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Green Resolutions for the New Year
The holiday season wouldn’t be complete without the requisite guilt about past behavior and a passionate avowal to “do better” this year. But before you pull out your crumpled copy of last year’s resolutions, with the determination to get it right this time — exercise more, lose weight, eat healthier, spend less money and more time with family — onsider “greening” your resolutions. The beauty of living a greener life is that much of our annual wish list comes about as a byproduct. You’ll not only be contributing to a healthier world, you and your family will be healthier too.
What’s more, a study by the U.K.-based mental health organization MIND revealed that people who feel a greater connection to nature and their communities are less likely to describe themselves as depressed or anxious — they called it “ecotherapy.”
I can offer myself up as evidence. Once I resolved to bike more and drive less, I dropped that last five pounds of baby weight I thought was mine forever, and canceled my gym membership. Once I resolved to watch TV less and watch sunsets more, I found myself more relaxed. Once I resolved to source healthier food from a neighboring organic farmer, I found myself cooking more with my children and relying less on sodium-soaked, highly processed foods.
Where to Start?
Here are a few ideas to help get you going on your green resolutions:
Green Your Eating
For many of us, a “greener” life starts in the kitchen. After all, we serve up nature three times a day. If you’re aware that your family (or you!) relies on drive-thrus or take-out more than you’d like, start with a resolution to cook at least four meals a week in your home from fresh, organic ingredients. Get your family involved. Even toddlers can grate cheese and help set tables. Find a local farmer, join Community Supported Agriculture (find out more at www.localharvest.org), visit a local farmers’ market or ask your grocery store manager to source more locally/organically grown or raised food products.
The benefits are almost immediate. A study conducted by scientists at Emory University and the University of Washington revealed that children eating conventional (read: UN-organic) diets all tested positive for common pesticides in their systems. Within a week of switching to an organic diet, the pesticides in their bodies dropped to undetectable levels. When the children switched back to their conventional diets, pesticide levels rose too.
Green Your Ride
Perhaps you’re in the market for a new car. Consider going without; you’ll not only save money on the purchase, you’ll save on insurance and maintenance. Tarah Wright, a professor and mother of two young children in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has been car-free for eight years. She admits that she “has to plan” to ensure that errands get done — it’s not just as easy as jumping in the car if you’re out of something. She recently joined a car-share program so that the family can occasionally get out of the city to enjoy short trips. But for Wright, the cost savings, the improved health of her family — they walk everywhere! — and the improved health of the planet are worth it.
Even if it’s impractical to completely give up your four wheels, try to carpool or take alternative transportation – such as a bike or bus. Or seek out the most fuel-efficient vehicle you can afford.
Green Your Décor
Maybe for you, living greener starts with giving your home a healthy facelift by using zero-VOC paints, sourcing eco-friendly renovation supplies, and getting rid of the poison plastic — PVC — in your home. Or you can just take simple but important steps like pulling down that vinyl shower curtain and replacing it with one made of organic cotton, hemp or LDPE plastic. Remove those vinyl mini-blinds and replace them with healthier alternatives, too.
Green Your Cleaning
If you’re a cleaning fanatic or just a weekend warrior, resolve to green your cleaning. Simply switching from conventional cleaners to eco-alternatives can dramatically improve your indoor air. A study by the American Lung Association revealed that on cleaning day, the indoor air pollution – contaminated with such noxious gases as acetone, camphor, benzaldehyde and diethylene glycol – can be hundreds, even thousands of times worse than outside. Fortunately, greener cleaners are increasingly easy to find. Or, if saving money is part of your plan, make your own cleaners. It’s surprisingly simple: Stock up on baking soda, white vinegar, castile soap, perhaps some Borax. Then add the one ingredient you never see on any label – elbow grease, which will also help you burn off some excess calories. Greener, cleaner and…leaner!
Green the Grid
Kelly Magill resolved to live greener when she realized that her actions didn’t match her value system. It also took a viewing of An Inconvenient Truth to really spur her resolutions — but it still started with simple, attainable steps.
First on her list? Purchasing sustainable energy for her home. It’s an easy change that has a large impact. Call your power company and ask if it provides a green energy option, or visit the U.S. Department of Energy's Green Power website online.
How Do I Create a Plan I Can Stick With?
Ah yes, the tough part. If you’re like me, it’s easy to resolve to save the planet, feed the hungry, find a cure for cancer and create lasting world peace. It’s the “how” that trips me up every single time.
Betsi Simmons, who runs a corporate training company, has lots of experience helping others achieve their goals. Her advice? Create small steps that you can tweak over the year to accomplish your overall goal. She advises people to focus not on what they can’t do, but on what they can. For example, rather than “I can’t drive my car to work,” think “I can take the bus and read a novel” or “I can ride my bike and skip the gym.”
“Once we become comfortable with one step,” explains Simmons, “we become aware that slowly other parts of our life have changed more positively as well…. When we are overloaded with clutter, pollution, weight, we become exhausted fighting off the effects of that.”
Gina Mazza Hillier, author of Everything Matters, Nothing Matters: For Women Who Dare to Live with Exquisite Calm, Euphoric Creativity and Divine Clarity, doesn’t laugh at my “change the world” resolutions. “There is no order of miracles in intentions,” she says, “meaning that yes, we can solve world peace and other grandiose intentions.” However, she advises me to harness the “taming power of the small” – in other words, like Simmons, she recommends we break down resolutions into smaller intentions that contribute to the whole. “This is particularly germane for the green movement,” explains Hillier, “the promise being that, if we all do our own small part, we can ultimately save the planet.”
Magill agrees wholeheartedly. “You change the things you can change easily,” she says. “Before you know it, you’ve changed yourself … and that’s when you’re really there as a green girl.”
Green Living Solutions:
Leslie Garrett is an award-winning journalist and author of The Virtuous Consumer: Your Essential Shopping Guide for a Better, Kinder, Healthier World. Thanks to resolutions to bike (except in winter — she lives in Canada) for all trips less than 10 miles, eat locally and organically, and refuse consumer goods that don’t contribute to the health of her family or the planet, she’s lost weight, gained muscle mass, boosted her bank account and eliminated clutter! Her 2009 resolutions include growing her family’s vegetables, collecting rainwater, meditating without falling asleep, and honing a polite but firm way to ask parents to stop idling their cars in front of her children’s school. Oh yeah … and creating world peace.