by Angie Scheu
Angie Scheu is the owner and founder of Green Haven Living, an eco-friendly home, gift, and zero-waste store in Uptown Westerville Ohio. She lives in Westerville with her husband and 3 daughters. Before she began her retail adventure in 2016, she was a lifelong environmentalist, a corporate Human Resources Professional, and a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force. Angie loves watching her daughters play softball, spending time in the great outdoors, traveling with her husband, trying new plant-based recipes, gardening, and collecting books that she "will get to eventually". ;o)
Typically, I scoff at the idea of a New Year's Resolution. I am skeptical of the concept of a "new me" or the idea of making huge lifestyle overhauls every January. No matter how motivated we are, it's just not realistic for most of us.
Instead, here are 10 actionable "resolutions" that are totally do-able. Even if you don’t attempt each one, you’ll make some easy eco-friendly changes in your life and stand to benefit from each of them in different ways. And, that's something great to look forward to this year! No need to follow them in the order presented here. Just pick what seem like good places to start and pencil them into your calendar or planner each month.
1. Upgrade your skills.
There are innumerable ways to gain sustainable knowledge and skills. Seek out classes that teach practical skills in your community (such as what's offered at this local school). Find great thought leadership and inspiration in sustainability by reading a good book (you might want to check out our collection here). Finally, if your city has a group of volunteers that are committed to sustainability (like this one), attending events or meetings can help you meet like-minded people, teach valuable skills and give you the satisfaction of getting involved locally.
2. Reduce your meat consumption.
You don't have to become vegetarian or vegan. Giving up meat is HARD. Trust me, I understand. Simply lessening your meat consumption is impactful in several ways. It's easy to replace meat a few times per week with other satisfying, more nutrient dense options like beans, grains, nuts and/ or tofu. Our global animal agriculture systems have damaged the environment in numerous ways. Here are just a few of the immediate effects reducing your meat consumption will have: health benefits, saves money, saves water, lessens pollution due to transport, and that's not all. Pssst...Here are 6 delicious meatless recipes that even the kids will love.
3. Switch to a sustainable bank.
Make sure your bank and investment choices reflect your values. Find a financial institution that invests in ethical industries, and do your banking and/or investing there. Many of the largest institutions build revenue off of the money you've deposited with them by investing in fossil fuel companies, weapons companies, the tobacco and vaping industries, and the like. These are banks that fund clean energy, sustainable development, and operate with environmental impact in mind.
4. Walk or bike whenever possible.
If you live in a walkable (or bikeable) community, choose to leave your vehicle at home. Not only will you save on gas, you will certainly reap the health benefits of the additional exercise too. It helps that electric bikes (eBikes) are all the rage now too. eBikes have an electric motor to assist you when you want to ride a longer distance or if you get tired.
What if you live in a rural area? Or if the weather isn't cooperating? If you live in an area where it's not feasible to walk or bike consider public transportation or safe carpooling options with family members or friends. If you must drive, combining errands with other necessary trips will cut down on emissions and save fuel.
5. Divide your restaurant meals.
When food ends up in the landfill, it lacks the oxygen required to decompose properly. Methane, a greenhouse gas, builds up from the decomposition and is eventually released into the atmosphere, which traps heat from the sun. What can you do? Keep a lidded container on hand (or ask for a compostable container) to divide your meal in half for later. Since most restaurants tend to serve large portion sizes anyway, it's also a great way to keep calories in check! Also, food scraps from your home-prepared meals can be composted or buried outside. Keep a compost bin on your countertop to collect the food scraps until it's time to take them outside. You might want to use a compostable liner to keep the inside of your bin clean.
6. Switch to a reef-safe sunscreen.
Millions of people flock to the shore every year wearing toxic sunscreen that is creating an inhabitable environment for the oceans and for marine creatures. Plenty of us also wear daily sunscreen to help minimize the effects of ultraviolet rays on our skin. There have been recent commercial sunscreen recalls due to carcinogenic ingredients (likely to cause cancer) finding their way into the products. If these toxic commercial sunscreens are unhealthy for us and our families, they are also unhealthy for our inland waterways and oceans. What goes down our drains matters! Can you imagine the massive difference it would make if each person switched to a reef-safe sunscreen?
7. Use eco-friendly "swaps" in your home.
There are some really clever eco-friendly swaps for everyday items you use in your home. The key is to look for items that are easy to reuse, are compostable, biodegradable, or infinitely recyclable. For example, you can lessen or eliminate your paper towel usage by using cloth paper towels or napkins. Instead of using bleached tree-fiber toilet paper, try switching to unbleached bamboo toilet paper. It's biodegradable, renewable, and non-toxic. Choose package-free cleaning and personal care products or those that are in infinitely recyclable glass or aluminum containers (which can be reused). Look for more information in an upcoming blog post about package free options!
8. Rethink your lawn and garden routine.
Out with the old, in with the new! There is a lot of conversation about the harmful consequences of today's "landscaping" practices. Herbicides and pesticides are bad news for our health, our families, pets, and wildlife. Plus, they're not necessary. The new trend is to replace lawn with low-maintenance native plants or "meadow plants" that don't require fertilizer or much maintenance at all. Embrace plants (some are considered "weeds") that feed important pollinators and birds - such as dandelions and milkweed. Instead of raking, allow the fallen leaves to remain on your lawn and beds, which helps maintain soil health. Extend soil health to your vegetable and flower gardens by researching "no-till" gardening methods. Check out our blog post: What Native Plants Can Offer You.
9. Schedule a home energy audit.
This is so worth your time. You will be surprised how much energy your home is losing, but there are also some easy ways to stop it. Having a qualified professional provide a home energy audit can give you a complete and accurate picture of how your home uses energy every month (how much, what type, etc.). It can uncover areas for improvement (inefficient appliances, etc.) or more budget friendly options. This can also give you information that is helpful if you want to invest in greener sources of energy now or in the future.
On a related note, there is a growing global movement, called Earth Hour, that challenges people to switch off their lights for one hour annually in March. This year, you can participate on Saturday, March 26 at 8:30 pm your local time. Not only does it lead to massive energy savings across the globe for one hour, Earth Hour has come to symbolize something much greater - that through unity and collective action, there is hope that we can reverse the climate crisis. Take part in it this year! Here is a list of 20+ fun things you can do during Earth Hour!
10. Cut down your paper junk mail.
Some sources say we waste around 70 hours (!) per year opening and deciding what to do with junk mail. Almost half of the timber harvested in the United States annually ultimately becomes junk mail. This equates to heavy deforestation and billions of gallons of water used every year. You stand to save millions of trees, conserve water, and save time with just a little effort. For a fee, there are companies that can remove you from thousands of mailing lists. Those pesky credit card offers are usually mailed from mailing lists maintained by the consumer credit reporting agencies. You can call a number (1-888-567-8688) or visit the official consumer credit reporting website to limit those offers. You can also sign up for paperless statements from your credit card companies, banks, mortgage companies, and utilities. Contact catalog companies directly to opt out.
Ultimately, a more sustainable life means a healthier you, a healthier family, and a healthier planet. Let's make this the year we simplify and make sustainable strides! Share your progress and ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org! We'd love to hear from you.
Founder of Green Haven Living, a Veteran of the United States Air Force, former Human Resources professional, and Environmentalist.