Holiday office parties are as much a part of the holiday season as caroling and baking. They can be a great outlet for stress relief and holiday cheer.

This year, try “adding green” to your parties by offering an earth-friendly event. The Center for Energy & Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa offers these tips for making your annual office party a little greener:

• Create an electronic invitation to save paper. Many invites are available on the Internet, and include paperless RSVP options. A simple e-mail works, too.

• Hire caterers who use local foods, or request that they seek out a few local foods for the get-together. Cooking and serving Iowa-grown foods contributes to your local economy, honoring the hard work of farmers and the richness of Iowa’s dark soils. For recipe ideas using local foods, visit http://bit.ly/9hGCzW. Be sure to bring containers so extra food can be sent home with guests. If you use caterers, a federal “Good Samaritan” law allows donations to crisis centers and others in need.

• Decorations such as gourds, cranberries, pine cones and pine branches give a party a more natural feel, while eliminating potentially toxic decorations that ultimately end up in the trash. Consider using things already in the office, such as office plants. String the plants with LED (light-emitting diode) lights – they cost more up front, but according to the Environmental Defense Fund, the electricity savings can make up the cost difference within one or two years. Note: Artificial trees are usually made in China from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is one nasty plastic; carcinogens are emitted during manufacture. Plus, the older an artificial tree is, the more likely the PVC will deteriorate and expose children and adults to significant amounts of lead.

• Consider a gift-free zone during the holiday party. Take the pressure and extra financial strain out of gift-giving and suggest that the party itself is the gift. If your office wants to do a secret Santa or some gift exchange, consider giving consumables (nuts, jams, jellies, cider). Other possibilities include donating to a charity or adopting a family. Give gifts of experience – eco-friendly outings, gifts to shows, personal services or green items like soy candles and local wines. Another environmentally friendly idea is to write a check with everything filled in except the “pay to the order of.” Intentionally leave it blank, and allow the recipient to give the money to a charity of his or her choice.

• Afterwards, note how much food was consumed and what gift ideas worked, so you can be even more efficient and environmentally friendly at future parties.

For more ideas, tips and to share your own ideas for a green party, visit www.ReclaimYourHolidays.org.

Susan Salterberg is the program manager at the Center for Energy & Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa.