As the old year draws to a close, many of us are looking at what we want to do differently in the New Year and living more sustainably is often at the top of people’s list of resolutions.
The Worldwatch Institute, an independent research organization based in Washington, D.C. works on energy, resource, and environmental issues. It has compiled a list of simple steps that will improve the environmental pressures people put on the planet and help fuel the local economy.
The United Nations has designated 2012 as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All. Broadening access to sustainable energy is essential to solving many of the world's challenges, including food production, security and poverty.
"With so many hungry and poor in the world, addressing these issues is critical," said Danielle Nierenberg, director of Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet project. "Fortunately, the solutions to these problems can come from simple innovations and practices."
Here are 12 simple steps the Institute recommends to go green in 2012:
In 2009, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to require all homes and businesses to use recycling and composting collection programs, according to the Institute. As a result, more than 75 percent of all material collected is being recycled, diverting 1.6 million tons from the landfills annually—double the weight of the Golden Gate Bridge. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for each pound of aluminum recovered, Americans save the energy resources necessary to generate roughly 7.5 kilowatt-hours of electricity—enough to power a city the size of Pittsburgh for six years!
To help people understand what can be recycled and which bins to place stuff in, that explain how easy it is to recycle.
2. Turn off the lights
Make an impact every day by turning off lights during bright daylight, or whenever you leave a room. On the last Saturday in March, March 31 in 2012, hundreds of people, businesses, and governments around the world turn off their lights for an hour as part of
3. Make the switch
In 2007, Australia became the first country to "ban the bulb," drastically reducing domestic usage of incandescent light bulbs, according to the Institute. By late 2010, incandescent bulbs had been totally phased out, and, according to the country's environment minister, this simple move has made a big difference, cutting an estimated 4 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2012.
A bill in Congress to eliminate incandescent in the United States failed in 2011, but you can still make the switch at home. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) use only 20-30 percent of the energy required by incandescents to create the same amount of light, and LEDs use only 10 percent, helping reduce both electric bills and carbon emissions.
4. Turn on the tap
The bottled water industry sold 8.8 billion gallons of water in 2010, according to Worldwatch, generating nearly $11 billion in profits. Yet plastic water bottles create huge environmental problems.
“The energy required to produce and transport these bottles could fuel an estimated 1.5 million cars for a year, yet approximately 75 percent of water bottles are not recycled—they end up in landfills, litter roadsides, and pollute waterways and oceans” the Institute states in a report.
While public tap water is subject to strict safety regulations, the bottled water industry is not required to report testing results for its products.
World Watch recommends filling up your glasses and reusable water bottles with water from the sink. The United States has more than 160,000 public water systems, and by eliminating bottled water you can help to keep nearly 1 million tons of bottles out of the landfill, as well as save money on water costs.
5. Turn down the heat
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that consumers can save up to 15 percent on heating and cooling bills just by adjusting their thermostats and turning down the heat by 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit
6. Support food recovery programs
Each year, roughly a third of all food produced for human consumption—approximately 1.3 billion tons—gets lost or wasted, including 34 million tons in the United States, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Grocery stores, bakeries, and other food providers throw away tons of food daily that is perfectly edible but is cosmetically imperfect or has passed its expiration date. In response, food recovery programs run by homeless shelters or food banks collect this food and use it to provide meals for the hungry, helping to divert food away from landfills and into the bellies of people who need it most.
You can go through your cabinets and shelves and donate any non-perishable canned and dried foods that you won't be using to .
7. Buy local
, falling between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, was established in 2010 as a way to support small businesses during the busiest shopping time of the year. Author and consumer advocate Michael Shuman argues that local small businesses are more sustainable because they are often more accountable for their actions, have smaller environmental footprints, and innovate to meet local conditions—providing models for others to learn from.
Instead of relying exclusively on large supermarkets, consider the , which starts in May or subscribing to a community supported agriculture farm such as right here in the Sammamish Valley. You can also buy local farm fresh eggs from and . Food from these sources is usually fresher and more flavorful, and your money will be going directly to these food producers.
8. Get out and ride
We all know that carpooling and using public transportation helps cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, as well as our gas bills. And now with , it is even more costly to drive into Seattle.
There are several great bike shops in Redmond, including , , and , plus Cascade Bicycle Club has great information on trails, bike lanes, bike safety and other cycling information.
9. Share a car
Car sharing programs spread from Europe to the United States nearly 13 years ago and are increasingly popular, with U.S. membership jumping 117 percent between 2007 and 2009.
According to the University of California Transportation Center, each shared car replaces 15 personally owned vehicles, and roughly 80 percent of more than 6,000 car-sharing households surveyed across North America got rid of their cars after joining a sharing service. In 2009, car-sharing was credited with reducing U.S. carbon emissions by more than 482,000 tons.
earlier this year and offers two vehicles that can be rented by the hour.
10. Plant a garden
Growing your own vegetables is a simple way to bring fresh and nutritious food literally to your doorstep. Researchers at the United Nations Development Programme estimate that 200 million city dwellers around the world are already growing and selling their own food, feeding some 800 million of their neighbors, according to Worldwatch.
Growing a garden doesn't have to take up a lot of space, and in light of high food prices and recent food safety scares, even a small plot can make a big impact on your diet and wallet. Need help getting started? King County Master Gardeners are volunteers that are eager to help newbie gardeners, they can be found at every spring.
And what better way to fertilize your garden than using your own composted organic waste? You will not only reduce costs by buying less fertilizer, but you will also help to cut down on food and other organic waste. Need help figuring it all out? King County Master Recycling Composters can help; check the website here.
Waste Management also allows residents to put food scraps directly into their yard waste bins. Click here for more info on the program.
12. Reduce your meat consumption
Livestock production accounts for about 18 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for about 23 percent of all global water used in agriculture, according to Worldwatch.
You don't have to become a vegetarian or vegan, but by simply cutting down on the amount of meat you consume can go a long way. Consider substituting one meal day with a vegetarian option. And if you are unable to think of how to substitute your meat-heavy diet, websites such as Meatless Monday and Eating Well offer numerous vegetarian recipes that are healthy for you and the environment.
Not willing to cut down on your meat? You can still support the environment by buying meat raised organically or locally, such as is sold at .