8 Low-Commitment, Sustainable New Year’s Resolutions
By: Monica Weintraub
When 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg learned about the climate crisis, she stopped eating, talking, and going to school. Her argument was and still is that school is pointless when there might be no future to study for. She even became vegan and refused to travel by plane. Now she speaks only when necessary, like while addressing the UN and TED.
Most of us aren’t ready to become vegan or completely give up air travel. But we can make simple changes that will minimize our carbon footprints. As Greta so eloquently put it when she addressed the European Parliament in April 2019:
“It is still not too late to act. It will take a far-reaching vision, it will take courage, it will take fierce, fierce determination to act now, to lay the foundations where we may not know all the details about how to shape the ceiling. In other words, it will take cathedral thinking. I ask you to please wake up and make changes required possible.”Greta Thunberg
If you'd like to heed Greta's call, read on to learn about five practices that have the power to help change the course of history.
Now that China has stopped importing our recycling, it’s more important than ever to go zero waste when you order a latte from your favorite coffee shop or a bowl of pho from that killer Vietnamese place. The reason? Many communities in the US can no longer afford to recycle, so your disposable water bottle is likely to end up in a landfill or as a toxic compound in the air.
But as you know, life gets hectic. Our commitments often have us running out of the door underslept, underfed, and dehydrated, which means we depend on modern conveniences. There’s nothing inherently wrong about this. It’s terrific to have the option to care for ourselves when we haven’t had adequate time to prepare.
Luckily, it only takes a few simple purchases and changes of habit to stay green while we’re caring for our children and creating our empires. First, if you don’t already have one, get yourself a cute pouch. Then fill it with a reusable straw, a tumbler or water bottle, a coffee mug, and stainless steel or glass containers for any food you may purchase. (If you’re a minimalist, this blog by Going Zero Waste will show you how to get by with just a 16 oz mason jar and a cloth napkin.)
But let’s face it. We sometimes fail, even when we have the best intentions—especially when we’re establishing new habits. Since you’re bound to forget your reusables at least once, commit to making different choices. Choose water packaged in glass rather than plastic, allow yourself extra time to eat at a restaurant instead of taking food to-go, and forego that plastic straw. The only straw I want on my beach is my straw hat, thanks very much!
Don't worry—you'll still be way hotter than room temp! This isn't a suggestion that you suffer through the colder months. It’s just a suggestion to limit your usage when you’re not home. Grab a blanket and slippers!
The US Department of Energy recommends bumping your thermostat back 7 to 10 degrees when you're on your way out for the day. If you have an automatic thermostat, you can program the temperature settings so that the only thing you’ll notice is your electricity bill getting smaller.
And as we shift into spring, keep in mind that air conditioning and electric fans make up about 20 percent of the total electricity used in buildings around the world, and up to 70 percent in hotter climates, this small change can make a big impact.
This is a difficult one for me. I live in Austin, TX, a place that is not only designed around the auto, it’s also 100 degrees with high humidity for many months at a time. But since a typical car creates 4.6 metric tons of CO2 every year, what kind of excuse is that? (See what one ton of CO2 looks like). We all must reduce our dependence on driving by walking, biking, carpooling, and using public transit. In fact, 20 percent of emissions reductions need to come from the transportation sector.
If you live in a walkable or bikeable city, you will have an easier time of this. Surprisingly, BUHO’s hometown, Los Angeles, now has a walk score of 67.4, so when Angelenos aren’t sitting in traffic on the 405, they can explore the city on foot.
If you do have to drive, make sure to optimize your auto for the commute. A few small changes—checking your road rage, driving the speed limit, carpooling when possible, and not using your trunk to hide the fact that although your life is magical, it’s not actually tidy—will lighten your carbon footprint.
Although it can potentially help slim expanding waistlines, the increasing appetite for meat worldwide isn’t doing our climate any favors. Food production creates somewhere between 19-29 percent of global emissions. Soon, we’ll be able to grow meat in labs, but until then, the sad truth (if you’re as much of a bacon and BBQ lover as I am) is that if we want to make an impact on climate change, we must eat less meat.
A vegan creates 6.37 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per day, while a heavily carnivorous person creates 15.85 pounds. Not everyone is able to be a successful vegan, and if you’re one of those, start where you can. Transition to a less meat-heavy diet. If you eat meat three times a day, start with one vegetarian meal a week or if you’re ambitious, one per day, and go from there. If you’re looking for inspiration, check out this vegan meal planner.
Or better yet, curate a sustainable wardrobe full of items you love. I love clothes, but the truth is, most unwanted pieces end up in landfills. Global production now exceeds 100 billion garments a year, and is expected to increase 63 percent by 2030. It’s up to us to create trends based on sustainability and ethical business practices. Fortunately, fashion houses are creating incredible threads that don’t come with high environmental and human costs and BUHO has curated 100s of those brands to make it easy for you. We can be fashionable and sustainable—it’s just about changing our habits.
It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the climate crisis. But why not sow hope through fierce action, as Greta suggests? Although the statistics are grim, and governments are slow to act, massive technological developments on the horizon will allow us to colonize the moon and create artificial photosynthesis. When we filter eco-friendly practices into our lives, we impact the economy. When there’s enough demand, government and industry will make the sweeping changes we're all counting on.