With the holiday season approaching, many of us are thinking about what gifts we can possibly give that will make loved ones happier and make the world a better place.

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the gift of a good example. To my mind, modeling responsible behaviors for others is the gift that truly keeps on giving, thanks to the transformative power of be[ing] the change you want to see in the world, as Gandhi so aptly put it.

What’s been encouraging to see in my first few months as UofL’s sustainability coordinator is that so much important groundwork has already been laid and many people at UofL are responding enthusiastically to the challenge of sustainability.

President James Ramsey not only set sustainability as a university priority in the 2020 Plan, he has also signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment and the Talloires Declaration that commits UofL to incorporating sustainability and environmental literacy into its teaching, research, operations and outreach efforts.

The Sustainability Council recently hosted the second annual Campus Sustainability Day celebration, at which we gave the gift of a T-shirt to anyone who signed a pledge to take at least three steps toward more sustainable living. We went to great lengths to ensure that those T-shirts were made in the USA of 100% organic cotton, printed with soy ink at a union shop right here in Louisville and delivered to campus by my bicycle.

Now that’s setting an example!

Obviously, we can give the gift of example at anytime. As we go into the holiday season, here are a few season-specific ideas to help us model sustainable behavior:

  • Packaging. Avoid buying items with excess packaging and look for packaging made from post-consumer recycled content.
  • Seek alternative gifts to store-bought goods. Do the dishes for someone for a week, baby sit or walk their dog. Take someone to the movies or to a concert. Give them membership in a local museum or a gift certificate to a local restaurant. The possibilities are endless.
  • Look for locally made gifts. Support the local economy and cut down on the environmental impact of transporting goods from around the world.
  • Choose alternatives to disposable gift wrap. Use boxes or gift bags that can be reused, cloth napkins that can be used for their original purpose after the gift is opened or fabric (good wrapping for people who sew).

We’ve all found ourselves in situations where it only takes one or two people modeling a better way of doing things to change the behaviors of many. We often assume bad habits are deeply ingrained and, undoubtedly, some are. But try leading by example and you may find that it can take surprisingly little to shake others out of the mindset of business-as-usual – especially if they see that you’re having fun while doing it!

Contributed by Justin Mog, assistant to the provost for sustainability initiatives