How to Green Your New Year’s Resolutions

12/23/2009 4:30 AM |

New Year’s resolutions. Awesome fodder for end-of-the-year columns. Especially when you’re already a bossy, prescriptive-type columnist, addicted to telling people what to do, right? Well, yeah, you’re thinking, but who needs a whole separate set of green resolutions, when I never get around to keeping my regular resolutions?

There’s a pretty limited repertoire of resolutions, and some of us recycle the same ones year after year after year (that’s green, right?). With 12 percent giving up in the first week, and 43 percent bailing after six months, it’s no wonder we keep going back to the classics—you know, get organized, lose weight, exercise more, eat better, take better care of things financial, and volunteer. The good news is that all of these old standards dovetail perfectly with a lower-impact you. So you can improve youself, and the planet too!

Getting organized has topped my list for years, and just this year I realized what a difference it makes in greening my life. Start by getting rid of stuff you don’t want or need, and giving it to people/groups/animals that need it. (See for a list of things to give away, and places that take them).

Recycle old papers and magazines. Cull from your bookshelves. Once you’ve made some space, you’ll be able to track what you do need: think about having room for a recycling system (instead of just tossing stuff), or being able to keep reusable totebags where you’ll actually use them.

So, you want to lose weight? Well, to start with, eat less. Excess weight comes from excess food, and excess food actually means you’re consuming more than you need. Producing food takes energy (for tractors, harvesters, and trucks to bring it to you), and the less you eat, the less CO2 you generate. Another way is to eat different foods, like fewer animal products, and more vegetables. The UN has called out animal agriculture as the number-one generator of greenhouse gases, not to mention runoff from manure lagoons and the environmental impact of all those triple bypass surgeries!

To exercise more, you could join one of those oh-so-cool health clubs, and run on a treadmill in front of a giant window for all to see, just so you can hop in a cab home, and slump in front of the TV for the requisite four hours per day. Or you could get a bike, and bike home, and to work, to see your friends etc. It’s the same exercise, and won’t take much, if any, more travel time than your usual transport. If biking’s not your thing, why not adopt a dog, or volunteer walking dogs at a shelter? A recent study showed that people who walked with dogs stuck with their exercise regimens more closely than those who exercised with their fellow humans, and got stronger too.

Eating better is a great tie-in to greener living—or is it the other way around? The best ways to eat better are to eat less processed food, eat less meat and more vegetables, and to get more involved in local fresh food systems. All of these reduce the environmental impact of the food you eat. Processed food is bad for you, and bad for the environment—think about all those chemical additives, all that packaging, and all those corn and soy byproducts. Meat was mentioned above: it’s bad for you, bad for animals, and bad for the environment. Try going vegetarian one day a week, or one meal a day to start.

Personal finances seem to have the least to do with things eco, but spending less money on less stuff is the easiest way to lessen your impact. Stuff takes energy and materials to make. If your financial picture is clouded by debt, remember that all that interest and those finance charges go to huge multinationals—lessen the amount you pay, and you reduce the amount they can invest in everything from dams to oil drilling. With less money going to credit companies you can give more to charity, invest in greener ways of living, or just save so you can work less.

Have a happy, green New Year!