Green Goal Setting

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I gave up on resolutions a few years ago because they only frustrated me. I was horrible at keeping them and then I felt guilty. This year, though, I’m going to try to set some goals for the year. Some may argue that it’s merely semantics: goals, resolutions, what’s the difference? I supoose the same tactics could apply no matter what you choose to call them, but goals, by nature, are specific. They often involve steps. My resolutions were always broad, sweeping statements about what I was going to start doing or stop doing. “I’m going to exercise more this year.” “I’m going to be kinder and gentler.” “I’m going to stop getting so frustrated.”

See. I set myself up.

So, goals.

Chris Guillebeau takes on a large goal-defining project each year that he calls his Annual Review. I’m intrigued, but haven’t ever taken the time to do it the way he does. It seems to be working well for him, though. 🙂 Before he begins setting goals for the year ahead, Chris asks himself 2 questions: What went well in the past year? What didn’t go very well in the past year? He uses this reflection to shape and define some of his goals going forward.

Trent Hamm does a 5 year sketch. He suggests getting a picture, either in writing or collage form, of what you’d like your life to be like in 5 years. It should take a while to come up with details. Once you have your ideas, you can begin pulling out projects and tasks and create specific, actionable steps to get there.

This year, I’m going to focus on getting specific with my goals. I think I’ll set up categories for them like Chris Guillebeau does. One of those categories will be my “Green Goals.” I’ll share my own green goals in another post, but if you’re interested in some green goal setting, here’s some help as you get started. Remember, the key is to make your goals as specific as possible. Saying “I’m going to be more green this year” won’t accomplish anything. Think about how you can be greener and then make a plan.

Recycling:  If you don’t recycle now, where can you begin? Maybe you’ll find out about the options available to you in your area. The website for the county or city where you live is a good place to start. Then make a commit to put something in the recycling bin each week.

If you do recycle already, you could find out how to recycle something else that you usually don’t bother with. For example, I have a huge collection of dead batteries. I’ve been putting off doing the research to find out how to recycle them. Maybe that will be one of my goals for this year: figure out what to do with the batteries and then do it!

Driving less: Define what you mean. Will you make some trips on foot or by bike instead of driving? If that’s not possible, will you combine trips so you’re not driving back and forth to the same area all the time? Which trips will you substitute or combine?

Buy organic: Try just one thing. I’d start with milk — based on the research about hormones and antibiotics in milk products, you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck (especially if you have kids) with organic milk. If you already buy organic milk, maybe you’ll commit to adding one more thing to the list.

Grocery bags: Willing to try (again) to use those reusable bags you have? This time, figure out how to make them a habit. Maybe you’ll decide to leave them in the front seat of your car or hang a little ribbon from something on the dashboard to serve as a reminder. Get your kids to help if they go shopping with you. Put them in charge of remembering the bags.

There are lots of ways to go after a goal-setting project. What I’ve learned from past experience is that without solid goals and a specific plan to achieve them, nothing much gets done.

It would be great if you’d share some of your green goals in the comments.

10 Things for Earth Day!


Happy Earth Day, Everyone. It would be great if  every day was Earth Day, but we can’t overlook the impact of even small starts. Today I want to suggest 10 things that are easy to commit to (or re-commit to) this Earth Day.

1. Recycle. If you’re not doing this already, please start. Lots of communities have curbside recycling service, making it even easier.

2. Turn off the faucet. When you brush your teeth, when you’re washing dishes, anytime water doesn’t have to be running to get the job done.

3. Remember to use those reusable bags. Keep them in your car. Fold them up and store them in one larger bag to make it easier to remember.

4. Reuse what you can; donate what you can’t. Get creative. Try to think of new uses for old things. If you truly have no use for something anymore, donate it if possible. Try Goodwill or The Salvation Army for household goods and clothing. Donate eye glasses through drop off locations at Lens Crafters and The Lions Club.
Use to learn more about where to donate electronic equipment.

5. Reuse grass clippings by adding them to your compost pile, or using them as mulch around plants and trees.

6. Go for the least amount of packaging possible. Buy in bulk when you can. Choose products that contain recycled packaging materials when available.

7. Use fewer disposables. Cut back on paper napkins, cups, and plates.

8. Get a reusable water bottle to replace all those plastic bottles.

9. Plant something. Even if it’s just some tomatoes. They do very well in pots if you have limited space. If you’re not into tomatoes, consider an indoor herb garden. Any food you grow yourself not only tastes better, but is better for the Earth — no emissions needed to get it from a far away place to your table.

10. Play outside. Turn off the television, video games and computer and have fun outside for a while.

If these ten things don’t work for you, spend a little time on Earth Day thinking of at least one thing you can commit to. Choose anything that works for you, but choose something. If everyone, everywhere did just one thing, we’d make great progress towards a greener, healthier world.

For more ideas and information, check out Planet Green’s Earth Day Resolutions and the Earth Day Network.

Photo Credit: wot nxt

A Few Updates

â—Š Check out the Green Mom’s Carnival hosted by Tiny Choices for lots of great tips on Green Spring Cleaning. My post on Spring Cleaning made the list!

â—Š Allie at Allie’s Answers has a great Gaim reversible rug giveaway. The rug, made from recycled soda bottles, is crafted by artisans in Thailand who receive fair wages for their work.

â—Š A couple of site updates: I’ve added two new pages, a Green Resources page and a Take Action page. The Green Resources page highlights companies that are committed to safer and more eco-friendly products. I’ll regularly update this page as I find more companies committed to these causes. The Take Action page is for people who are feeling overwhelmed, but also want to try to do something to make things better. Check them out when you can. Links to both pages will remain in the navigation bar.

Overwhelmed? Where to Begin

I was talking with my mother last week. I told her about the lists of personal care and baby/kid products I’d put together based on EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. She’s not into computers, so I printed off the personal care list for her to keep in her purse when she’s shopping. Our conversation about safe and unsafe products moved to a discussion of all the “high-hazard” products we’ve been using for years, to why the government allows these products to be sold and on and on. Finally, she commented that while she appreciates my efforts, it all seems so overwhelming. Things are such a mess with regulation and there are so many hazards out there, it makes her feel like putting her head in the sand. While she won’t actually do this, I’ve been thinking about what she said. It is overwhelming. There is so much work to be done, and so much mess to be undone, as far as chemical and toxin regulation goes. And that’s just one aspect of what concerns me about the world my children are growing up in. I’m glad I’m more aware than I used to be, but at the same time, the problems often seem insurmountable. When I look at all of the issues I read about: so much waste, not enough recycling, over-consumption,  overpopulation, big agriculture, greenwashing, unfair wages for the working poor. . . you get the idea. If you’re reading this blog, I imagine these are areas that concern you, too.

So what do we do? Most of us won’t bury our heads in the sand, even though sometimes we may like to. But, we can’t solve all the problems on our own, either. This is what has worked for me so far:

Start somewhere. Yes the problems are many, but pick one, any one, and do something. Even if it’s one small thing. Something is always better than nothing.

Remember that you do not live in a vacuum. While your one small thing may seem insignificant, there are millions of people all over the world who are also doing things, some big, some small. It all adds up.

Educate yourself. The problems are big, but if you take the time to learn more about them, you’ll likely find steps you can take, often with little effort, to make things better.

Commit to being more conscious of your actions and your purchases. Before you toss something out or buy another thing you may not need, take a few seconds to think about it. Does the item really need to be thrown away, or can it still be used. If it can’t, can it be recycled in some way? Do you really need to purchase another — fill in the blank or can you make do just fine with what you have?

For those of you looking for specific things you can do to improve the state of the world and the health and safety of you and your family, here’s a list:

Start recycling. Many communities offer curbside recycling. Most others have recycling drop-off points. Check out your options.

Print off the lists of safer products for you and your kids and take them with you when you shop. If you switch out just one high-hazard product you normally use for one that is safer, you’ll be better off. Most, if not all, of these products are available in stores you frequent anyway. There’s no great effort involved, and probably no more expense.

Buy better food. Barbara Kingsolver points out in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, that Americans will spend loads of money on everything except their food. The one place we always seem to want to cut costs is with the food we put in our bodies. Go for more real food, less processed stuff. If you eat meat, buy from farmers who raise their animals without hormones or antibiotics.

Switch out your incandescent bulbs for CFL’s. They’ll last a lot longer and save you money in electricity.

Turn off the water when you brush your teeth.

Use a car wash instead of washing your car at home. It uses much less water anyway and many car wash facilities recycle most of their water.

Some of these suggestions are more involved than others, but nearly all of them ask you to simply stop and think about your habits. The problems and dangers in the world are incredibly overwhelming, but we must try to find the “space” Al Gore mentioned in An Inconvenient Truth, “between denial and despair.” Each step counts. What step will you take?

Why Fair Trade Matters

The things I’m most interested in when it comes to food and drink are buying products that are free of chemicals and pesticides, and buying locally whenever possible. There are some items that cannot be purchased locally, and some of those, I’ve been unwilling to do without. Two of those items are coffee and tea. When spending money on items from abroad (or even close to home, for that matter) I believe I have a social responsibility to purchase from companies that promote fair wages and fair working conditions for their employees and suppliers. We’ve all heard about the sweat shop labor in China and in other countries and many of us changed our buying habits as a result. An issue that has received less press, but one that is equally appalling, involves the conditions of, and wages paid to, coffee and cocoa farmers. This is where Fair Trade Certification come in.

What is the problem?

According to Global Exchange,

The United States consumes one-fifth of all the world’s coffee, making it the largest consumer in the world. But few Americans realize that agriculture workers in the coffee industry often toil in what can be described as “sweatshops in the fields.” Many small coffee farmers receive prices for their coffee that are less than the costs of production, forcing them into a cycle of poverty and debt.

What can we do?

Look for the Fair Trade label on the coffee and tea products we buy. According to Transfair, a nonprofit, third-party certifier of fair trade products:

The Fair Trade Certified™ label guarantees:

A fair price
The Fair Trade Certified label guarantees that farmers and workers received a fair price for their product. The Fair Trade price means that farmers can feed their families and that their children can go to school instead of working in the fields.

Quality products
By receiving a fair price, Fair Trade producers can avoid cost-cutting practices that sacrifice quality. The Fair Trade producers’ traditional artesanal farming methods result in exceptional products.

Care for the environment
Most Fair Trade Certified coffee, tea and chocolate in the US is certified organic and shade grown. This means that the products you buy maintain biodiversity, provide shelter for migratory birds and help reduce global warming.

Community impact
Empowered by the economic stability provided by Fair Trade, members of the COSURCA coffee cooperative in Colombia successfully prevented the cultivation of more than 1,600 acres of coca and poppy, used for the production of illicit drugs. In Papua New Guinea, the AGOGA cooperative, is investing in a medical team to meet the healthcare needs of its isolated rural community. In the highlands of Guatemala, indigenous Tzutuhil Mayans in the La Voz cooperative are sending local kids to college for the first time. Near Lake Titicaca, in Peru, the CECOVASA cooperative is assisting members from Quechua and Aymara indigenous groups in raising coffee quality and transitioning to certified organic production.

“The fair price is a solution. It has given us the chance to pay a good price to our farmers. Those who are not in Fair Trade want to participate. For us it is a great opportunity. It gives us hope.”
-Benjamin CholotĂ­o

Fair Trade coffees and teas can be purchased through a variety of companies. Two are:

Equal Exchange, offering coffees, teas, cocoa products, and snacks.

Green Mountain Coffee has an extensive line of Fair Trade Coffees including Newman’s Own Organics, as well as Fair Trade Teas and Hot Cocoa.

Fair Trade does not necessarily mean more expensive. I’ve been buying Nell’s Breakfast Blend, one in the Newman’s Own line, from Green Mountain for some time now. It costs no more than the non-Fair Trade coffee I’d been buying before. All it takes is a little time to consider where our purchasing dollars go.