The director of SCU's Office of Sustainability, Lindsey Cromwell Kalkbrenner, suggests five simple resolutions you can make to help the planet and save some money. This article was originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle on December 31, 2012.
While world leaders work to hammer out global solutions to climate change, there are many ways individuals can make sustainability a personal New Year's resolution in 2013. Sustainability requires us to more closely examine our relationship with the environment as well as with others around us. Here are five simple resolutions you can make to help the planet and save you money and time.
1. Spend your time with people instead of buying energy-sucking, landfill-bound gifts.
For friends' and family birthdays this year, give experiences that can be enjoyed together. Memories last longer than gadgets, and leave you more fulfilled as a gift giver. Rather than spend the weekend indoors in front of a screen (TV, tablet, gaming console), volunteer with friends or as a family. The happier we are, the better we get along with others. Cooperation and collaboration are essential to solving the climate crisis and many other problems we face. Why not approach them from a better frame of mind?
2. Eat less meat.
You don't need to be a vegetarian, but meat is a large contributor to global warming and uses a lot of resources. Reduce portion sizes by making veggies the focus of the meal. Try Meatless Mondays. For the meat you do eat, buy locally raised products. You'll help the local economy as well as reduce emissions associated with transportation.
3. Cook at home and buy organic—for more reasons than you might think.
Organically grown produce is said to improve our health and reduce chemicals released in the environment, but it is also better for the farmers who grow our produce. Conventional farmers frequently are exposed to harmful chemicals via fertilizers and pesticides, so choosing organic produce supports farmer health. That means more efficient use of our health care system. If you can't purchase all-organic, be strategic. The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit that disseminates information to protect public health and the environment, provides a shopping guide to pesticides in produce. Its guide calls out a "dirty dozen" fruits and vegetables that absorb or retain pesticides more than others. To avoid them, buy organic, the group suggests. This list is available at www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.
Cook dinner at home one more night a week than you do now. Make it a family affair. You'll save money, reduce packaging (if you tend to order takeout), and spend quality time with the kids while teaching them healthy food habits.
Consider buying in bulk. You can find healthy food that's cheaper and requires less packaging. You'll make fewer trips to the store. If you shop in bulk bins for grains and nuts, you can buy only what you need and reduce wasted food.
4. Understand your trash.
Many cities now offer curbside collection of food scraps/compostable waste. Dedicate one month to learning your city's system. The following month, focus on one type of landfill waste each month and figure out how to avoid it or substitute a reusable/recyclable/compostable alternative. One idea: Stop junk mail with CatalogChoice.org, a free online tool that contacts mailers on your behalf. This will reduce wasted paper, and save time—yours and your postal worker's. (I noticed a 75 percent decrease in junk mail just a few weeks after signing up.)
5. Use energy efficiently.
Plugged-in electronics continue to draw electricity even when they are off or in "sleep mode." Plug kitchen appliances into a power strip and turn it off when you leave the house or go to bed. That will save you time and money.
Also, consider turning off your car's engine if you plan to idle for more than a minute. Idling emissions are really bad for the people near the car. It's something to think about while picking up or dropping off kids at school.
This year, make the conscious choice to improve your quality of life. Build relationships in your community, know that your food choices are fulfilling your body and positively affecting the farmers who grew it. Know that your daily decisions have an impact on the world around you.
For more information, check out these links:
How Santa Clara University is a creative laboratory for sustainability: www.scu.edu/sustainability.
Top 10 home energy tips: sfg.ly/Z52m20.
Do-gooder apps: sfg.ly/Tt41dW.
Lindsey Cromwell Kalkbrenner is the director of the Office of Sustainability at Santa Clara University. Santa Clara University is on its way to becoming carbon neutral by the end of 2015 and has a STARS Silver Rating. STARS is a rating system developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.