How to start living more sustainably by setting eco-friendly resolutions - and sticking to them

Making resolutions to be more sustainable should not be saved for when the clock strikes 12am on January 1.
Making resolutions to be more sustainable should not be saved for when the clock strikes 12am on January 1. Photo credit: Getty Images

As we near the end of February, many a New Year's resolution has already been relegated to next year, unceremoniously chucked in the 'too hard' basket. But while a quest to cut down on cheese might not be a matter of life or death, resolutions that may help save the planet are a little more urgent. 

Making resolutions to be more sustainable should not be saved for when the clock strikes 12am on January 1. There is never a better time than now to make a conscious decision to lessen your impact on the environment, whatever that may look like for you and your family. Whether it's making an effort to be more vigilant with the recycling, bulk-buying products, or swapping your gas-guzzling SUV for an EV, there's plenty of small changes we can adopt that make a big difference over time. The saying 'every little bit helps' couldn't be more true. 

If you've struggled to set and stick to goals in the past, never fear - social entrepreneur and scientist Brianne West is here to help. West is the founder of Ethique, a New Zealand-based beauty and cosmetics brand with a commitment to sustainability. Instead of packing the products in plastic bottles, Ethique's range of haircare, skincare and lotions and potions come in handcrafted, solid beauty bars - with zero plastic. Plus, one tree is planted for every order placed online. 

West gave Newshub her top tips on setting - and sustaining - 'eco-resolutions' that, unlike your fourth attempt at giving up chocolate, actually make a difference. 

'Eco-resolution' ideas to get you started

"Sometimes coming up with an idea is the hardest part. Here's a list to help you feel inspired," West says. 

To reiterate, you don't need to do all of these, or even a few of these. Picking one (and sticking to it) is a great start, and you can introduce more over time.

  • Stop buying stuff you don't need - save the money you would put towards unnecessary 'stuff' and save it for an experience instead
  • Walk, bike or use public transport instead of a car
  • Buy naked fruit and veggies - not the kind that come pre-packaged in plastic baggies
  • Buy in bulk
  • Support locally grown and made products - make a morning out of it and find a buddy to go with to the farmers market, local fresh product store or other local small businesses
  • Compost, compost, compost!
  • Grow your own fruit, herbs and vegetables - blast some music and put those green thumbs to work
  • Get crafty and DIY
  • Shop second-hand rather than buying new
  • Bake homemade dog treats rather than buying packaged ones
  • Swap to reusable menstrual products
  • #GiveUpTheBottle - stop buying products in plastic bottles
  • Switch to a reusable safety razor
  • Get a water filter and stop buying water bottles.
Growing your own produce, if you have the space and resources to do so, is a great eco-friendly resolution.
Growing your own produce, if you have the space and resources to do so, is a great eco-friendly resolution. Photo credit: Getty Images

How to stick to your eco-resolutions

Be specific

"Be specific! You don't need to make any drastic lifestyle changes. Choose one achievable eco-goal that you can focus on. The more specific it can be, the better," West advises.

Vague or unspecific goals - for example, 'I'm going to cut back on my water use' - can often make it hard to measure your success, which doesn't help when you're trying to stay motivated. Instead of simply pledging to reduce your water use, you could set a specific goal of reducing your showers to four minutes, and making sure you're turning off the tap when you're washing your face or brushing your teeth. 

Here's another example: instead of saying, 'I'm going to reduce the amount of plastic in my grocery shop', outline realistic ways this could be achieved. For example, you could start bulk-buying rice, instead of picking up a new bag every week or so (or using microwavable packets - we're all guilty of it). You could also purchase reusable bags for your fresh produce (they're super inexpensive!) that you can keep in your car, instead of relying on the supermarket's plastic bags. 

Stop buying plastic bottles - with so many fun and cute reusable drink bottles on the market, there's no excuse.
Stop buying plastic bottles - with so many fun and cute reusable drink bottles on the market, there's no excuse. Photo credit: Getty Images

One item at a time

To make your goals even more specific, you could focus on one item at a time. For example, cleaning your surfaces with reusable, washable cloths instead of paper towels. Or, instead of going to the mall for your next wardrobe refresh, commit to trawling the second-hand shops instead. It could even be as simple as purchasing a new reusable water bottle to keep hydrated hroughout the day and a keep-cup - to keep caffeinated.

"Your goal can even be as specific as choosing one product to switch at a time," West says. "If you're choosing to #GiveUpTheBottle, when you're getting down to your last squeeze of shampoo, for example, do some quick detective work and replace your usual product with a solid bar option."

Put a plan in place and set up reminders

"Studies show it only takes 30 days to build a habit. Use this to your advantage," West says.

Whether it's setting up a phone reminder, sticking handwritten notes on the door, or even placing items in strategic locations to make sure you don't forget them, every little bit will help you stick to your goal. For example, you could keep your reusable water bottle by the front door so you always take it with you - instead of resorting to plastic bottles when you're out and about. Or, stick a post-it note on the bathroom mirror reminding you to set a timer for a four-minute shower. There's plenty of ways you can hold yourself accountable.

Bike, bus or walk to work instead of taking the car.
Bike, bus or walk to work instead of taking the car. Photo credit: Getty Images

Find an eco-resolution buddy for support

"Having someone to lean on for advice, motivation or support is a great way to keep yourself on track, and to remind yourself that it's okay not to be perfect," West says.

Having a friend commit to eco-resolutions with you is a great way to hold one another accountable. Does your friend's overflowing recycling bin have some non-recyclables in there? Let 'em know and sort the rubbish out together. Or make a pact that every week or so, you will take it in turns to cart both of your soft plastics to a local soft plastic recycling bin. At the very least, it's great to have a like-minded pal to whinge to. 

Make it fun

"Being more conscious of your impact on the planet doesn't mean your resolutions have to be boring or a drag," West says. "Try to rethink your goals so they are first and foremost something you will find fun and rewarding. This will also mean you'll want to stick to them for good."

For example, if you're a fast-fashion fanatic looking to be more environmentally conscious, you can still go shopping every week - but swap the mall for second-hand stores. If you're a beauty buff always on the pulse of the latest products, do your research and find sustainable swaps for your shampoos and skincare. If you love to cook and try new cuisines, perhaps whip up two vegetarian meals a week - or get creative in the kitchen and make some fun snacks to take in reusable tupperware to work (instead of relying on the vending machine).

Track your progress

"Journal, keep a record on your phone, cross off days on a calendar - whatever works for you and your goal," West suggests.

"Keeping track of how you're doing will help you feel motivated and most importantly, show you how far you've come and any areas (if any) you could improve on."

You don't have to be perfect

"When it comes to a low-impact lifestyle, there's no 'one size fits all' and you really do have to find the solution that works best for you," West says.

"Even if you haven't followed your plan closely or have had a few diversions along the way, being more conscious of your day-to-day life and making simple, small changes to have a more positive impact on the planet is key. After all, our small, collective acts DO make a difference."

Renew your motivation

If you find yourself slipping back to old habits, that's totally okay. Take it as an opportunity to renew your goals and motivations. Maybe the goals you originally set were too ambitious or don't align with an area you're passionate about. Take this as a learning curve and really tailor your resolutions to what will work best for you and your lifestyle.

"How? Make a quick checklist to help you get back on track and find what works for you. Most importantly, have fun with it," West says.