As 2014 draws to a close, many people are making their resolutions for the New Year. Some hope to get fit, or find a new job. Others want to make more time for family, or save more money for retirement. Some are focused on ways to make their daily choices easier on the environment. But no matter what your resolutions are, sometimes they’re hard to keep. Progress may be slow, or hard to measure, or maybe it’s such a drastic change in your routine that the ends just aren’t worth the means. Making a good resolution can be key to keeping it. The best way to set goals you can actually reach is to make them “SMART” goals. This acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Based. By thinking through your resolutions, you’ll be more likely to keep them, and you may even find that one resolution can get you closer to multiple end goals! Here are a few examples of SMART resolutions that can help make your new year a little greener, fitter, richer, and more rewarding.
Instead of making your goal to “save more electricity this year,” add a little more detail. What kinds of electricity do you think you can save? Household heating and cooling are a big drain on electricity, and are relatively easy to cut back on with a few simple modifications.
Specific: Pick a couple specific actions that you will take to improve your home’s energy efficiency. Good examples include using a programmable thermostat, sealing drafts around doors and windows, and opting for natural heating and cooling options, like opening curtains to take advantage of natural light and warmth, and opening windows in the summer to catch the breeze.
Measurable: Utilities like electricity and water are easy to measure through metering and statements. In this case, you can even make your bill your yardstick for improvement.
Attainable/Realistic: Make sure your goals are possible. Can you really cut your electricity bill in half with just the specific actions you’ve selected? Your goals should always be reachable, with just enough challenge to keep things interesting. A reasonable goal for cutting energy consumption would be an eventual 10% reduction.
Time-Based: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your goals won’t be reached overnight either. Don’t be disappointed when your actions don’t immediately succeed in giving you that planned 10% reduction. Give yourself a few months to adjust, taking into account changing energy use as the weather changes. Compare your statements to last year’s usage, rather than month to month, which might be masking overall improvements. At the end of the year, assess how you did, and make plans for next year on how to do it even better.
For Example: I resolve to cut my electricity bill 10% in 2015 by installing a programmable thermostat, using plastic draft film over my windows for the winter, and only using air conditioning when the temperature is 80 degrees or higher.
The rural nature of Mid-Michigan makes public transit difficult for some, but there are other ways to make your transit more environmentally friendly, less expensive, and even healthier.
Specific: There are lots of options for specifics, and choosing one that’s right for you will make this resolution easy to keep. Carpool with coworkers once a week, bring lunch to work, or walk to a restaurant instead of driving, use a grocery list and plan a weekly or biweekly shopping trip instead of running out to pick something up whenever you need it, use public or campus transit if it’s available, or tune up your car so that it’s running most efficiently.
Measurable: The measurements you use depend on the specifics of your goal. A good one is the number of times you fill up your gas tank each month, or the miles added to your car. Another good option is just counting the number of trips you make, and seeing if you can cut back on that.
Attainable/Realistic: Cut one tank of gas per month, make sure to carpool at least once a week, go shopping biweekly instead of every week. Don’t try to completely overhaul your entire transportation style in one fell swoop. Cut yourself some slack, and it’ll be easier to stick to the changes you have made.
Time-Based: Cutting this resolution down from “drive less” to “use one less tank of gas per month” helps keep it manageable. It gives you a timely goal, plus the chance to modify your behavior and try again next month if it didn’t quite work out.
For Example: I resolve to carpool or walk to lunch, or bring my own, four out of every five working days during 2015.
Cutting back water use can be hard for those of us who love a long hot shower, but you don’t have to give up everything to live a little greener.
Specific: There are ways to save water for every kind of lifestyle and budget. If you’re upgrading appliances, invest in a water-saving dishwasher, efficient showerheads, or low-flow toilets. Use a shower timer, or create a short playlist of your favorite songs to listen to in the shower, so you can limit water use there. Only run the dishwasher when it’s full, or if you wash by hand, use the rinse water for plants instead of letting it down the drain. Another way to save water is by choosing vegetarian meals or meat from locally raised animals, both of which require much less water than producing meat on an industrial scale.
Measurable: As with electricity, your billing statement makes a great measurement tool. If you’re not metered for water use (for example, if you have your own well, or you are billed for an average of building-wide use), count the number of times you run the dishwasher or the washing machine.
Attainable/Realistic: Don’t kid yourself. Three minute showers every day of the year may sound like a great idea at midnight on December 31st, but sustainability is about the long term. For changes you know you’ll have trouble with, make sure you’re challenging yourself, but not unrealistically. Shoot for something simple, like a 5-10% reduction in water usage, or five fewer loads of laundry per month.
Time-Based: Set mini-goals throughout the year, and look back at how you’ve improved over time. Keep in mind that ultimate goal, and work toward it by the end of the year. Get there early? Awesome! Set your sights a little higher and keep going!
For Example: I resolve to cut 60% of showers down to 7 minutes or less by the end of 2015 using a shower timer or music playlist.
When it comes to keeping waste out of the landfill, there’s more to the equation than recycling. Here are a few more ideas to cut back the trash.
Specific: Donate gently used clothing. Cut stained or ripped clothes up for rags, or get crafty (Pinterest always has great ideas for ways to reuse fabric). Plan meals so that leftovers will get eaten later in the week, and use composting to handle most kitchen waste. Opt for reusable shopping bags instead of plastic, and don’t forget to recycle whenever possible.
Measurable: Count the number of trash bags you take out, or how often you buy them. Keep track of your donations, and see how it affects the size of your tax deductions. If you’re really into metrics, weigh your trash bags and make it your goal to cut back on pounds.
Attainable/Realistic: Zero waste might be a big first step. Why not shoot for something more manageable, like bringing reusable bags for all your shopping trips, or double-checking all plastics before you throw them away? Maybe shoot for one less bag of trash per month, or cutting back 20 pounds of waste?
Time-Based: Don’t forget to give yourself a timeframe, and time to adjust to it. Buy one reusable bag a month for the first six months, then use them at every subsequent shopping trip. Make sure you set your timeframe before you get started; adjustments are okay, but you need a way to hold yourself accountable throughout the year.
For Example: Throughout 2015, I resolve to cut back one bag of trash each month by recycling all paperboard and cardboard packaging that is accepted by the Isabella County Recycling Center.
When it comes to encouraging more sustainable industrial practices, your dollars are your votes. Buy local and Fair Trade imported products. It supports an economy that treats everyone well, which is good for business and those who buy from them. Cutting down impulse buys, and choosing quality over quantity can also help shift mindsets from disposable goods to sustainable ones.
Specific: Start with just one product, like coffee, tea, or spices, and buy only Fair Trade versions of that product. Find a butcher who buys from local farmers, or a farmer who sells eggs. Buy clothes made in the USA, or from labels that ensure safe working conditions and fair pay for overseas employees (the website Groundswell has a recent series of three articles that discuss how to avoid “fast fashion”.
Measurable: Count the number of times you buy Fair Trade versus other products, or the number of items you buy that are produced locally instead of shipped long distance. Keep track of your impulse spending.
Attainable/Realistic: Start small and be consistent. It’s hard to find major clothing labels with 100% USA made goods, but you will be able to find a Fair Trade coffee at Starbucks. Choose one kind of purchase to make sustainable, and stick with it all year.
Time-Based: Use monthly milestones to wean yourself off purchases. Start by making every other shopping trip a “Fair Trade trip.” By the end of the year, work yourself up to regularly buying Fair Trade options.
For example: I resolve to support sustainable industry in 2015 by making sure all clothing I give as gifts throughout the year is made in the USA, and by buying only Fair Trade cocoa and baking chocolate.