When you think about the holidays, what is the most stressful part of the season? Is it gift shopping? Travel? For many people, the most stressful part of the holidays is setting and attaining those pesky New Year's resolutions. These resolutions will color the entire year; people will join gyms in droves to lose their winter weight, buy diet books and cookbooks in bulk and restock their pantries with foods that claim to be healthy and low-fat. But is this really the best way for us to start a new year?
Before I actually write my New Year's resolution, I always sit down and give myself credit for the small changes I have made in the last year. For those of you who are struggling to find ways to help the environment, this recap should be extremely helpful. Most of these resolutions were not just good for the environment; they helped me get healthier and save money. Instituting new goals and habits that will protect the environment can help you meet other goals, such as losing weight and saving money.
In 2007 and 2008, I set a lot of small goals for myself. Some of them ended up being the best decisions I have ever made, while some were very difficult to meet. Here are the New Year's resolutions I have made that have made the greatest impact on my carbon footprint, my budget, and my wasteline:
1) I switched over to a vegetarian diet.
2) I started shopping at local grocers and farmers markets rather than superstores.
I started using reusable bags and water bottles.
4) I started plugging all of my appliances (TV, computer, etc.) into power strips and turning them off when I wasn't using them. This is one goal I always have to explain. Large, electricity-intensive appliances (anything that has a light that remains on when the appliance is off, usually) can draw up to one fifth of the power they consume when they are on, when they are off. This is called "vampire electricity," and it increases your carbon footprint and your electricity bills. If you are going to make one small change to your life, I would recommend power strips.
And here is the single best change I made: from March until November, I rode my bike to work and to the grocery store/farmers market almost every day. On average, 33 percent of all harmful air emissions and greenhouse gas emissions come from automobiles. In Indiana, that number is closer to 47 percent. For every gallon of gasoline you burn, you are expelling 19.6 pounds of CO2. One of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to stop driving your car. For those people who already use mass transit or carpool some of the time, this will be an easy change to make. But in the midwest, and particularly in Indiana, there are few mass transit options and they are all underused.
After riding my bike for one year, here is a brief cost-benefit analysis:
Spent: $400, new bike
Saved: $60/month, parking
Saved: $40/month, gym membership
Saved: $40/month, gasoline
Total: I saved over $1000!
These are just the quantifiable benefits. Imagine driving through rush hour traffic, realizing you need an oil change, searching for a parking spot for 10 minutes, and then starting your workday. Odds are, you are already unhappy and stressed. Now imagine going for a bike ride through a park and then starting your work day. How much would you say a stress-free start to the day means to you?
Next year, I plan to push myself further along the goals I have already set and achieved. Rather than spending half of my food budget at local grocers, I want to try to get to 100 percent. I want to turn off all of my appliance power strips earlier in the evening and turn them on later in the afternoon. Rather than riding my bike most days, I want to ride my bike all days.
Hopefully, there are some ideas in this blog that you will find inspirational. There are a lot of simple, eco-friendly steps you can take that will actually save you a lot of money. If you haven't already, change your light bulbs, start recycling and turn down the thermostat. These changes require very little effort and up-front cost and will save you a lot of money in the long run.