As one year turns to the next, we're often inclined to evaluate how we've fared in the past year and think about ways to advance our happiness, well-being and impact on the world. Resolving to shrink our environmental footprint is a triple-win because many ecological practices improve our health, contentment and finances, and help build community.
It can seem overwhelming to decide where to begin, given the many issues and options facing us and the scope of our planet's problems. It's important to focus on doing what we can and keeping things positive.
For example, start with a few small actions or goals, then scale up. Maybe set up a challenge with family, friends or co-workers and celebrate progress such as lower utility bills.
For 2011, here are 11 ways to get going:
1. Connect with nature: Take a class or check out some of the many nature guides who can help you enjoy more outdoor recreation this year. This can enhance our understanding of ecological systems and solutions and help us discover our interests. Two possible groups to check out are KS Wild (www.kswild.org) and Siskiyou Field Institute (www.thesfi.org).
2. Greener cuisine: Savor local and organic foods. You could join a community-supported agriculture program, shop at farmers markets or start a garden. Organic methods keep hormones, antibiotics, synthetic chemicals and genetically modified organisms out of the soil and our bodies. Local farming preserves land, saves fuel and supports regional economies. Find information at www.buylocalrogue.org.
3. Power down: Contact your utility to ask about free energy audits, conservation tips and financial incentives for home and business improvements. Dress for the climate, turn off unused devices, take low-cost steps such as using compact fluorescent bulbs and light-emitting diodes, insulation and weather stripping, and go from there. Find help online at www.energytrust.org and www.energy.gov/energysavingtips.htm.
4. Earthly energy: Buy green power, purchase renewable energy credits or install solar or wind devices to reduce fossil-fuel use, pollution and climate impact.
5. Fuel frugality: Bike, walk, carpool or take public transit instead of driving alone to save money and emissions, get in shape and make new friends. Replace low-mileage vehicles with high-miles-per-gallon models or join a car share. On the Web: www.rvtd.org/way_to_go_program.php.
6. Use less: Consider absolute needs when tempted by a purchase, look for used items, cancel unwanted junk mail, choose reusables over disposables and forgo bottled water and single-serve items. Check out www.jcsmartworks.org.
7. Slash your trash: Buy less, select unpackaged or minimally packaged things in containers that can be recycled or composted and follow through to keep materials out of landfills. Find tips at www.jcrecycle.org.
8. Be water-wise: Take shorter showers, turn water off when shaving and brushing teeth, put aerators on faucets and shower heads, get a rain barrel, install drip irrigation, use mulch and choose native plants for landscaping. Check out www.wateruseitwisely.com for ideas.
9. Shop smarter: Buy in bulk and look for environmentally preferable items, such as recycled, renewable, reusable, nontoxic, recyclable, compostable and energy-efficient. The site www.ecolabelindex.com/ecolabels has ideas.
10. Support a cause: Volunteer, donate and advocate. It feels great and makes a difference.
11. Learn and teach: Read labels, stay informed on issues that matter, ask others for tips and share your experience to drive wider change and keep improving.
Cheers to a year of healthy, green living.
Melissa Schweisguth is a sustainability professional who grew up on an organic homestead and savors the rewards of living lightly, gardening organically and buying local foods.