While any time is the right time to cut back on some of our traditional excesses—especially following a holiday season fraught with over-consumption—a new year is a good time to look for, and make, sustainable choices in our lives.
Understandably, every household will make different choices. The important thing is to reflect on our lifestyle and then take whatever steps we can to ensure a more sustainable future for ourselves, our community and our grandchildren’s grandchildren. An ancient Iroquois principle advises us to consider how any undertaking will affect the land, water, air, animals, birds, plants and our children—seven generations into the future.
Here are six tips we can all incorporate into our plans for 2023:
1. Avoid adding unwanted clothing to the landfill. Shop for durability and quality. The “disposable mindset” sends over two million tonnes of used clothing to landfill every year in Canada. Every time you look for space in your closet to make room for new items, take the same number of used garments to a local charity or thrift shop so someone else can enjoy them. While you’re at the thrift stores, buy more things from them. There’s good stuff in there – even treasures! Become a champion of the circular economy.
2. Reduce your personal greenhouse gas emissions. Monitor your behavior and look for opportunities to cut back or even eliminate the use of fossil fuels. For example, whenever you can, leave your car in the drive and walk instead (that’s a win-win). Do you really need that second car? Avoid drive-throughs and vehicle-idling. Cycle, walk or take the bus whenever that is an option. Fly less. Avoid going on cruises. At home, pop on a sweater and some cozy socks instead of cranking up the thermostat on those dark and cold winter nights. Is it time to switch out your old gas furnace for a more efficient heat pump?
3. Eat less meat. Rich nations’ appetites for beef, pork and processed chicken have reached a tipping point. The research is clear — a diet heavy in meat not only increases the risk of obesity, cancer and heart disease, but it also makes the planet sick. The livestock sector — raising cows, pigs and chickens — generates as much greenhouse gas emissions as all cars, trucks and automobiles combined. This doesn’t mean that everyone must adopt a meatless diet tomorrow, but shifting to more plant-based foods is essential to combat climate change and myriad other problems caused by industrial livestock production. Commit to reducing your meat and dairy consumption by one, two, three meals each week, and tell five friends about your decision to find alternative proteins. Make fresh fruits and vegetables a bigger part of your diet whenever you can.
4. Reduce personal waste. Plastic single-use packaging is the bane of sustainability. It’s virtually impossible to eliminate it entirely, but whenever you can, buy more local food in bulk, grow your own food, or send a message to manufacturers and retailers by leaving unnecessary packaging at the store. And don’t stop at just reducing your own waste – take an empty bag with you on your walks and pick up litter you find along the way. It’s a good feeling!
5. Electrify just about everything – appliances, home heating and yes, cars. Electricity is Canada’s cleanest energy source for many provinces, including Ontario. We must replace fossil fuels with clean electricity. By mid-century, according to studies, clean electricity will make up half or more of our energy mix, heating our buildings and powering our vehicles. Electrifying as much as possible with clean energy will be a pillar of Canada’s efforts to reach zero carbon emissions.
6. Learn more and become active. Learning more about sustainability and how to make choices that will reduce our carbon footprint or waste is a great resolution for 2023. Get engaged. Get more engaged! Ask questions and seek answers. The internet, libraries and local activist groups are great places to start. Boycott companies that actively damage the environment for profit. Support candidates and political parties that are serious about climate action.
Join or support Sustainable Orillia (www.sustainableorillia.ca ). The sustainability movement isn’t an exclusive club or cause – everyone is invited. The more people are informed, engaged and changing behaviors, the greater chance we have to turn the tide.
Whatever resolutions you make for 2023, remember that our planet needs a lot more people changing our behaviours to stop the erosion of our environment and our quality of life. In doing your part, you also become a role model and a reason for others in your family and community to follow your lead. Everyone can be a leader in creating a sustainable future.