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Statistics about New Year’s resolutions … are not so hopeful. Surveys show that only about 8 to 9 percent of people actually accomplish them. Most will drop them by February. I’ve had my fair share of failed resolutions: writing projects abandoned, workout regiments scrapped, travel plans faded after financial realities reveal themselves. So when I sat down to create my annual collection of resolutions, I didn’t want sustainable living to be on there.
I feel like if I look at this plan as a “resolution,” I might treat it like some of my failed ones and not approach it as seriously or with long-term in mind. That’s why, as we step into this new year with the hope to shrink our ecological footprint, we’re not going to see it as a resolution we’re free to take or leave without consequence. For me, I want to see this as a new way of living that will remain the rest of my life. And because this is a lifetime commitment and not just a one-year goal, I was resolute to take my time, do my research, persevere, and enjoy the journey. No matter what other resolutions you may or may not have, I hope you’re ready to jump into sustainable living with me!
This post is part of my ecological footprint and sustainable living blog series. If you need to catch up, begin with my first post, "Tracking Our Ecological Footprint."
This post is meant to be the stepping stone into more detailed ones for the future. So before we tackle any of the big issues, we’re first going to address exactly how we begin something as big as sustainable living.
The answer to that is: baby steps. At least that’s what I discovered for myself. When I first decided to live more waste-free, I dove into my day and tried to juggle all of the big issues at once. Suddenly, I couldn’t throw anything in the trash, couldn’t eat any meat, had to limit my water usage … And the resulting situation turned stressful because I kept getting stuck trying to check off all these things at once. Some people might not have a problem doing it that way, but for those who need to ease into this, like me, I came up with one way to get started. It’s helpful for me, and hopefully it’s helpful for you, too!
In my own life, planning for things is important. It’s the only way I managed to move out to Kansas for a new job and make it work — by making schedules, lists, and preparing what it would look like in my head. The same goes for shrinking our ecological footprint. It’s almost impossible to expect ourselves to turn everything around in a day, a week, or even a month. And if we do rush it, like other resolutions we try to rush into during the new year, we may find ourselves quitting by February because we’re not prepared.
To begin this preparation process, I sat down and first thought about my goals for living sustainably. I managed to express them in a few measurable points:
1. Limit my meat consumption. To start, meat limited to four meals a week.
2. Reduce my water and electricity usage.
3. Recycle more, waste less. To start, reduce trash to one bag per month.
4. Cut out 80% of food waste by starting a compost and buying less.
Of course, there are many other ways to live sustainably, but these are my beginning goals, and hopefully I’ll continue with more goals as time goes on.
My goals are measurable, in a way, but only if I know where I’m coming from. Before I decide to tackle any of these goals, I first need to record my current lifestyle habits and do some analysis. My planned pattern of approach is to focus on one category at a time, record a week’s worth of current lifestyle habits, research what the environmental impact is, and then make baby steps each week after that to reduce my footprint. Hopefully, as one goal starts to come into focus, I can add another and another, until “juggling” these waste-reducing lifestyles feels more natural.
The first goal that I want to start on is cutting down how much meat I consume. Before I can expect to successfully cut meat, though, I need to understand how much I eat weekly, and what that means environmentally. I decided to create an Excel document that tracks each meal I eat across a day, noting which meals contain meat (this is excluding a vegan diet, so for now dairy and eggs are fair game). When I’ve flagged a meal that has meat, I need to answer a couple questions about that particular meal:
• Where did this meat come from? This doesn’t mean what grocery store. It means where, exactly, as much as I can follow it. So if I bought chicken breasts, I might have bought it from Sprout’s Farmers Market, but that chicken might have been shipped in from another state, and if I can track that farm or factory down, what types of processing practices do they use for their meat animals?
• Did I eat all of this meat? Silly question, but this ties into food waste. Did I not finish anything, and if so, where did it go: back in the fridge for another meal, in the trash, down the sink?
• What are substitutes for this meat? It’s great to say we want to cut out meat, but at least for me, I need to find a direct substitute. That might mean tofu, beans, nuts, cooked in a way to mimic whatever dish I was eating, or transformed into another dish entirely. And it also means being conscious of the location of these substitutes — are they from the farm down the road, or across the country?
They are three simple questions, but they’re meant to get my mind thinking outside the box of how I normally see my meat. If I can track down the source, if I can see how much I eat or waste, if I can see the simple substitution possibilities, it not only educates me, but propels me to positively change how I eat.
This meat consumption sheet is one of several sheets I’ve compiled, all filed under my “Sustainability Tracker” Excel document. It breaks down my goals but also keeps them together in one big master file so I can compare across categories and track my progress. I’ll be recording my trials and errors and my expansion on this first goal for the next few weeks. This first week will just be about recording my current lifestyle, but the following weeks leading up to my next post (due during the second full week of February) will be about changing that lifestyle. And hopefully I’ll have some interesting results to share with you!
Obviously some people are much farther ahead with research and planning than I am when it comes to sustainable living. But for those who are beginners like me, I hope my blog is a source of information and encouragement for you as you start to live differently this year. Be proud of your goals and your growth, and be excited for what things will look like a year from now!
Do you have your sustainability goals lined up for this year? Depending on where we are in life, they are all going to look a little different. The important thing is to start somewhere. The Global Footprint Network has some great pages to help get you thinking about where to begin. After you’ve taken the footprint calculator test, GFN can connect you to some questions and ideas about ways to start shrinking your footprint. In the case of diet and food waste, check out some of their provided information under their Earth Overshoot Day site. It’s one of the first places I look for research and for tracking my sustainability growth, and I'll be using this resource as I progress and make new plans.