Make your New Year’s Resolutions count

It’s thought the first New Years’ resolutions originated around 4,000 years ago with the ancient Babylonians making promises to repay their debts and return borrowed items to their rightful owners. And while many of us now opt for 12-month gym memberships or commit to a sober lifestyle, the psychology behind such pledges remains largely the same.

As humans, we still crave that sense of agency, the prospect of a fresh start and the belief we can shape our own destinies. And we can. As a species, we’re vastly capable. From creating beautiful music to space exploration to building global communications networks.

However, we are also prone to greed, selfishness and often, unfathomable stupidity.

For instance, scientists, environmentalists, and indigenous communities have raised red flags about climate-change and biodiversity loss for generations. But their expertise was repeatedly dismissed and belittled as ‘woke’ baloney by those profiteering from the exploitation of people and planet. The climate has always been changeable, right?

I mean, sure, there’s been fluctuations, but since the industrial revolution (when we began our love affair with fossil fuels) global warming has increased more quickly and on a much larger scale than we’ve ever seen before, disrupting our ecosystems in countless ways.

The irony is, that according to the World Bank, more than half the world’s economy is highly dependent on nature.

As individuals it can feel as though this is all largely out of our hands and we’re incapable of making a difference – but nothing could be further from the truth.

Which is why we’ve put together some New Years’ Resolutions that might just help save the planet.

1.          Stop buying unnecessary “stuff”

Before you buy something, ask yourself if you really need it? Over-consumption is how we got ourselves into this mess.

Cheap deals on sites like Temu and Shein are tempting, but the items rarely last and often have questionable supply-chains.

A much better option is to consider purchasing things second-hand or make like the Babylonians and borrow it from a friend or neighbour (just make sure you return it). Alternatively, you can hire anything from designer clothing to power tools these days.

2.         Make an effort to do your research

I know this can be a time suck, so start with products and services you buy and use on a regular basis. Can you switch to environmentally-preferable cleaning products or toilet paper? Our collective buying power is considerable and can make a difference.

To avoid falling victim to greenwashing, look out for independent ecolabels like Eco Choice Aotearoa, which are designed to take the hard-work out of responsible purchasing.

3.         Accept trade-offs

Have you ever wondered why environmentally-preferable products are sometimes slightly less effective when compared to stock-standard items? In the case of cleaning and laundry products, it’s likely because they’re not packed with harsh chemicals designed to annihilate everything in their path. Consequently, I will happily forgo laundry powders and detergents containing optical brighteners (to make my whites, brighter) because they’ll likely shorten the lifespan of my clothing, don’t biodegrade and are toxic to aquatic life.

4.         Find yourself some Kiwi no.8 wire

Kiwis are among the worst in the world when it comes to the amount of waste we produce; with a lot of what is sent to landfill able to repaired or repurposed.

We can turn this around by supporting businesses that offer repair services like Blunt umbrellas, taking broken items to Repair Cafes or learning how to fix things yourself through organisations like The Re-Creators. You can also sign Consumer NZ’s petition calling for a mandatory product repairability label.

5.         Take your palate on an adventure

Give a vegetarian meal or restaurant a try. I promise the establishment won’t be full of unwashed hippies and you will find a dish you enjoy. I recently introduced my husband to Korean Fried Cauliflower (KFC) at one of my favourite eating spots. We almost came to fisticuffs over the last delicious morsel. I suggest a restaurant rather than DIY because our hospitality scene needs the support, and there’s nothing like tasting something from a chef who knows what they’re doing.

Meat, particularly beef, is resource and emissions intensive. I’m not telling you to ditch it completely, just give something new a try – you might find yourself all over Meat-Free Monday before you know it.

6.         Stop wasting food

Did you know food waste makes up 4% of our total carbon emissions in Aotearoa? And costs the average Kiwi household around $650 per year?

For tips on reducing food waste, budget friendly recipes and meal planning, check-out Love Food Hate Waste.

7.         Take notice

Are our elected officials doing right by people and planet? This is not about picking a side, it’s about holding decision-makers to account, and making our preferences as constituents clear. You can do that in a number of ways; by joining a community protest against plans for a waste to energy plant in Te Awamutu, writing to your local MP, signing a petition against a resumption of offshore oil and gas exploration and voting for representatives who value the same things you do.

8.         Create a ripple effect

Finally, each of these suggestions will have infinitely more impact if you tell someone else about them. Share the changes you’re trying to make to reduce your environmental footprint and why it matters with your family, friends and workmates. Not in a preachy way, but casually over a coffee, beer or kombucha. Because a word from a trusted friend, is still one of the most powerful behavior change tools we have at our disposal (and if you happen to be mates with some of the decision-makers at our biggest fossil fuel companies, all the better).

**Please note, this is not an exhaustive list, merely a starting point for those unsure where to begin.

***This article was originally published in the NZ Herald in January 2024.