The Can't Fail Guide to Sustainable New Year's Resolutions

So, it's 2017. The new year. Lots of changes will be taking place in 2017, most of them we can't control. Which is why our personal food choices matter now more than ever. This is where New Year's resolutions can come in handy. Resolving to be more sustainable in the new year is a great way to make the world a better place and your life a healthier one.

Unfortunately, only eight percent of people say their New Year's resolutions were successful. Really - only eight percent! To help you out, we've come up with a can't-fail strategy to help you pick resolutions that hit the right balance of being both feasible AND impactful.

1. Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew!

Be honest with yourself! Try not to resolve to do something that deep down you know is never going to work. You're busy, you can't control everything and you live on a budget. We understand: it's why we encourage you to do what you can to live a more sustainable life. After all, when compared with the alternative, every little bit helps.

2. Have the Biggest Impact Possible

While it is definitely important to choose a resolution that you'll actually accomplish, keep in mind that some resolutions have a bigger impact than others. If you're trying to decide between a few, pick the one with the biggest impact. Knowing the importance of what you're doing will help you get through the tough times of wanting to break your resolution. For help, use our site to research the differences and nuances of eating sustainable food.

To illustrate this point, here's an example: if you want to reduce the amount of water you use (which is a great resolution, btw) then use the Water Footprint Calculator and pay close attention to how much your water footprint goes up with each question. You'll notice that your meat consumption makes a huge difference on your overall water footprint. So if you want to save the most water, cut out some of the meat you eat. If cutting out meat in general isn't something you're willing to do, cut out some beef. This way you're making the biggest impact you can.

3.  The Resolution Sweet Spot

It kind of sounds like the above two strategies are at odds with one another. They're really not. The first is about the breadth of your resolution and the second is about what area to pick. This one is about how much to do - and you've really got two forces at work:

  • On the one hand, you have a direct relationship between the amount of effort you expend and the size of the impact
  • On the other hand, you have an inverse relationship between how hard something is and how likely you are to do it (also called the "Ain't Nobody Got Time For That" Coefficient).

Try and maximize your impact by picking a resolution that is around the intersection of these two forces. Like this:

The Sustainable Resolution Sweet Spot

4.  What Bothers You?

There's probably a less-than-sustainable habit you have that bothers you. We've all got them, whether we like to admit it or not. Maybe you sometimes pitch compostable food scraps in the trash or maybe there's a processed food you can't live without. Pick the things that you'd like to change in your day-to-day life and resolve to reduce or cut them out. You'll be doing yourself and the environment a favor.

5.  Be Specific

Try making a specific resolution - meaning, don't just choose a broad change and not specify any real goals. Pick actual actions with specific targets. For instance, instead of going with something like, "I want to eat more sustainable food," instead resolve to spend a specific amount of money per month on organic vegetables and/or sustainable animal products and resolve to eat them that month. If you're trying to reduce the amount of times you do or eat something that's not very sustainable, you can set up the specific details in advance. The perfect example of this is to do a Meatless Monday for your New Year's resolution.

6.  Positive Reinforcement

This is a quick one but a big one! Build some positive reinforcement into your resolution. Try tracking your impact in a place that's very visible so you're constantly reminded that your resolutions are worth it. Build in celebrations and rewards when you hit milestones. For instance, when you save 10,000 gallons of virtual water or complete a month of composting all your food scraps, treat yourself!

7.  Variety is the Spice of Life aka, Beating Commitment Problems

Okay, let's face it. One of the big reasons it's hard to stick to a New Year's resolution is that it's supposed to last a whole year. So try picking a different sustainable resolution for each month. Not only do you switch things up to keep it fun, you get to test out if each resolution is something you can commit to for life. Plus, you can time the resolutions to help you be more successful (like biking in the summer).

So, to help anyone interested in taking the calendar approach - and for those of you who just want some resolution ideas - here's a calendar of resolutions to try:

  • January: Eat one meal a week that features a dish made of ingredients that are in season in the winter. Find what's in season in your neck of the woods in the Seasonal Food Guide.
  • February: Set up a composting system that fits your lifestyle and use it all month. It should be so easy that you'll be able to do it for the rest of year. 
  • March: Volunteer each week at a farm-to-school project.
  • April: Find your Water Footprint at the beginning of the month and use these tips to save water. Take your water footprint at the end of the month to see your reduction.
  • May: Volunteer each weekend at a local farm or community garden.
  • June: Only eat local veggies grown at farms within a set number of miles from your home.
  • July: Each weekend, spend a set amount of money at a farmers' market or sustainable shop.
  • August: Take advantage of all that summer produce and do a Meatless Monday each week.
  • September: Don't waste any food: don't throw anything away that could be saved, frozen or composted.
  • October: For the whole month, don't eat anything with added sugar. If you want, allow sustainable sugar alternatives. Then treat yourself with sugary stuff on Halloween as a celebration.
  • November: Make sure every animal product you consume came from a source that prioritizes animal welfare, such as anything certified by Animal Welfare Approved.
  • December: Make sure every gift you give was sourced sustainably and certified fair trade, or make it yourself.

Image "HAPPY NEW YEAR" by Magnus Johansson on Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.

A version of this post was originally published in December 2015.