The new year is a time to reflect, ground, and zero in on the changes we’d like to make. The most common resolutions tend to orbit around fitness and money, but climate experts are urging the population to also seriously consider the environment because our lives depend on it. Large corporations are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions (via The Guardian), and that might inspire feelings of hopelessness. What can one person really do? Still, implementing lifestyle changes to better serve Mother Earth is never a lost cause.
From foregoing plastic and buying second-hand to planting a garden and refusing to press “buy now” on Amazon, there are so many small ways we can shift our lives into green territory. And you’ll likely enjoy the added bonus of feeling healthier as you go. After all, humans were meant to thrive in coexistence with nature, not to dominate it.
This one may be one of the most challenging lifestyle changes to make in our fast-paced consumerist society, but it’s also one of the most beneficial for the earth. The ceaseless production of goods we don’t really need thwarts the health of the environment greatly. Buying a new wardrobe each season, indulging in the latest electronics and gadgets, and buying anything else the media says you can’t live without is a very new way of life, and it’s no wonder the planet is rapidly declining. Our ancestors lived very differently, and putting intention into doing life a bit more as they did is the direction in which we should be moving. Reusing, upcycling, trading, thrifting: the planet will thank you for each of these conscious actions.
“Upcycling is more sustainable than its more popular counterpart, recycling. Recycling generally requires a lot of additional energy to break down the product, let’s say plastic, into their raw materials so they can be recreated into recycled plastic of the same or lesser quality,” Marc Lewis, general manager and executive editor at EcoWatch, told LIVEKINDLY. “Upcycling, on the other hand, requires less additional energy consumption in the supply chain because it’s repurposing the products into a more usable form, rather than breaking them down into their raw materials.”
It’s estimated that about 8% of our carbon footprint is created by purchasing food at the store or in restaurants (via LoadUp). If you have the space to plant your own vegetable garden, you can make quite an impact on that number. And if you aren’t able to plant your own food, research your local superheroes — aka farmers — and purchase directly from the source.
Consuming overly processed, packaged foods is a habit that is not only damaging to our health, it’s pretty detrimental to the planet. “People tend to eat more than minimally processed, which is problematic as it drives consumption, which is a driver of environmental impact. Planetary resources that could be otherwise used for something useful to our health are being used to make food that’s not necessary to human diet,” Paraskevi Seferidi, a research fellow at Imperial College London’s Public Health Policy Evaluation Unit, told the BBC. Essentially, returning to the slow life and eating real food directly from the land is crucial for not only our species but also all creatures on Earth.
As convenient as it is, the environment takes a hit from online shopping. It requires a lot of resources for a package to get from the warehouse to your front door, and it’s becoming a luxury we rely on too heavily. Each year, approximately 165 billion packages are shipped from Amazon within the U.S. alone (via LoadUp). Yes, you read that correctly: 165 billion! Think of the amount of cardboard, gas, and labor required to make that happen. And likely a lot of what was ordered and shipped wasn’t, well, essential to living a full and balanced life.
Some argue that online shopping is, in fact, greener than brick-and-mortar shopping. However, it’s the “must have it now” attitude and quick, two-day shipping that are derailing any potential environmental benefits, as delivery trucks must leave only half-full to meet consumers’ quick shipping demands. “When you add the challenge of fast shipping, then you cannot get the benefit of consolidation. You are actually obliged to go multiple times, on multiple days, to the same location,” Josué Velázquez Martínez, director of the Sustainable Logistics Initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told The New York Times.
So, if you can only find the toy your nephew must-have for his birthday on Amazon, opt to order it early and consolidate your packages with the other essentials in your shopping cart.
The “shop local” movement has gained great popularity in recent years which is definitely something worth celebrating. And also something to keep up. The reason why is fairly self-explanatory. The shorter distance goods need to travel to get to you, the lower the carbon footprint (via LoadUp). You also support your local economy when you check out the ma-and-pa shops in your area before hopping on Amazon to do your holiday shopping.
If you’re considering the higher cost of shopping locally than buying from a big-box store, then you aren’t alone. “It’s kind of like asking if people like puppies,” Wayne Smith, a professor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management who specializes in consumer behavior, told the CBC. “Everyone’s going to say they like puppies. But how many people go out and get a puppy?”
The temptation to give in to convenience at do a one-stop shop at Wal-Mart or Target is understandable. But if you can, think of the bigger picture, your grandchildren, and how good it feels to make small but impactful changes one day at a time. Never stop asking yourself if something you’re buying is truly sustainable or not.
This may be a tricky one because sometimes it’s the only option to get from point A to point B, but if another form of transportation is available to you, it’s worth considering when it comes to the environmental impact of taking a flight. According to the BBC, the aviation industry accounts for 5% of global warming. Yikes. “Generally trains and coaches are the lowest carbon means of travel, much lower than flying and cars,” said Milena Buchs, an expert in sustainability, economics, and low carbon transitions at the University of Leeds, in an interview with the BBC.
So, if the train is an option for your next vacation destination, consider what it’ll do for your personal carbon footprint. And if flying is the only way to visit your family, then look into Google Flights, which will show the carbon footprint of your trip, as well as which flights are the greenest (via NPR).
If your New Year’s resolutions include physical fitness, then walking and biking are really a win-win for you and the environment. Even if you can moderately reduce your car travel by hopping on your bike, the impact on your carbon footprint is pretty sizeable. E-scooters are also popping up left and right, so if your city has them, consider giving them a try.
“This is one more piece of evidence on the multiple benefits of active travel, alongside our previous studies showing cycling is the best way to get around cities for both physical and mental health, and that promoting cycling helps tackle obesity. This should encourage different sectors to work together to create desirable futures from multiple health, environmental and social perspectives,” Dr. Audrey de Nazelle from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial tells Science Daily.
Opting to bike to work probably sounds intimidating at first. There’s the earlier wake-up time, choosing the most efficient (and safest) route, and knowing you’ll be biking home also. Still, the shifts you’ll likely see in your health and physique are great motivators. You can even start slowly with a goal of going car-free two days per week.
It’s pretty painful for most of us to toss out wasted food. The guilt is very real. And sometimes throwing away organic food matter is inevitable. But returning that compostable matter to the earth to create nutrient-dense soil rather than sliding it into the trash can is highly beneficial for the planet. You’ll also likely become more conscious of how much food is going unused when you begin composting, which in turn should shift your grocery shopping habits. And this should positively impact your finances.
Composting is an all-around hero when it comes to living an eco-friendly life. If you don’t have space to compost at home, your city may have a community option, but composting in a small apartment is still doable. Composting will also save you room in your kitchen trash can, which means fewer plastic bags. “I don’t cook what I’m in the mood for,” Susan Miller-Davis, principal at the food and climate consulting firm Infinite Table, told The Washington Post. “I open my refrigerator, and I assess what needs to be cooked.” And this is just the mindset that we need to implement for a more sustainable 2023.