photoValentine’s Day, Feb. 14, is quickly becoming a holiday where consumers are urged to spend money on stuff: candy, cards, flowers, home décor, baking supplies, clothing. You name it, one of your favorite stores has a huge section chock full of inexpensive little things for people to stock up on.

Like many holidays, its celebration can create unintentional environmental side effects, such as the consumption of natural resources and the generation of solid waste.

But that doesn’t have to be the case.

When celebrating Valentine‘s Day, Americans tend to go all out. For example:

  • 198 million roses: The number produced for Valentine’s Day in 2010, according to the Society of American Florists.
  • 141 million Valentine’s Day cards: The number exchanged each year (not including packaged kids’ Valentines for classroom exchanges), according to Hallmark. This makes Valentine’s Day the second-largest holiday for giving greeting cards.
  • $14.1 billion: The amount Americans were expected to spend on traditional Valentine’s Day merchandise in 2010, according to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation.

For consumers trying to cut their carbon footprint, these figures are unsettling. But that doesn’t mean you can’t participate in February 14 like everyone else.

“It is possible to have a special, perhaps even more creative and memorable than usual, Valentine’s Day celebration while still being environmentally responsible,” said Kendra Abkowitz of the Vanderbilt University Sustainability and Environmental Management Office.

Here are some of her suggestions for having a planet-friendly holiday:

Send an e-Valentine in lieu of a paper Valentine
Hallmark and 123 Greetings are some of the many websites offering an electronic Valentine service. If sending a paper Valentine, be certain to send one that is printed on paper containing recycled-content. Don’t forget to recycle Valentines you have received that you aren’t keeping!

Choose flowers carefully
Give organic or locally grown flowers, a potted plant, a tree seedling or a perennial plant instead of the traditional bouquet of flowers.

Give organic or fair-trade chocolates
Organic chocolates are produced in an eco-friendly manner without the use of pesticides, and fair-trade chocolates ensure that cacao farmers work in healthy, sustainable and safe environments while receiving a fair wage for their products. Organic chocolates are also a good way to cut out the chemicals and fillers some manufacturers rely on to make their sweets on the cheap. Some organic and fair-trade chocolate choices include Trader Joe’s, Equal Exchange and Dagoba.

Make a donation to an environmental organization on behalf of your Valentine
Several organizations you might consider are the World Wildlife Fund, the Sierra Club and the Arbor Day Foundation.

Plan a trip to a wildlife reserve, park or natural area
Your business will help support the running of such establishments. Several destinations you might consider include your local state parks, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service refuges and U.S. National Parks.

Go local for dinner
Arrange dinner at a local restaurant that specializes in organic or locally grown food, or make your own romantic meal with locally grown ingredients. Eating locally reduces the number of miles that your food travels to you and supports local establishments. Cooking your own meal will also save gas and money while avoiding greenhouse gas emissions.

Commit to going green at work and home
Several easy ideas include turning lights off when leaving the room, shutting down your computer at the end of the day, creating a dedicated home recycling area, washing only full loads of dishes and laundry, moderating your thermostat when leaving your house or office for extended periods of time, unplugging appliances not in use and printing or using both sides of paper when possible. (This last tip is a way to say “I love you” to the Earth on any day, not just February 14!)