Food and Agriculture Organization of the United NationsFood and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

The 17 days of sustainability: a holiday challenge

17 ways you can help make this a very merry and sustainable holiday season!

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This holiday season, let’s pave the way for a better year by working toward sustainability, in all areas of life. ©Unsplash/Winston Chen


During the holidays, we spend more time with family and friends, cooking, exchanging gifts or travelling to meet loved ones. All of these actions can be done in a more sustainable way, respectful of ourselves, our cities and our planet.

Sustainability, in fact, goes beyond the environment; it includes other things that people need, such as jobs, equal opportunities, health, education, safety and a vibrant quality of life. Shaping a better future is the spirit of the holidays and the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This holiday season, let’s pave the way for a better year, leaving no one behind!

Here are some things you can do to make this holiday sustainable, merry and bright:

1. Put others first – SDG 1 – If the current trends continue, 575 million people will still be living in extreme poverty by 2030. Why not dedicate some time to volunteer at a local food kitchen or homeless shelter? Make sure that nobody feels excluded or alone.

2. Be mindful of your food! – SDG 2 – Waste less food and choose local, seasonal food that is produced sustainably. Or donate non-perishable items to your local food bank. 735 million people currently face hunger this holiday season, and the combination of conflicts, economic crises and climate change are only increasing those numbers. Food is a gift, don’t waste it!

3. Lead a healthy lifestyle – SDG 3 – Regular access to enough nutritious food is key to an individual’s health. It allows us to grow, fight diseases and live productive lives. This holiday, add nutritious foods to the menu, don’t forget about daily exercise and fight the urge to overindulge!

Not everyone celebrates holidays the same way. Learning about other religious traditions and holidays helps to cultivate respect towards people of different ethnic origins, religions or nationalities. Left/top: ©Unsplash/Enrique Macias. Right/Bottom: ©Uns

4. Give or donate a book – SDG 4 –Without a good education, children not only put their own livelihood at risk but also their chance to contribute meaningfully to society. Promote education by donating books or giving school supplies this holiday.

5. Support other women! – SDG 5 – Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and half of its potential! But gender inequality persists everywhere. This holiday, celebrate the women in your life and in the new year, support women as leaders in your community. If you are a girl, make sure to complete your school education and aim for the career you want.

6. Cut back on your water usage – SDG 6 – There is no life without water. We need it to drink, grow food, clean, cook and much more. But 2.2 billion people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water. This holiday, use less water by switching off the tap while doing the dishes and challenge yourself to take five-minute showers. Check this video for some other ideas!

7. Reduce your energy consumption – SDG 7 – The holidays are a time for lights, but about 675 million people lack adequate access to electricity. This year, if you use lights to decorate, opt for LED technology or other energy efficient solutions. Switch off the lights when you leave a room and why not look into solar panels for the new year!

8. Shop with socially responsible companies – SDG 8 – When giving gifts, look to support companies with a good track record of labour conditions. Support your economy by buying local products and services.

9.  Be innovative!  – SDG 9 – Think outside of the (gift) box this holiday! Innovative practices and technologies can advance society in a myriad of ways. Use social media to spread awareness about innovative and sustainable technologies you learn about. 

10. Be aware of inequalities – SDG 10 – This season, get to know the issues in your own community and look for initiatives that work to eliminate inequalities. Explore opportunities for volunteering or participate in donation drives. 

11. Advocate for a sustainable city – SDG 11– Cities often reinvent themselves for the holidays, donning lights or other decorations to show its cheer. What if it could reinvent more than just its façade? For the upcoming year, advocate for the kind of sustainable city you believe in! Speak to your city council, get involved in city clean-up initiatives or even donate a tree to your city.

Keep the good habits up after these 17 days! Carry these new traditions into your new year. ©Unsplash/Ian Schneider

12. Adopt a low-waste lifestyle – SDG 12 – Remember to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Look for foods and products with less packaging. Give sustainable gifts, find eco-friendly ways to wrap them and support brands that are socially responsible.

13. Be climate aware in your eating and shopping – SDG 13 – This holiday, consider the environmental impact of the foods you eat. Add more pulses to your diet; they are nutritious and take little water to produce. Or try cooking with millets. These ancient grains are versatile, climate-friendly and nutritious! Reduce your carbon footprint further by walking instead of driving to the market and bringing your own shopping bag.   

14. Be ocean-friendly – SDG 14 – Choose fish that has been caught or farmed sustainably, such as eco-labelled or certified fish. Avoid buying food items with excess plastic packaging that often ends up in our waterways. Diversify the fish you eat, for your own health and the health of our oceans.

15. Keep parks and soils clean – SDG 15 – Holidays can generate a lot of waste. Be sure to dispose of it responsibly. Chemicals from batteries or leftover cleaning detergents, for example, can seep into soils and pollute them.

16. Promote inclusion and respect for others – SDG 16 – This season, make an effort to learn about other religious traditions and holidays. Not everyone may celebrate in the same way as you. Learning more about others helps to cultivate respect towards people of different ethnic origins, religions, gender, sexual orientations or opinions.

17. Share what you have learned! –  SDG 17 – Share this story and show support for local initiatives that promote sustainable development. Team up with a community to make your voice stronger!

Don’t let your good habits end after 17 days! This is only the beginning. Let’s make a difference this holiday season to ensure Better Production, Better Nutrition, a Better Environment and a Better Life for everyone.

This story was updated on 22 December 2023.

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