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Green Newton encourages a greener holiday season

Newton North High School junior Esther Zhang designed the graphic for Green Newton’s “Greening the Holidays” event Dec. 6.HANDOUT (Custom credit)

Green Newton, an environmental nonprofit, hosted a virtual event on Dec. 6 to encourage Newton residents to practice more sustainable habits during the holiday season.

Youth leaders of Green Newton spearheaded the event, “Greening the Holidays,” in which current and former Newton high school students presented on topics from environmentally friendly transportation to sustainable gift giving.

“I think that when young people talk about the climate, it is a great way to draw attention, especially on a local level,” Green Newton Outreach Intern and recent Newton South High School alumna Windley Knowlton said.

Green Newton has a board of adult community members, but “Greening the Holidays” was facilitated by Knowlton and led entirely by a young cohort of volunteers passionate about climate change.

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During the event, over 50 attendees — from longtime environmental advocates to high school students — watched presentations and answered environmental trivia via Zoom.

They discussed food consumption during the holidays and one participant, Newton resident and elementary school teacher Andy Gluck, shared a link to an environmentally friendly cookbook in the Zoom chat. This sparked an active conversation in the Zoom chat for the duration of the event.

Advice ranged from the personal to the communal: Youth presenters encouraged attendees to think about minimizing their paper gift wrap usage, as well as advocating for sustainable solutions to their elected officials.

“I learned that our battle with Climate Change and ALL environmental issues cannot rely on a single fix or government regulation, but rather a multi-pronged approach to greening our earth,” Gluck wrote in an email.

In a section on transportation, Newton South High School junior Ava Freeman shared how almost a fourth of greenhouse gas emissions in the city came from cars and suggested residents use transit alternatives like bicycles and the MBTA.

The presentation also promoted sustainable methods for shopping, such as using thrift shops and purchasing from eco-friendly fashion companies like Patagonia. They also spoke about avoiding the fast-fashion industry due to unsustainable methods.

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Green Newton also pointed to various resources and initiatives, including their website’s “Take Action!” button, which provides residents with clear steps to reduce their carbon footprint.

While much of the presentation was focused on juggling the pandemic, the holiday season and sustainability, Elizabeth Sockwell, a Newton South High School alumna, pointed to Green Newton’s initiative called the 4C Project (Capture Carbon, Commemorate COVID-19), which aims to plant one tree for every life lost to COVID-19 in Newton.

In an unprecedentedly difficult year for many families, Knowlton said she understands how they may be hesitant to cut back on celebrations.

“We are not telling anyone to do anything,” Knowlton said. “We are bringing these topics up, and we are asking you to turn all of this anxiety and confusion and fear into something productive.”

Knowlton said the Green Newton Youth Leadership — a group of high school and college students who discuss environmental issues in the city — came up with the idea for “Greening the Holidays” during one of their weekly meetings and a discussion on how the pandemic has shaped consumption habits.

“Greening the Holidays” provided tangible, easily accessible advice, but youth speakers also challenged the philosophy of gift giving. Knowlton, who led the portion on sustainable gift giving, encouraged attendees to question what holiday gift giving is truly about.

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“It’s an expression of love and respect, and saying, ‘I know what makes you happy,’” Knowlton said. “Let’s rethink why that expression needs to come with a physical thing.”

Knowlton suggested shopping at small businesses or second-hand stores, as well as gifting membership to an organization or taking a loved one on a COVID-safe day trip.

Green Newton School Connections Chair Joana Canedo said young people need to be the driving force behind fighting climate change.

“Young people have been leading the environmental and climate movements for a long time,” Canedo said. “Thanks to the young people, we have moved so much ahead of where we were a few years ago.”

Longtime Green Newton President Marcia Cooper said she is proud of the young leaders in Green Newton who have taken initiative to call for substantial action to combat climate change in the city.

“They feel like they’re counting on my generation and younger adult generations to do something and not ignore it and not just give lip service to it,” Cooper said. “They want to see action happen.”

To access the entire presentation and more resources on how to develop sustainable habits, visit GreenNewton.org.

Sydney Brown and Armand Manoukian can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.