How to Carry Out Your Green and Ethical New Year's Resolutions

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Now that 2012's finally arrived, many of us are trying to put our new year's resolutions into practice. Some of you may have resolved to make the switch to ethical shopping this year, or perhaps you're planning to overhaul your entire lifestyle and go green.

Making wholesale changes in shopping and lifestyle habits is a challenge. At first shopping ethically may be more time consuming, not to mention confusing, than conventional shopping. Facing the array of choices in the egg department of your local supermarket, from accredited free range to grain-fed and barn laid, could make your head spin.

Luckily there’s plenty of support and information out there. The internet is bursting with websites, blogs and forums that offer valuable guidance. Here are some great tips to help you make the switch, whether you’re planning to change the way you shop or want to make your entire lifestyle more sustainable.

* Give yourself time to adjust. If you try to make too many changes at once you may become discouraged. Start with the easiest changes and make progressively more challenging adjustments as your confidence grows. Two small shopping examples: Revlon is one of the larger cosmetics companies that doesn't test its products on animals; Bardot, Veronica Maine and Cue are Australian fashion brands that, while they lack green credentials, have been accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia. Easy green changes to make straight away include putting a 'no junk mail' sign on your mailbox, arranging to hire a green waste bin from your local council, and investigating whether your energy company provides green energy.

Set goals. This is a great way to motivate yourself. Goals should be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. Reward yourself for achieving your goals.

* Plan ahead.  Expect things to take longer, especially at first. If you’ve decided to start riding your bike to work, it may take a while to figure out the quickest way and to get your morning routine sorted; if you’ve decided to catch public transport to the food market, you’ll probably need to allocate more time. You may also have to put some thought into how you’ll shop, eg remembering to bring along your own carry bags, or buying equipment like panniers or a shopping trolley.

* Deal with setbacks. If you lapse by doing or buying something that goes against your principles, it’s not the end of the world. Making major changes takes time, and setbacks are part of the process. Forgive yourself and move on!

* Connect with others. Reaching out to likeminded people is a great way to motivate yourself to shop and live differently. Start a blog on your shopping/sustainability journey, a Facebook page on your favourite green or ethical cause, or a Twitter account. Humans are social creatures; it’s amazing how telling other people about the changes you’ve made, or would like to make, can motivate you. If you’d rather connect in the real world, join a green group, start your own, or enlist a friend who wants to make similar changes so you can encourage each other.

* The phrase think globally, act locally may be a cliche but it still holds. When deciding which websites and news sources to keep up with, it’s a good idea to choose a combination of those with international and general information on green and ethical issues, and those that focus on your country, state or local area.

* Research ethical and green claims using credible sources. It’s a great thing to read labels when you buy, but it’s not enough. You may need to research the various labels to ensure that the goods you’re interested in aren’t simply an example of ‘greenwash’. It’s probably safest to take a sceptical view of corporations and  to use credible sources to check green and ethical claims. The recent watering down of fair trade requirements by Fair Trade USA illustrates that if you want to be an aware consumer you need to stay informed of what companies and accreditation bodies are doing.

* Ask your favourite brands to make the changes you want. If enough people put pressure on mainstream brands to adopt ethical practices and sustainable or organic lines, they would be forced to do so. You could email brands you’ve stopped using for ethical reasons to let them know why you no longer buy their products, for instance.

* Shop locally where possible. Slow Food is a movement that encourages people to support small, local food producers and to adopt a seasonal diet (see website for more information). You can support some of its principles by buying your food at food markets, farmers’ markets, co-ops, organic grocery stores and local greengrocers as an alternative to the supermarket. Don’t confine your local shopping to food; you might be amazed at what your neighbourhood shopping strip has to offer.

* Connect with people in your local area. Many great local sustainability initiatives fly under the radar. Google a search for websites with information about sustainability in your local area or city. Is there a freecycling group in your neighbourhood, community garden, tool-sharing service or even a group that meets regularly to cook and share a meal? Sustainable Melbourne is an example of a website with regular updates of local initiatives.

* Check out local recycling options. Perhaps you’ve assumed that the only option for recycling in your area is putting out the council recycling bin once a week? You might be surprised at how many other options there are for recycling goods like mobile phones, batteries, printer cartridges, and even whitegoods and paint tins. Search local government and sustainability websites for more information, or google ‘recycling’ for your local area.

* Don’t pike out if you’re a renter. These days there are many resources available for adopting a greener lifestyle if you don’t own your own home. For example, Green Renters is a Melbourne-based not-for-profit group that provides advice on sustainable living for  renters.

Until next time!


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