What to do when houseguests aren’t so green

With guests arriving next week for Thanksgiving, I found the Seventh Generation article that recently landed in my inbox particularly relevant: It offers tips “for coping when your visitors are less skilled in reducing, reusing and recycling than you are.”

Ah, yes. My family, God bless them, is just slightly behind the curve when it comes to green living. My mom has reusable grocery bags, but I fought her tooth and nail for a local turkey this Thanksgiving (although, to her credit, she wanted to buy an organic turkey from the Boy Scouts).

So I read through this article and had to stop myself from laughing out loud at my desk — I am the world’s worst holiday host. Really, it’s shameful.

They say: Don’t make your guests shiver. We are hardy souls here in Vermont, but we recognize that not everyone wears thermal underwear like a second skin. So I wake up early to make sure the house — or at least the kitchen — is warm in the morning.
Real life: Yeahhhh. As I’ve briefly mentioned before, I kept my apartment at a chilly 55 degrees last winter — heat was much more expensive than I ever expected. Normally I stayed in my bedroom and turned the heat higher in there. But when my family came for a week over Thanksgiving and we hung out downstairs in the living room, that thermostat stayed at 60. We had a space heater and a lot of blankets, but I really wouldn’t budge. This alone makes me a terrible host.

Of course, there’s more.

They say: Respect food choices. We’re a vegetarian household, so when carnivores come calling we prepare dishes that are as close to meat as possible. One year, a holiday guest swore the protein we served was beef. Why argue with a happy houseguest?
Real life: See the above argument I had with my mother over the turkey this year. Thanksgiving is all about the harvest and in-season foods. There is not a more-perfect holiday to emphasize eating locally. So there may or may not have been a loud voice (OK, my loud voice) arguing that I could do whatever I wanted with my money and my Thanksgiving turkey. I haven’t even brought up the swap of green beans or squash for peas yet…

They say: Turn off the lights yourself, and don’t complain. Rather than harass guests who leave lights on, make frequent rounds of the house and turn them off yourself. It’s a lot easier this way, trust me.
Real life: It seems I operate better on passive aggressive guilt-ing of my guests. When a family member would leave the kitchen light on and walk away, I’d look pointedly at them and clear my throat. If I came downstairs and 900 lights were on in the middle of the day, I’d announce it as I turned them off: “What the heck are all these lights doing on? It’s 11 a.m.!” It is a miracle my family still loves me.

They say: A little education is OK. While I don’t make a habit of green proselytizing, I do look for opportunities to give simple tips. When a guest asks about plastic wrap, I direct them to the glass storage containers. When they need to do laundry, we pull out the cool new recyclable 4X.
Real life: We’ll see how I do with this next week — I am looking forward to showing my family Central Market and telling them about all the yummy in-season foods. And hopefully they can see why it’s important to me.

The article was a great moment for me to step back and think about how I can combine my green (and often frugal) habits with being a welcoming and gracious host. A lot of people think “green living” is synonymous with “suffering” or “sacrifice” or “expensive.” And you can argue that — I used less energy, but I was certainly not comfortable or warm last winter. I can eat locally, but I’m sacrificing the sweet taste of peaches year-round. I can buy a local turkey, but it’s more expensive per pound than a Butterball.

On the other hand, my frigid apartment was more for my budget’s sake than the environment. You can certainly use less energy and still keep your home at a comfortable 68 degrees. And those January peaches from California taste terrible anyway, not to mention your Butterball has plenty of hidden environmental costs.

But if my guests aren’t quite on the same page as me in the book of “green living,” I can meet them where they are — and hopefully teach them something as we visit together.

Sarah Chain

I'm an avid reader and book lover living and working in downtown York. Follow me on Twitter at @sarahEchain.

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4 Responses

  1. Mark Chain says:

    Re greening and Real Life above, what I have learned after my first Thanksgiving as a houseguest:

    1)I now know to pack wool socks and multiple layers…won’t shiver anymore!
    2)I’ll be green for days if I have to eat squash
    3)I now have a lantern with an energy efficient bulb that I control…no need to keep the apartment lights on…
    4)Looking forward to in-season foods…I think ice cream is year round “in season,” no?

    Being with family for the holiday makes all these “experiences” tolerable!!

  2. Rebecca Chain says:

    The arctic temperatures of your apartment may actually be a relief this year as it was 85 degrees here today and our AC is broken. I’m currently sweating.

  3. Rory says:

    I also have the reverse issue. When at other’s places I always am looking around for the compost bin…

  1. June 19, 2012

    […] admit, I give my parents and sometimes my friends grief now and then. (Yep, I fought my mom pretty vehemently to get a locally raised, antibiotic-free turkey for Thanksgiving, even though it was significantly more expensive.) But I’m also learning to stand on my own […]

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