A true happy birthday party…for kids, for parents and the world

Even though your thoughts are on the summer (as mine are, thankfully), birthday party planning will be here again before you know it. Just keep the below points in mind, speak about them with your friends and forward it to anyone who might be planning a party. When you stop and think about your past parties, you’ll realize how much this makes sense and will actually save you time, money, energy (yours and our natural resources), not to mention promoting a healthier life for people and the planet.

Some other good news: the trend for next year’s party is to simplify – even more now than ever. So, don’t bother getting over-consumed with organizing next year’s celebration. There are so many ways to make a big difference (while setting a good example for the kids and inspiring others).

Here are 10 smart party tips that will also stir up some ideas of your own, for your next eco-friendly, very fun & most impressive event from start to finish.

1. Invite your guests virtually. Skip the printed paper cards and save trees! Emailed invites (try www.paperlesspost.com) still allow you to be clever and communicate a theme – and think about how much time you’ll save – and that you can actually have RSVPs logged online. But, if you love spending extra time (really???), you could always use recycled materials to make your own cards from magazines, newspapers, wrapping paper etc. or use tree-free paper.

2. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. You know all of that serving stuff you’ve got? Use it! You might have to do a little extra cleanup at the end of the night, but isn’t saving the world worth a few extra minutes? Also, use cups, NOT drinking boxes or individual bottles of water! Fill and refill as needed with your choices of beverages….water, organic juices, organic wine for the adults?! (check out http://www.scribd.com/doc/44081008/Healthy-Holiday-Drinking-Guide for delicious options that will please everyone). See the next tip, if you’re still going to use some disposables.

3. Avoid M.C.I.S. - Personalize cups. You can prevent M.C.I.S. – Mistaken Cup Identity Syndrome (you know, when someone takes a cup and puts it down next to another, and then both people have to get new cups?).  If you are using disposables - buy cups made from better materials (labeled “compostable” or “100% recycled content” etc…). Have everyone mark their cup with a marker (get creative!). You can also use window markers to write on your glassware (it will come off in the wash, but not on your guests’ hands), or better yet, a different accent coloured glass straw in everyone’s drinks serve as double duty for identification and eliminating those plastic straws or stir sticks (www.strawesome.com has beautiful options).

4. Blow them away! Use soy or beeswax candles (and check to make sure the wicks are lead and zinc free) in your cake, which, unlike petroleum-based candles, won’t emit toxic fumes and black clouds.

5. Bake it, don’t fake it. From scratch, or a mix, bake your own organic cupcakes and make your own icing. First of all, you can’t imagine how much easier it is to simply hand out cupcakes to everyone rather than the chaotic minutes where you have to cut and serve a cake. I won’t preach here about the avoidance of fake stuff and adopting “cleaner” food – oops, did I just do that?  This is also a great opportunity to involve your kids in preparation - if they are old enough, they will take great pride in it. I’m sure you’ll stop paying attention to this entire article if I suggest that you also make your own ice cream, so instead, just grab some Coconut Bliss. And, if you’re already in buying mode, Sweets from the Earth is always a great nut-free choice.

6. Go local. Try buying organic and local fruits and veggies for the table. Put chunks of fruit onto skewers (bamboo ones, of course) and stick them into an upside down section of watermelon or a half of any other fruit. Now look what you’ve done, you’ll not only have pesticide-and chemical-and fertilizer-and hormone-free centerpieces, but buying local produce (and other items) means they’ve traveled a short distance (versus thousands of miles) to get to your party (using less fuel). If you really want to impress your guests, start growing fruits and veggies in your own backyard (www.youngurbanfarmers will yield you the best organic crops the season has to offer.) It doesn’t get more local than that.

7. Ask, and you shall receive. Think about the presents your child is going to receive, then think about the wrapping and cards and ribbon on each. It’s important for your children to learn to give and receive and give back, and this is a perfect opportunity to teach that lesson. Ask for unwrapped gifts to begin with (or at least those wrapped in newspaper or magazine or a reusable gift bag – watch for www.rumebags.com to launch a great one!). For my children’s last party, we nicely requested one unwrapped book from each guest. The guests each got to walk into the party and give a gift, my children received their gifts and graciously learned to accept and say thank you (ok, I tried to make them be gracious with all of the chaos of 50+ 5 and 7 year olds!), and then once back at home we took many books that were given along with many we had already enjoyed, and donated them to our school, so the kids learned to give again. It’s far from perfect since there is still consumption involved, however, we are not aiming for perfection, just change and hoping to instill strong values in our children, right? Another option could be to ask for a donation…ask your guests to bring along a cash gift (or cheque) for your chosen charity…you can decorate an old shoe box (look, reusing again!), and cut a slot in the top and then people can donate at the party and feel the connection (without the amount being known, which is greatly appreciated), and then your child can count the money (good extra curricular activity!) and you can send a cheque on their behalf to the organization…a tax receipt for you and a world of good for all.

8. So you’ve reduced, now reuse again.  Give away the décor! You can buy little plants and decorate your party – they will keep the air clean and then they can be given away as loot bags…without the bag! And, if you want the plants to keep giving too, look at www.uharvest.ca for amazing certified organic seeds and plants – all to grow your own vegetables, herbs or fruits. Your centerpieces can look great, smell great and continue to remind everyone about your great party each time they pick, trim and enjoy their as-local-as-you-get eating!

9. You’ve reduced, you’ve reused, now recycle! Check absolutely everything you’re about to throw away to see if you can use it again (even if it’s to send home extra food with a guest). And if you can’t use it, make sure everything goes in the right “bin” and gets recycled. And, be sure to use polyethylene-free compostable & biodegradable garbage bags too! (polyethylene-free is really important).

10. Give Good Loot. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: SIMPLIFY! Try giving each guest a book [you or your child can even write a dedication on the inside cover]. Making homemade baked goods and packing in a reusable container is always a fun activity to do with your children.  Other great ideas include soy crayons with tree free paper, a picture of each child in a picture frame, a made-it-myself cd or anything else that is “easy” on the environment and may inspire others. And, stay away from the packaging unless it’s reusable…think of where that goes immediately anyways! Stay tuned for the leading companies to switch from loot bags to “common sense parting gifts”…but without the need for the packaging and tagging, you would be surprised what you can do on your own with one stop to a store or a few clicks on your computer. Try www.goneshopping.ca for some fun inexpensive but fun eco-gifts.

The typical kid birthday party has been a real cross section of what’s wrong with our world: overstimulation, not focusing on the right thing and throwing tons of things away, including lots of your money. There’s still a way to have your child receive presents, there’s still a way to give loot bags, and there’s still a way to eat cake without adversely affecting the kids’ health and the world.

Here’s the action - do what you can and relax in knowing you’ve done the best you could do and remember, you’ve inspired others also.  Each and every time you plan an event you’ll do better based on your own ways…just make a wish and have a Happy Birthday!

Lisa Borden is an eco-advocate and mother of three, whose business is a direct reflection of her commitment to better, more responsible living. She is a dedicated workaholic, admitting that it takes a lot of time and effort to change the world, especially in her non-preachy, fun, engaging and inspiring ways. Lisa consults, writes, engages the media, runs private workshops, and enjoys speaking to large and small groups. Her full-service marketing firm, Borden Communications + Design Inc. is based in Toronto and takes great pride in being an ethical business providing exceptional ideas. You can sign up for Lisa’s rants and raves at www.bordencom.com or reach her directly atlisa@bordencom.com.