Sustainable Resolutions For 2012

2012 has been designated International Year of Sustainable Energy for All. As the tradition goes at this time of the year, people make resolutions for the nascent year; considering the theme reserved for 2012, these plans should include actions to make our lives greener and more sustainable.

"The global community, and particularly people living in industrialized societies, have put unsustainable demands on our planet's limited resources," said Robert Engelman, President of the Worldwatch Institute, a global environmental research organization based on Washington, D.C. "If we expect to be able to feed, shelter, and provide even basic living conditions to our growing population in years to come, we must act now to change."

According to the UN, 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's Nourishing the Planet project. "Fortunately, the solutions to these problems can come from simple innovations and practices."

The Nourishing the Planet team recently traveled to 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and will be soon traveling to Latin America, to research and highlight such solutions. The overall objective of the project is to put a spotlight on innovations in agriculture that can help relieve hunger and poverty, and also protect the environment. These innovations are elaborated in Worldwatch's flagship annual report, State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet.

The organization says that hunger, poverty and climate change are issues that concern everyone and it recommends several steps that could make our lives greener in 2012. Here are some of them:

Recycle: Recycling is the first commandment of the church of green. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for each pound of aluminium 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! Put a separate container next to your trash can or printer, making it easier to recycle your bottles, cans, and paper.

Turn off the lights: You shouldn’t turn off the light only on March 31, when we’ll be celebrating Earth Hour. Whenever and wherever there’s no need for a light to be on, then it should be off. It’s as simple as that.

Switch to CFLs: Australia has already “banned the bulb” and by 2012 the country estimates it will have managed to avoid four million tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Anyone can make the switch, regardless of government policies. 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.

Say no to bottled water: Buying bottled water, especially in developed countries where tap water is as good as it gets, is obscene. Carry a re-usable bottle around with you, if you are always on the go. They only cost a few dollars but they will save a lot of plastic and money, too, since bottled water costs quite a bit of money.

Turn down the heat: By just adjusting the thermostats consumers could save up to 15 percent on heating and cooling bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Turning down the heat by 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours can result in savings of 5-15 percent on your home heating bill Use a programmable thermostat to control your heating settings.

Buy local: 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. Instead of relying exclusively on large supermarkets, consider farmers markets and local farms for your food.

Saddle up: Several cities across the U.S. are investing in new mobility options that provide exercise and offer an alternative to being cramped in subways or buses. Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C. have major bike sharing programs that allow people to rent bikes for short-term use. Similar programs exist in other cities, and more are planned for places from Miami, Florida, to Madison, Wisconsin. If your city does not have a bike share program, fret not. Many cities have bike lanes and trails to make cycling an easier and more pleasant activity.

Plant a garden: Growing your own vegetables is a simple way to bring fresh and nutritious food literally to your doorstep. Researchers at the FAO and 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. 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. You can plant some lettuce in a window box. Lettuce seeds are cheap and easy to find, and when planted in full sun, one window box can provide enough to make several salads worth throughout a season.

Compost: There’s no 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. If you are unsure about the right ways to compost, websites such as HowToCompost.org and organizations such as the U.S. Composting Council, provide easy steps to reuse your organic waste.

Go vegetarian: Livestock is the main source of emissions in the world; therefore adopting a plant-based diet is the single most effective sustainable action we can take. If you’re used to eating meat, start by reducing it incrementally (say, having three meat-free days per week). One good way to do that is to veganize your favorite dishes to give you motivation. The health benefits are immense, as well.

If you can’t stick to all of these resolutions, make sure to pick the ones you can adhere to in order to avoid frustration. Never overburden yourself, be happy and lead a green life. Have a happy, sustainable 2012!