being released into the atmosphere. That’s the same as 1,042 flights from Edinburgh to New York.”

Many novel solutions have been proposed this year, some of which have been published in an online guide to a sustainable Christmas by Zero Waste Scotland. One, popular in many eco guides this year, has been wrapping presents in scarfs, which are then reused. Better still, we could learn a lot from our elders. The careful removal of wrapping paper, to be folded and put away for next year, is something that used to be a common practice. Also, our lives are littered in paper, whether newspapers or children’s artwork, which could be creatively repurposed.

Have yourself a plastic-free Christmas cracker

Crackers have also come in for a lot of stick this year. All that paper and cardboard waste, not to mention the useless little plastic whistles and magnifying glasses which get chucked the moment that the table is cleared. But there are solutions. John Lewis is selling plastic-free crackers, with gifts made from metal, glass and paper. Although, isn’t that just more pointless waste? Better, surely, to stick to, or even make, the kind of cracker that only delivers a party hat and a joke?

All I want for Christmas is you

We don’t have to give up gift-giving all together, just get more thoughtful about it. The climate emergency invites us to break a few taboos and establish new norms – for instance, to blatantly regift, or to give items that are second-hand. Last year, a friend passed on to me some pristine stocking-fillers that her kids had received the previous year but never used. I shamelessly stuffed them into my own kids’ stockings.

If you want to be really ethical, of course, you can gift charity donations. But the problem with that is that it doesn’t quite satisfy that desire many of us have to treat our loved ones. Low-emission ways of doing that include creating your own personal gift card, offering time or some other experience-related treat – a series of babysitting sessions, or to fix a bike, or cook a special meal. Again check out the Zero Waste Scotland guide.

Last Christmas I bought a new jumper. The very next day I gave it away

This year, to save us all from tears, you might want to consider rewearing last year’s jumper or party frock, and keeping it going for another few seasons. Remember, 10% of human carbon emissions come from the fashion industry, and those nice fleecy Christmas tops leach microplastics into the environment. That said, the plus side of a nice fluffy Christmas jumper is that it might lead you to turn the thermostat down a click and cut a few emissions that way.

Rockin’ around the live Christmas tree

The debate has raged for years between whether it’s better to get an artificial tree or a real one. The answer – unless you’re planning on keeping the fake one around for well over a decade – is real. But even real ones, chopped down and then left when Christmas is done, to roll about in the street like tumbleweed, aren’t great for the environment – and there’s a lot of talk now about tree rental schemes, such as the one run by Locavore in Glasgow last year (though not this year), or keeping a live tree, which can be put outdoors the rest of the year.

Alternatively, stick with the chopped-down real tree, but get it from a more ethical source, for instance those sustainably grown for Caring Christmas Trees, which are part of the Bethany Trust.

Your money will also go towards helping homeless and vulnerable people in Scotland.