Reducing Your Impact: A Guide to New Year's Resolutions for 2010

When writer Colin Beavan set out to become the No Impact Man, it wasn't because of any near-death experience, New Year's resolution, or other catalyzing moment in his life. He noticed a heat wave ripping through Manhattan in January, and realized something big was going on. He didn't know much about global warming at the time, but he recognized it was one of the most important things happening in our lifetimes, and wanted to do something about it.

It's no coincidence that Beavan's alter-ego sounds kind of like a superhero name. In a lot of ways No Impact Man was trying to do something unreal: Live in Manhattan with his wife, daughter, dog, and produce no environmental impact whatsoever. The thing is, and this is something that Beavan's new No Impact Project tries really hard to point out, reducing your impact on the planet doesn't have to just be reserved for caped crusaders in a Marvel comic or blockbuster movie, people who are as fictional as Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. You don't have to unplug your refrigerator or stop buying toilet paper just yet (yes, Beavan did both those things). Being green can be as simple as taking a look at your life, and trying to find ways reduce what you consume, what you waste, and how you do what you do.

Now's the time to set those New Year's resolutions. And hopefully we will all strive to be smarter and greener in our daily decisions. But all too often--if you're like me--New Year's resolutions lose their luster after a month or two. The gym seems that much farther away. That chocolate chip cookie looks that much tastier. So what happens to that pledge to reuse what exists in the world? Or, to only take public transportation? Or, to eat locally sourced food? As many of us consider resolutions for tomorrow, here are a few tips for making one that's right for you.

Be realistic, but ambitious too

If everyone had as much courage (or what others might jokingly call liberal personal hygiene standards) as the No Impact Man, can you imagine the kind of world we would live in? Plastic water bottles and gas guzzling cars would be things of the past. Unfortunately, this isn't going to be a reality any time soon.

While it's important to be realistic about what we all can do--for someone living in a rural town, only taking public transportation would probably be pretty tough--it's also important to realize that there are lots of simple changes that you can make in your life that can go a long way.

Pledging to buy only used, vintage, or repurposed products, for example, could prevent the need for countless products to be produced new, not to mention the environmental impact of sourcing materials, producing the item, and shipping it to you. Plus, you might be surprised by the types of things that you can get used or refurbished (like golf clubs, laptops, or furniture) that is as good quality as new at a fraction of the price.

Be thoughtful

Planet Green has covered The Uniform Project before, and in many ways, something like that is helping to redefine how people think about fashion. One woman pledged to wear the same dress every day for an entire year as a fundraiser to support an organization that works with impoverished schoolchildren in India. She's styling new looks for the dress every day with different used and vintage accessories.

Though her year-long exercise was not necessarily a New Year's resolution either, it's an amazing testament to how being stylish and fashionable doesn't necessarily mean having the newest and latest. It can be as easy as going into your closet and giving old things new lives.

Be small-minded

It can pretty hard for most of us to see how buying something like refurbished electronics or vintage clothing would do anything to help combat something as big and confusing as climate change. But the incredible thing is that is exactly what's happening. The amount of used laptops that were bought on eBay instead of new ones in stores in one year, for example, was the environmental equivalent of taking almost 12,000 cars off the road, according to the research firm Cooler and the EPA. It's incredibly inspiring to think of the power of our small actions aggregating to make a substantial difference in the world.

So, the next time you see that canvas bag staring at you as you walk out the door for the grocery store, pick it up. Next time you have to buy a new pair of jeans, get a pair of vintage ones. Next time you have a chance to carpool to work, do it. It's the smallest of actions that can have the biggest significance of all.


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