Why We Aren’t as Good at Saving the Earth as We Want to Be

Three brain traps that make us wasteful and how to outsmart them.

three-brain-traps-that-make-you-wasteful-christine-carter

A little while ago at a birthday soiree, I got to sit across from one of UC Berkeley’s cutting-edge ocean researchers.

I asked him to explain to me how climate change is affecting fish populations, and he responded by saying that “climate change is happening too slowly.” He lamented that while it is true that marine life as we know it will effectively be “dead by 2050,” the die-outs are happening too gradually for most folks to care enough to change.

Uh, I don’t know about you, but 2050 doesn’t seem that far away. That doesn’t seem like slow change to me; it seems dramatic, and tragic.

This really lit a fire under my tuna-eating self*. But seeing an oncoming train and actually stopping it are two entirely different matters. I could list a hundred — no, a thousand — small things that we could all do today to stop the climate change train-wreck from happening…but will we actually do them?

For most of us, changing our habits — reducing our reliance on disposable water-bottles, for example — is a lot like intending to lose weight or exercise more. We may have a very strong desire to be thinner, or a deep conviction to hit the gym regularly, but most people don’t actually succeed in eating less or working out more often over the long term.

Why is it so hard to change, despite our good intentions?

Because change takes willpower, and our willpower is limited. Our brains are more or less hard-wired in a way that makes it difficult to change our wasteful ways.

Thankfully, research has been shedding light on many of the brain mechanisms that tend to foil us, so we CAN outsmart our brains. Here’s how:

1.) Beware of moral licensing. Moral licensing occurs when we behave virtuously and then “cancel out” our good deeds by doing something naughty. When we behave inline with our goals and values — whether it’s as large as trading in our truck for a Prius or as small as not taking a plastic bag at the grocery store — ironically, we risk back-sliding.

Consciously or unconsciously, we tend to feel that healthy or virtuous activities entitle us to partake in less-good (for us or for the earth) activities. Smokers will smoke more, for example, when they believe they’ve just taken a vitamin C pill. Similarly, philanthropists tend to give away less money after they’ve been reminded of their humanitarian attributes. One study even found that after people buy eco-friendly products, they’re more likely to cheat and steal! (New research suggests that some of us are more prone to moral licensing than others. My GGSC colleague Emiliana Simon-Thomas explains here.)

Instead of giving yourself a pat on the back for your own good behavior, avoid the “licensing effect” by reflecting on your goals and values rather than your accomplishment. Why did you ride your bike instead of drive? What larger mission are you trying to fulfill? Questions like these can help us stay focused on what we are trying to achieve instead of sabotaging our own efforts.

2.) Structure your environment to minimize the number of decisions you need to make. Every little decision we make takes a little out of our willpower reserve. Low willpower means that you are likely to do what is familiar rather than something more earth-saving.

Outsmart this brain boobie-trap three ways: First, pre-decide as much as you possibly can (where you will go, how you will get there, what you’ll bring with you, etc.). So instead of deciding whether to drive or walk to work in the morning right before you leave, commit to the decision to walk the night before.

Second, and this is the critical part: Structure your environment to support your decision. Put your work shoes deep in your backpack and your walking shoes by the door. Knowing that you are going to be tempted to drive, put your car keys in an inconvenient place you won’t want to venture to in the morning. (Have access to a dusty attic? That’d be perfect.)

Finally, make a specific plan for what you will do when challenges arise (and they will). If you wake up to find it raining, pre-decide that you’ll wear your blue rain jacket and take that huge golf umbrella your dad left in the closet. If you wake up late, pre-decide that you’ll ride your bike instead of drive. Etc.

3.) Reduce your stress. To boost follow-through on our good intentions, we need to relax. When we are stressed, our brains (kindly) try to rescue us by activating our dopamine systems. A dopamine rush makes temptations more tempting. Think of this as your brain pushing you toward a comfort item… like that easy taxi to work rather than the less-than-comforting subway commute.

As Kelly McGonigal writes, “Stress points us in the wrong direction, away from clear-headed wisdom toward our least-helpful instincts.” When we’re relaxed, we’ll choose the locally grown organic apple. When we’re stressed? Whatever is most convenient, even if it doesn’t fit our environmental goals.

The takeaway: Sometimes the best thing that we can do for the environment is to reduce our own stress (read this post for more stress-reduction tips).

*For the record: I try to eat wild-caught tuna when possible. But I’m not patting myself on the back, because that might lead to moral licensing (see tip #1).

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  • Post your Earth saving habit that you’d like to create here and we’ll enroll you in Cracking the Habit Code for FREE!

    My new habit, by the way, is going to be to ALWAYS have a water bottle with me, wherever I go, so that I’m never tempted to buy a plastic one or use a plastic cup (because I travel a lot, this will actually save a ton. I’m always thirsty in the airport & on an airplane, and I’m frequently unprepared. This also means no water bottles at speaking engagements!)

    • Giovanna

      My new earth saving habit will be to use cloth diaper with my coming baby. I have been doing research about it and it’s definitely important for the environment. I already use cloth napkins and only kitchen towels instead of paper towel. I hope to be to stick with this new idea!

    • Mhel

      I want to give up my addiction to my car and start using public transportation.

  • Eric D.

    To help save the Earth, I will try to stop using paper and plastic cups at work, and instead will bring my own permanent mug from home.

  • Eric D.

    I posted my first comment without reading Dr. Carter’s comment carefully 🙂 That is still my resolution, though 🙂

  • Megan0245

    My new habit is to live by example for my 20 month old! If I can practice what I preach not only will I finally do what I want to be doing, but my little girl can see & learn the right way to do things because “Mommy does it”. I will be changing two lives & forever making a difference.

  • Laurie

    I’d like to stop using processed foods altogether and buy all organic, including meat.

  • Heather Brownlee

    I want to greatly reduce my purchase of plastic packaging and focus more on buying basic unprocessed foods to reduce my carbon footprint.

  • Effie

    My (hopefully) new habit – use less plastic in the kitchen.

    I bake all of our bread but I do it twice a week and then slice and freeze the rest in PLASTIC Ziplock bags (which I reuse). My kids take PLASTIC water bottles to school (because they keep losing them so I don’t want to invest in anything remotely expensive), they have BPA-free PLASTIC lunch boxes, we save cooked food in the fridge & freezer in PLASTIC containers (we tried glass but it shattered when defrosting a couple of times), we pack most of the produce we buy in mesh bags and use reusable shopping bags but still find ourselves with tons of PLSTIC bags every time we go to a store etc.

    Really wish I could find a way to use much less plastic in the my kitchen!

  • Maluquinha

    I already take a bag to the grocery store when I go shopping, recycle as much as I can, use as little water as possible, and often take the stairs instead of the elevator… But I will try walking to work and using public transportation on a regular basis, as well as using endemic plants in my little garden, so that I don’t have to water them so often.

  • Kay S.

    I will be more organized and conscientious about taking my own bags to the grocery to reduce my use of plastic grocery bags. One small goal can lead to more habit changes.

  • Courtney

    I would like to start a vegetable garden this year in my backyard. I am going to start remembering to bring my giant stash of canvas bags every time I go to the grocery store.

  • Kendra

    We live five blocks from my sons’ elementary school, yet we drive there much of the time, usually because we’re running so late that those extra few minutes it would take to walk would make my kids tardy. Of course, walking isn’t what makes us tardy; it’s everything that happens between wake-up and getting out the door that puts us behind schedule. So — the habit that I’d like to form is to make sure we get out the door every day on time, so that we can walk to school instead of driving. That requires forming other habits, though, like getting up on time, eliminating distractions, being more organized about lunches, clothes, and homework, etc. But I know we can do it!

  • Dotty

    I want to set up a compost bin in the garden for food waste so it can go back into the earth in my garden rather than thrown in with the trash to go to a landfill site.

  • I want to stop using so many disposable cups and lids as I fuel my coffee habit!

  • Sun

    Remember to take my reusable bags into the grocery store!

  • Krista

    I am striving to use only wax paper bags (in lieu of plastic ones) for lunches and food storage.

  • David

    I want to start walking to and back from the grocery with my cloth grocery bags instead of driving there (it is within walking distance)

  • Lisa Schulman

    I used to have Meatless Mondays in our home (we are a big meat eating family, sadly) and I want to go back to it-starting today! I once read that if everyone went without meat for one day a week, it would make a huge change because if we lower the demand for meat, we will lower the fertilizer use, which is a main contributor to global warming.

  • adrienne

    Climate control accounts for the bulk of American energy use. I live somewhere with extremes of heat and cold, so I can’t turn it off entirely. I put in a more efficient system last year, but I can try to minimize our use at home while spending more of summertime at community cooling areas (library, museum, spray park, and pools).

    I can also feed my kids’ desire to save the planet and make sure they have the science knowledge to make good decisions (and maybe even future innovations).

  • Debbie

    remember to USE the reusable bags that I keep in my van!

  • E. Leticia

    We are going to do some home remodeling. I will talk to my husband about using the mist eco friendly products and design technics. For instance, we will plant succulents and other hardy plants that do not require as much water and are still beautiful.

  • Liz

    I want to become vegan (currently vegetarian) and eat local whenever possible

  • Gretchen Sims

    Use fewer plastic baggies for everyday lunch preparation.

  • shannon

    I would like to eat vegan for Mich of the month and also drive much more mindfully (combining trips, biking more).

  • Octavia

    Sometimes when I know something can be recycled, I still throw it in the normal trash because I don’t want to walk to he garage where our recyclables are. I should setup a recycle bin in our kitchen.

  • Sherry

    I want to rely less on “others” and more on myself. I want to get back to using more organic food and making my own fresh salad rather than taking the easy way out and buying salad that comes in a bag or in plastic containers…I want to be responsible for my actions and create less waste.

  • Robin

    Bring more bags to the grocery store, and stop buying those small plastic bottles of water!

  • Shawn Chaney

    I would like to grow some of my own vegetables!

  • Ahw

    Definitely need to structure my environment more so that I compost kitchen waste

  • Alwynne Lamp

    I will increase my summer A/C temp to 80 degrees F, compared to the 78 degrees that I have been using.

  • You know, it’s funny, but I feel like in some ways being a parent (or just a member of a very busy household) has caused me to backslide, and to sometimes opt for time-saving actions rather than maybe a more earth-friendly one (often spurred by my efficiency-addict husband). I mean, I am no longer “allowed” to put ziploc bags in the dishwasher… BUT, that said, I am going to look hard at the cost-benefit of the various choices we’re making regularly as a family, find the ones I think matter the most, and then really, really stick to them (and encourage the rest of the gang to join me). And, the biggest one: get an energy audit of our house, and do something about our beautiful but drafty old windows and doors!

  • Shannon Collins

    A vegetable garden. We already put flowers in our yard, but why not vegetable? It would be great to supplement any percentage of our grocery shopping for fresh veggies, plus it will be a good activity for our little girl.

  • jayarch

    I’d like to eat more local foods – for me this also means creating and focusing on family dinner time!

  • Brenda

    Remember to bring in my fabric shopping bags into the store! I have them, but half the time I forget to bring them in.

  • Cindy

    Use less papertowels and more hand towels! In the kitchen I tend to reach for a papertowel to dry my hands because I made it less convient to reach for a hand towel. Fix this tonight!

  • Mlin

    I’d like to make an honest effort to eat out less, and buy more local products and produce (or tap into resources from my own yard/garden).

  • Eve

    I want to have my family watch The Story of Stuff online. I’m hoping that will help all of us to sort out the recyclables from the trash more carefully. We could definitely be doing a better job at that.

  • Rannoch

    My Earth saving habit is walking or taking public transport to meetings. I have gotten too used to spending my time driving looking for a space, polluting the air and paying for parking. It will take me less time to simply walk or get the bus.

  • Tami

    I would like to bike into work at least 2 times per week and get my whole family to do the same. No more excuses!

  • Guatelin

    Having lived in Guatemala for 20 years, then returning to the US, I saw sooooo much pre-packaged food and small containers for everything under the sun! I will continue to buy in bulk, avoid “convenience” items, buy fresh, put my coffee grounds and crushed egg shells in the garden, and drink tap water!!! Oh, and when i babysit for my gransbabies, I bought a stash of cloth diapers that I use and rinse in the toilet (like I did with my 4 children) and I use cloth washcloths and dish towels in the kitchen instead of paper towels. Look at all the “convenience” ways that are truly wasteful in your lives.

  • Melanie

    I’m joining the group ‘remembering to take reusable bags to the supermarket/market’

  • Afsaneh Fazly

    My husband and I have developed a habit of turning off the heaters in our apartment every morning, even when it is -20 degrees (Celsius) outside. Because our apartment takes a lot of sunshine, we have realized that turning off the heaters in the morning does not cause the apartment to be unpleasantly cold when we get back from work in the evening. Even our 4-year-old doesn’t complain about the cold. We just need to turn them back on a couple of hours before we go to bed. I have also learned something from a friend a while ago: I turn off the lights every time I leave my office, even if it is only for a couple of minutes. I know these acts are quite small, and not enough by any standards, but they are necessary.

  • Elizabeth Kaufmann

    I want to start carrying a reusable coffee travel mug so that I can get coffee-to-go without creating more plastic waste. Also, trying to walk more places.

  • Remember to use reusable grocery bags instead of plastic

  • Amy Mrozinski

    After reading the other comments, I feel like a heel for even having my problem in the first place… I am addicted to McDonald’s fountain sodas – the $1, cold, refreshing, Diet Cokes that are available with just a quick trip through the drive-thru. My problem is wrong on so many levels – environment, health, parenting, financial… I want to quit but I don’t know how.

  • Cambria

    I feel like I personally have a lot of good habits and practices to reduce my individual impact on our environment. However, so many of these have become automatic that I don’t think to take the time to talk to my 4-year-old daughter about the reasons behind my actions. One of the most important steps we can take as a society is to ensure that the next generation is empowered and informed about humans’ growing impact. They are the ones who will ultimately have to deal with the destructive behaviors of today. Given this, it’s my goal to teach my daughter about our world and how she can individually contribute to its protection.

  • LDF

    We are aiming to be a zero waste household — lots of habits to change.

  • Eileen

    I am trying to serve less meat to my family because I know how detrimental raising livestock is to our environment. While we buy and keep humanely raised and organic meats and buy less than before OFTEN the lack of true menu planning leads to ordering take-out. Of course the take out options are totally inconsistent with this goal. I need to develop the habit of menu planning so I don’t get stuck trying to learn a new way of preparing foods at 5:30pm.

  • Sharon

    I will try to become more aware of seasonal foods and make more meals based on seasonal, locally grown produce.

  • Afsaneh Fazly

    A habit I have been thinking about for a long time, but haven’t been able to implement: I’d like to always carry a small spoon&fork, and a small reusable towel with me when I go out shopping, so I don’t end up wasting so many plastic spoons/forks, and so many towels for drying my hands when I wash them!

  • Claudia White

    NO MORE plastic lunch bags! My kids fight me on this, but I will succeed.

  • Susan

    I would like to remember to use my fabric shopping bags when I go to the grocery store.

  • Kenny in Savannah

    I drive over 30,000 miles a year and i want to trade in my gas burning car for a hybrid to save as much fuel as i can.

  • Devika

    Reduce plastic bag usage. Budget time for walking instead of taking a vehicle.

  • Janet

    I am trying to decrease my consumption of animal products.

  • Renee

    Try to use less paper towels and paper napkins.

  • Caitlin

    I too need to be much better about bringing my reusable bags into the grocery store. I have made the switch from plastic baggies for kids lunches and snacks to wax paper ones and reusable containers. Today I will purchase stainless steel water bottles for my 3 kids to send to school with them instead of letting them take disposable plastic ones every day.

  • Joely

    I am potty training my son and trying to teach him the habit of using only an “arm’s length” of tp…. this will hopefully make him mindful of the disposable resources he uses as he gets older (paper napkins, towels, etc).

  • Vilma

    Eat more local foods,less use of plastic.

  • Ann

    Replace my ancient refrigerator which is an suv for energy consumption. And reduce my reliance on take out food and it’s packaging

  • Sbedford

    Replace my ancient refrigerator which is an suv for energy consumption. And reduce my reliance on take out lunches and the endless packaging

  • JudyB

    Turn off the lights when leaving a room.

  • Bernadette

    We keep a temperature controlled thermostat, my husband changed all of the bulbs in the house to energy efficient years ago. I reuse bags for shopping, have tried to cut back on my use of plastic wrap, bags or aluminum foil by using plastic or glass containers that I already own. I’m a stickler about keeping unused lights off and I try to recycle as much as I can. We have a small garden in summer. I try to make all of my errands in one day’s running around and I do own a truck as well but mine also is hybrid.

    I do believe all the little things can help. Nurture our Earth!

  • I’m going to be paying more attention to the more-than-human environment around me. Take more pictures and observe more, fall more in love with the earth!

  • Sara Mbaya

    I would love to have this valuable info!

  • Michael

    To help save the earth I will reduce my red meat consumption to once a week (twice at the max), and will get a bike in the upcoming months so I can start running errands on bike instead of by car.

  • Angie

    Water bottles are slowly taking over my kitchen cupboards….but always forget to fill them up and take them with me… I want to be better at planning ahead and using the resources I have.

  • Pamela

    I’d like to ride my bike more often to work.

  • Julianne

    I will always take the time separate bottles and cans from landfill garbage.

  • Liz

    Fix up my bike so I can get to nearby places without driving when I”m running late.

  • Laura

    I’d like to walk to work one day per week.

  • broll

    I am recommitting to doing my gratitude list every am which really helps me keep my cool and remain kind to my husband and son and therefore I walk more softly upon this Earth!

  • Brette

    I’d like to pack less wasteful lunches and snacks for my family. Aiming for zero waste. When tired and stressed I reach for the easy way out in the market and then its in the cupboards….

  • Where I am living climate change combined with economic disparity have made these global changes even more apparent to me than there were in the U.S. Today in Medellin, Colombia they are marking Earth Day by banning personal use vehicles from the city streets. This is a nice idea but I think it will do little to change the transportation habits of people here.

    For my part I would like to reduce my daily water consumption. I would also like to find ways to help those who have limited access to clean water. There are so many people who do not have access to this basic necessity.

  • Kalyani

    Limit the use of plastic Ziplock bags at home….and teach my kids to do the same!

  • I’m going to eat vegan one day a week, and today is the day, Happy Earth Day!

  • Beverly

    I will shop for locally grown seasonal foods and walk more – and “rehome” all the clutter in my house

  • Kathy

    I am going to only by coffee when I have remembered my reusable cup; no more throw-aways!

  • Samantha

    I use re-usable tumblers when I go to coffee shops. I want to start walking to the grocery store to eliminate excess driving, increase my physical activity and lessen the amount of waste we produce by only purchasing what we need and use.

  • LCSmith

    Like many, I need to remember to bring my re-usable bags to the store; I am always forgetting! Also to “batch” my errands more to cut back on driving.

  • Darcey

    I plan to grow some of my own food (i.e., vegetables, tomatoes, herbs …) in a container garden on my back deck. Hopefully, fewer pesticides and less fertilizer run-off will go into the environment as a result of this decision. An added benefit will be better tasting, and healthier food, for me and my family.

  • katy

    I plan to walk to the grocery one day a week.

  • Stace

    Cloth rags instead of paper towels

  • Katrina Vance

    I would like to use less paper towels. With 2 kids under 4, we make a lot of messes and paper towels are my go-to for cleaning!

  • Inga

    Eat more vegetarian meals and try to reduce waste at home.

  • PattiRN11

    I am determined to get all our garden beds back in drip irrigation this week. I hate that so much water is being wasted with hand watering.

  • Rose M.

    I would like to reduce my use of Ziplock bags & paper towels by using reusable bags (just bought some from Re-Pac bags) for kids lunches and kitchen rags instead of paper towels. Question though: what is less of an environmental impact- kitchen rags that have to be washed or recycling paper towels?

  • Gina Vandzura

    We are trying to use less water. We installed rain barrels and use that to water outside plants. Plus my 4 yr old thinks its z blast !

  • Jean

    I’d like to install the weather proofing around doors and windows like I’ve been meaning to.

  • Michele

    New “earth-friendly” habits that I’d like to establish:
    1.) Buy less stuff!
    2.) Use fewer paper towels.
    3.) Establish a vegetable garden to grow some of my own food.
    4.) Reduce stress in my life by exercising more, meditating routinely, walking the dog routinely, and procrastinating less…wait, that’s 4 things!

  • Jennifer

    I would like to buy less processed food and more local and/or organic food.

  • Marianne

    I will use less plastic bag to store my food and use stainless steel storage box instead.

  • KarenC

    Schedule regular times in the garden to plant more vegetable seeds and care for what’s growing.

  • Adam

    Bike more. Eat more sustainably. Enlist children to do same.

  • Emily

    plant my own garden and bring reusable bags to the grocery store

  • Paula

    Turn off the lights as I leave the room.

  • Jennifer

    Cook a vegetarian dinner at least one night per week; ride my bike to run errands at least one day per week.

  • Ramy

    Walk or ride my bike for local trips. Start vermicomposting and keep it going. Plant the veggie garden and remember to water it…

  • yesterdave

    We started a garden in the backyard. But in Tucson, city water is expensive. So now we are planning a rainwater harvesting system to capture and hold some of the monsoon rainfall. It’s the best water of all for the garden, but unfortunately in the desert southwest, it comes all at once in massive downpours. So a majority of that blessed rainfall just runs off into the arroyo washes. We have to get smarter about water capture and reuse.

  • Verna

    Get my laptop to recognize Adobe software, so I don’t have to haul in 2 laptops to work everyday. Then bike to work 4 days a week, hauling one laptop only!

  • Campbell

    I will renew my efforts toward zero-waste lunches. I’ll do it by reducing processed foods that have slipped into our routine.

  • Tamara

    Talk to my children about the environment and teach them more about recycling

  • Jo

    I would like to quit procrastinating on fixing my bike and to carry my reusable bags with me all the time.

  • Pam

    Learn to recycle even more than I do now.

  • Lisa

    I am trying to get recycling bins placed in accessible areas at work so you don’t have to go searching for them. We set a stack of recycling bins right next to the trash can in our kitchen pantry. I was really surprised at how easily kids jump on board and think it’s fun to do the “sorting game.”

  • I am working on replacing my personal care items with home made items to reduce the use of toxic chemicals and animal products.

  • Leslie

    I have begun combining exercise with going to the grocery store, and am making “smarter choices” in shopping. I walk to the store (carrying my re-usable shopping and produce bags). Since I have to carry it all home, I buy fewer non-essentials and I also have to shop more frequently. We are eating fresher produce for this reason, and don’t find overlooked things in back of frig that have already begun composting on their own.

  • Jennifer

    use less water, drive less/walk more, stop using paper towels, stop buying so much stuff, don’t buy/use anything plastic, plant/eat homegrown vegetables, reduce, reuse, recycle (in that order)

  • Cindy

    I am going to continue to work on meditating, reducing my own stress and bringing more lightness and love into the world. I do work hard and consciously try to make the environmentally friendly choice when possible. A failing is forgetting to turn off lights and unplug appliances. I’ll work on that too! 🙂 Thanks!!!! Can’t wait for the class.

  • Missy

    With electronics not in use, unplug completely.

  • J

    Walking more and always using recyclable bags when I shop.

  • Michelle

    I will continue to recycle as I have been doing for many years. I will have my water bottle filled and place it by the door.

  • DebH

    Reduce my family’s usage of plastic bags and paper towels. I’ve dabbled, but now I want to try deliberately and succeed!

  • lisa s

    continue to make more meals from “scratch” and eat less processed foods

  • Meredith

    Keeping my reusable shopping bags in my car so I have them whenever I need to stop in a store.

  • Andrea

    I will leave the shower on for shorter times and think twice before I throw clothes in the laundry – we won’t turn into a stinky family! It is shocking how much laundry I do and a lot of that is just to get clothes out of the way. I will also continue to aim to waste less food. Share with friends where I know my Costco supplies are much for just our family!

  • Alexis

    I am packing my children’s lunches with zero trash and all reusable containers. I also take shopping totes everywhere I go so I don’t use up paper or plastic bags. I also try to unplug whenever I am not using electronics. Lastly, I recycle and compost to the best of my ability!

  • Meredith

    I am going to plant a raised bed garden with my children. It will be a way for us to feel more connected to the earth and in touch with our food sources and where they come from.

  • Rose H.

    Go to my community parks within walking distance instead of driving all the time.

  • Kelle

    I am going to start taking the bus to work 2 days per week instead of driving.

  • romi

    with family:
    use less of everything (water, electricity, stuff)
    go outside more

    with self:
    do more meditation outside

    ( i enjoy your blog so much, thank you)

  • GivingBackBook

    Remembering the reusable bags on shopping trips.

  • Poppy

    I am making an effort to drive less and to plan my days more effectively so I don’t do any wasteful driving. I am also doing my best to exit the consumerism of our culture and to not buy anything, food or otherwise unless I absolutely need it and will use it. Eliminating waste on all fronts of my life!

  • Deb Sarro

    I am also planning to make the switch to either wax paper bags or re-useable sandwich bags

  • Rae

    Shorter showers!

  • Read NatGeo fertilizer article

    Change to organic fertilizer in my garden.

  • Monica B

    My goal is to read more online, instead of printing out items I need to study. Hard to do and suggestions/tips are most welcome.

    • I use Mendeley for academic articles, and I send stuff from my email or the web to Evernote to read — that way I can highlight, make notes, etc. It is a hard adjustment for those of us who love our highlighters and pens, but I’m much more organized now!

  • using reusable bags for my veggie shopping

  • S Sun

    Recycle more and use more towels than papertowels.

  • julie

    My goal is to use both sides of printed paper instead of recycling a perfectly good half….
    Thanks for caring and for this generous offer!

  • I’m going to do a partial bike commute. The route to daycare isn’t one I’m going to do with my boys on bikes, but the route from their daycare to my work is perfectly bikeable – so I can leave my car there for the day and get a little exercise while I’m at it. Save on parking costs, too!

  • Stacey Wear

    I’m attempting a big one – riding my bicycle to appointments instead of hopping in my car! Good for the Earth, good for me! ( Hi there!!!!)

  • L

    We got a bunch of Corelle dishes that are very thin and light so that we could store more dishes in the space we have. This way we have enough dishes no matter how many friends are over and we are not tempted to use paper plates. We are trying to use cloth napkins more often and decreasing our use of paper towels.

    We have reusable bags that are light and can be crumpled into an attached pouch. They are easy to keep in my purse so I don’t forget them when we go shopping.

  • Kelly

    I will stop buying plastic water bottles, put my reusable grocery bags in my car, stop using plastic bags in my kids lunches.

  • Sylvia

    Remember to take my reusable bags out of my trunk into the grocery store!

  • Ginger Cullen

    My family is addicted to Vitamin Water which means that we go through more disposable plastic bottles than I care to admit. I commit to finding a replacement that involves reusable bottles, even if that means powdered kool-aid.

    • I got my kids to switch to those packets of “Emergen-C” you can get in a million flavors at Trader Joe’s. Less sugar, but also more vitamins. My pediatrician said 1 packet per day is fine.

  • Goli

    I want to have one day in each month in which my daughter and I either do something in this regard (eg. Planting a tree) or make something as a habit for at least that month (eg. Buy local fruits).

  • Diana

    Riding my bike to work on days that other moms pick up my kids and carrying a trash bag with me when I walk to pick up litter.

  • c

    I need to bring my reusable bags with me and separate out my recycling.

  • Julie

    Walk (not drive) to the grocery store more often!

  • Eliza

    I don’t have a dishwasher so I’ve gotten pretty lazy with resusing…why use tuperware or a nalgene and have to hand wash with cold water, when I can use ziplocs and throw away plastic water bottles…. I need to stop being lazy, start being intentional, and REUSE whenever possible. Those little things ad up!

  • Diana

    We are trying to have less food waste this year by trying to consuming all the food we buy. This means we eat all left-overs, take more/buy less lunches, freeze leftovers for meals the following week, etc. American’s waste upwards of $1400/year per family (articles on the topic vary). We waste even more through mass production and expiration dates. We are going to try our best to use EVERYTHING in our cupboards and fridge. We also try to buy locally sourced items and now that the farmers markets will be filling up again, I will work towards buying my fruits, veggies and other items from local farmers.

  • Katie Isselhardt

    I “try” to organize my errands for the day in one area, so as to not waste gas running all around town, and leave reusable bags in the car.

  • TGBerkeley

    We are trying to bring less stuff into the house.

  • Jessie

    I’m going to try to be more conscious of the purchases I make (and make far fewer of them!).

  • No paper products in the house. No paper plates, towels, napkins, same for disposable utensils.

  • Sarah

    Less eating out, therefore less meat that I don’t know enough about (it’s origins, processing, etc.).

  • Laura

    I want to be more consistent about composting. I don’t always feel like carrying the stuff outside, and it’s so easy to just dump it in the kitchen wastebasket.

  • elleng

    I’d like to eat less processed food and commit to eating more locally grown and sustainable food. Perhaps I’ll lose a few pounds along the way too!

  • Loving1

    Christine,
    Your work is so positively impacting so many lives. I recommend ” Raising Happiness ” to all my patients and give as a gift to new families ( including my own grown children!).
    My resolution on Earth Day is to really practice loving kindess as much as I possibly can.
    The world needs all the love and acceptance we can garner! Thank you for you amazing contribution to peace in our hearts, families, the world!
    Namaste’
    Susan Cohen MFT

  • LS

    Less paper towers, no zip locks, organize a consistent recycling program and talks on similar topics where I live (an island that doesn’t really implement such practices), and a surprise baby #3 will = cloth diapers this time!

  • Valerie

    I’m trying to eliminate my use of plastic sandwich bags. I’m slowly acquiring glass containers and cloth bags to use instead.

  • Eliorah

    I’ll move the re-useable store bags from the trunk of my car to my front seat and make every effort to use them as often as possible.

  • I am going to start making my own laundry soap-less chemicals exposed to my children and in the water supply!!

  • Erica L

    We do a lot now (garden organically, compost, rain barrels, consolidate driving trips, phased out most plastic, cook & eat local/organic/fair-trade whole food), but one area that we *really* need to work on, and is a big challenge for us, is our kids’ stuff – we have a 5 & 8 yr old, and the toys and nick-nacks just accumulate & accumulate. They are very attached to their stuff, but I know they would be happier & freer with less. I need to find & show them that video The Story of Stuff and lead by example, teach it & not preach it.

  • Recently, I’ve been frequenting the thrift stores more often to buy things used rather than brand new. I’ve also been trying to donate things rather than toss them.

  • Carly

    We’re moving to cloth napkins and planted a vegetable garden. We bring our own bags to the grocery store and costco. Now cracking the code on ziplocs.

  • Kathy

    I am trying to minimize driving (and gas) by running many errands at a particular time of the week rather than one at a time, and walking wherever possible instead of driving.

  • Paashi

    Plant a small portable garden on wheels for my 2 year old grandchild .

  • Love the Sun

    Cut back expenditures in non-essential categories in our family budget to make it possible for us to buy more organic food items. Also, commit to a plant-based diet.

  • Gwen

    I am trying to cook more vegetarian meals, buy fewer things in general, but specifically I try not to buy items in containers that can’t be recycled, and use the short wash cycle as much as possible when doing laundry.

  • Ethan

    Eating even more locally grown food — less packaging!

  • Robyn

    I will no longer be buying farm raised fish sold in the freezer section at my bulk foods store. Instead I will head to the local fish market for wild caught fish.

  • Kendra

    We are going meatless on Mondays! We are also going to ride our bikes to our friends house whom we spend a lot of time with rather then drive!!

  • A G

    I would like to run a no garbage household but have found it difficult with small kids when things get rushed. Any movement towards this goal will be welcome. We compost and recycle but need to make different choices about buying things that have non-recyclable or compostable packaging. Thanks for doing this Christine.

  • Ellen

    When I do meditation retreats I have people bring their own cup for tea.

  • Aimee

    Shop at local garage sales instead of shopping for new products.

  • Clare

    I am going to pledge to “unplug” more, in the sense that, as much as I love technology and the conveniences it brings me, I need to disconnect from it more, and reconnect with the natural world. I believe that not only will this bring me more peace and less stress, so that I am better prepared to follow through on my good intentions, but I will also save energy by literally unplugging all of my electronic devices once a week. I also believe that spending more time in nature will reconnect me with my values and love of Mother Earth, so that I will want to follow through on being more Earth friendly in more of my life.

  • Lindsay

    Hmmm… I think the biggest little change I could make would be to only purchase food from the store without packaging. Tough to get my family on board with this one though.

  • I’d like to follow through on our efforts – whether recycling those pesky plastic bags, using green cleaners, and reducing our waste. This may take “slowing down” as I find I’m much better when I’m not rushed.

  • Michael

    I’m gonna join with neighbors to plan and create an urban neighborhood orchard and “food forest” to honor a young mother who taught us to be a neighborhood and then died way too young.

  • Cindy C

    I want to walk my children to school.

  • Robin

    Reading the daily newspaper online and composting food scraps.

  • Melanie

    Repurposing more is my goal. My hubby’s old T-shirt can be a dress for my daughter, etc.

  • Kamil

    This season grow more food on the allotment

  • Kelly

    I’m going to finally make the time to sew some cotton sandwich bags for use in kid’s lunchboxes and for snacks, in place of plastic baggies.

  • Horsewomann

    I have a small business and I am in the process of going as paperless as I can.Most communication is done by email or phone. Put the computer in sleep mode or off when not in use.What paper I do use is recycled paper and all paper used is recycled again.

  • Ann

    I will buy my groceries from the farmer’s market more than the local supermarket.

  • Diana

    We are trying to use reusable packaging for school lunches and picnics. We also buy local organic food when we can as well as pasture raised meat. We try not to do business with corporations who have a poor environmental track record and we support those who use sustainable practices. We support NGO’s who work to protect the environment and wildlife. We are teaching our son about global warming and ecosystems. He’s fascinated and truly cares! We support our local zoo which funds wildlife conservation projects locally and around the world as well as provides wonderful environmental education opportunities.

  • I want to switch out paper towels for reusable rags.

  • I want to hope our family is improving its environmental habits – we try to walk more, always take bags to the store with us and print less. The latter means a lot in my business – I am in real estate and I am almost paperless (except for the office paper file requirements), which is enough to save quite a few trees. I will check what others are doing to get more ideas.

  • Marnie

    I am going to CONSISTENTLY remember my fabric veggie bags when I grocery shop and support my local farmers. I am also going to compost more regularly.

  • Beth

    I am striving to buy 80% of our family groceries from local farmers markets and cut down waste by 50%.

  • Aleca

    Sounds so mundane, but I’m striving to get a better diet – more veggies less crap!

  • Kate

    I’d like to have less “brain clutter” so that I can be more observant of my compulsions, to, say, drive to the market unnecessarily, purchase non-local or overly packaged goods, etc. etc. I’d like to create clarity and simplicity in my daily life.

  • fairlady68

    I am working on consolidating my errands and appointments so that I only have to drive to a particular area of town once instead of 2-3 times to accomplish all the same tasks. Saves me hassle and of course it saves gas and pollution too!

  • Paula

    My plan is to use less plastic bags for my lunches. I’ll use reuseable containers. 🙂

  • Amy McGhee

    My daughter and I have converted her sand box into a garden for her to plant. She put on her gloves and she looked at me and said, “Mom, I have a big project for us to do today. “

  • melanie hoyt

    Lose 30 lbs. by eating only healthy foods and no sugar; start running a mile a day; say no and mean it.

  • wellbeinggal

    Pause….pause and express gratitude for that which you do have in life and for that which has been given to you. Pause.

  • doreenb

    Growing food is like printing money. Love that!

  • A group of us in the community we live in held an Earth Day event with activities to raise awareness and systems changes to improve our rubbish and composting systems and we planted trees, celebrated with an entertainment night, Harlem Skake and vegetarian meal together and encouraged people to make pledges to the Earth Day site’s “billion acts of green”movement – http://act.earthday.org/ Personally, I am going to continue doing what I already do [ recycle, compost, eco products, grow veges, reusable shopping bags, vegetarian food], and add to this this year by starting a worm farm, try to use zero plastic bags in my food shopping – fruit and vege bags now included, reduce waste as much as I can and stay aware of, join with, and help raise consciousness around taking good care of our beautiful planet Earth, and all the amazing living creatures here that we have a responsibility to protect from the consequences of our lifestyles, as much as we can.

  • Dena

    To bring reusable bags to the stores with me!

  • Rachel

    Use fewer paper towels and plastic bags.

  • meditate daily. (our family is pretty darn eco despite the driving in to town from the country we’re finding it difficult to find more ways to be eco))–
    Ok, ok… i need to reduce shower time & temp. ** to make & install a hot water heater for both showers**
    http://voices.yahoo.com/how-simple-small-scale-diy-solar-hot-water-6332110.html?cat=6

    Solar Heater = http://www.ehow.com/how_12172873_diy-aluminum-solar-heater.html

  • JenR

    Trying to eat locally sourced food more than 50% of the time!

  • Trying to get my family to eat less meat, and limit it to just once during the week, and once on the weekend. I already eat primarily a vegetarian diet with the exception of occasional seafood and would like them to join me. I find that prepping dinner for them, like grilling meat, is much faster than prepping & cooking something more grain based that is ‘satisfying’ for them. I will just have to learn to better manage my time in order to transfer the time to their dinner preparation.

  • Meg

    We are building a salad table to grow our own vegetables this summer. We have also replaced all our light bulbs with energy saving bulbs.

  • Astrid

    To tame my mind, in order to be more conscious of my environment.

  • I am trying to always use reusable cloth sandwich/snack bags for my daughter’s school lunches, and I am making a commitment to myself to start composting.

  • Heather

    I live by the beach, so I am going to start bringing gloves and a trash bag because there is always some sort of garbage laying around…so sad.

  • Asher

    I’m seeking to become less reactive to disappointments and frustrations. Moving in this direction make me happier, but it also improve the influence I have on other people’s moods and choices because it allows me to express my warmth more fully.

  • elizabeth

    I will try to buy organic and local fruits and vegetables more often.

  • Kelly M

    I try to use reusable containers for all the kids’ lunches, but I still resort to plastic bags when I don’t have the right size containers – so I need to work harder on that, and on using less paper towels. :-/ Wax paper bags sounds interesting, Krista – maybe I should look into that as a small step, or buy the bentos boxes for an exact fit.

  • Mick

    I live in the city (Singapore that is), so I am finding that I am walking more and driving/riding much less. But honestly these little things that we all can do make a big difference, but living here on the equator you notice how important it is for the governments of various countries need to change behavior. So trying to find a way to get our message across to those that are more worried about where they are going to get their next meal and clean water about the importance of also protecting the environment is a HUGE issue.

  • peg

    I would like to use Less bottled water, use it for on the go- not routine intake at home- a bottle is looking at me right now-

  • Joely Johnson Mork

    In potty training my son, I encourage him to use only an “arm’s length” of TP for his needs. I hope this awareness of use will carry over into his later life with paper towels, napkins, and other disposable items.

  • Sabbie

    Deeply honour and love my true self as a wonderful step to be connected with mother earth!

  • Julie

    We have a family garden and it’s great. This summer I want to put in a compost bin and get going with that too

  • Jennifer Fung

    I am going to get some reusable shopping bags and keep them in my trunk so that I will always have them and remember to use them at the grocery store and elsewhere. I also want to try to use less water- turning it off while brushing teeth, taking shorter showers, etc.- little things that will hopefully still make a difference.
    Thank you so much for the inspiration and free class!!!

  • angela

    Vow to use cloth wipes rather than paper towels for wiping down counter tops

  • Nancy

    These are inspirational to read; I am trying to eat less beef and have a vegetarian meal at least once a week for the family.

  • paul dansie

    Im striving to ride mass transit whenever possible.

  • ShabbyAlonso

    We are fairly close to zero waste at home except in one area: food waste. I find I lack the energy to cook as Wednesday rolls around. So I’m going to do more meal planning that involves the kids and easy dinners for the latter week days.

  • Mom23wisemen

    Keeping to a prearranged meal plan will help us use our food more wisely, less waste. Purchasing from our local farmers when we can’t grow it ourselves will also benefit our health and the health of our dear Mother Earth.

  • Brea

    I have a goal this year of figuring out kitchen counter composting. We are also planting a garden this summer for the first time and trying to cut down on our disgusting consumption of paper towels.

  • peggy

    I use vinegar and natural cleaners. Take my cat to a holistic vet and special diet to prevent crystals. Wash and reuse food storage bags.

  • Katie Cortez

    My family is trying to bring less stuff into our home that clutters our living space and in the end our trash can.

  • Deena Mills

    I used to be a somewhat reluctant (mmmmm meat, nummy), yet faithful, vegetarian. I fell off the wagon during my last pregnancy (between a dislike of beans, iron deficiency, and huge cravings for bloody rare steak my willpower just couldn’t hold up). I’d like to start increasing the number of vegetarian meals we eat and gradually get back to vegetarian (or even “almost vegetarian”).

  • Renee Frappier

    I’m trying to get better at composting – less garbage and better for the environment.

  • Beth B.

    Behave as a conscious, mature adult wherever possible!

  • Ethan Schwartz

    I’d like to do more activism/advocacy work such as writing letters to institutions like UC Berkeley, etc., requesting they divest their investment portfolios from oil and gas companies and begin to address the global warming issue on an economic level in much the same way that apartheid was addressed via economic sanctions in South Africa.

  • Peggy

    I’d like to completely stop using plastic bags at the grocery store.

  • I live in a small city and instead of hoping in the car multiple times to make a quick trip to the store for one item, I will plan better, go only once and walk the five blocks to the store instead. We will also eliminate using plastic bags in the kids lunches.

  • cristy house

    I am trying to grow more of my family’s food.

  • Kayb

    We are trying to decrease our food waste and use reusable containers for all our lunches. It’s hard with the kids sometimes as I am disabled and washing out all those containers is laborious for me but the waste of plastic baggies makes me insane.

  • Amy

    Trying to completely kick the dry cleaning habit!

  • Jasmine

    I would like to stop “wasteful conveniences” ie. using environmental or emotional resources to reach self imposed arbitraray goals that on the surface seem so important.

  • lori

    We try not to bring plastic bags into our house by always carrying cloth sacks when we shop. We are striving to eat only local, responsibly raised meat.

  • Elise

    Composting, bringing my own bags to the grocery and using cloth napkins are already habits. Working on eating more veggies from our local Farmer’s Market.

  • Elaine

    Looking for more and more alternatives to plastic, and striving to buy local.

  • Noemi

    1. My earth saving change I would like to commit to is for my family and I will stop the purchase of bottled waters.

    2. Another commitment for not only the environment but also myself is that as soon as the weather gets nicer in MN, I will park my car and walk my daughter to school, walk myself to work, walk the dog more etc… 🙂

  • I have a goal of getting back to my vegetarian ways after falling off the wagon due to the rest of my family’s eating habits and, admitedly, my own laziness. Thank you for all that you do, Christine. I loved taking your class. It has been very helpful to me and my family.

  • Lindsay

    I would like to reduce my plastic usage by using more reusable fabric bags for snacks, bread, and produce.

  • Lin

    Love these ideas! I’m trying to create less trash in the kitchen by reusing packaging and cleaning/recycling whatever can be reused.

  • Dianne

    I take a bag on walks to put litter into that I find on trails.

  • Diane

    Do an energy use survey in our home with the Kill-a-watt, and eliminate the energy vampires ( unused devices that suck energy when not in use – DVRs are big energy vampires).

  • Christine

    Buy only local produce, organic when possible, to minimize number of miles food travels to get to us. We already cook rather than buy prepared food, maintain zero-waste lunches, compost, recycle, walk and bike whenever we can, and bring our own bags to the store and bulk bins. But we eat too much produce from far away.

  • L BT

    Walk rather than drive on short trips where the only reason to drive is our busy-ness level (e.g. drive six blocks to the park for more play time at the park),

  • Patricia

    Ride my bike to work

  • Tom L.

    I had an extended conversation with two new friends regarding how each
    of us impact the environment in similar ways and what specific steps we
    can take to alter the impact we have on use and waste of resources.

  • Melissa H.

    Our family is trying to use less water. We built two rain barrels this year and are practicing re-using water around our house. Yesterday I filled the small toddler pool up, and when we were done- I watered my plants and part of the grass with the remaining water. We are teaching our twin 3- year old boys to turn the water off when brushing their teeth and trying (sometimes unsuccessfully) to teach them about conserving water.

  • Joanna

    Hi Christine – it’s still Earth Day here! Is the offer still on? Thanks for what you do! Joanna

  • Joanna

    We are freecycling as much stuff as we possibly can – releasing things we no longer use to people who can use them.

  • Rashmi

    I am going to use vinegar and lime for natural cleansing agents in the kitchen.

  • Intrigued

    I do not eat tuna at all anymore and have drastically cut back animal products, especially if I don’t buy and cook them myself, as I am very concerned about how the animals we eat are raised.

  • Sara

    Wow – Very inspiring list! I buy soap in bulk to cut down on packaging and walk in the woods by my house daily to stay connected to nature.

    • Sara

      Ah, I already do that! Okay…a change I’d like to make…go to my local farmer’s market more often – It’s been too long!

  • rebecca_s

    Buy/use only natural cleaning products and encourage friends to do the same.

  • Judy Wood

    I am committed to taking dead batteries and outdated medicines to the collection centers that are being provided with increased frequency in our community. Thanks so much for helping us all to break bad habits, Christine!

  • Hilary

    I already recycle, eat mostly vegetarian, energy save, walk or cycle. So I found it tough to pick a new habit, so here is what I found. Spend a half an hour a week in nature. I figure that we protect what we love, so by falling in love with nature around me I will be more motivated to protect it. So I need to crack the constantly ‘doing’ habit to give myself time to ‘be’ in nature

  • Guest

    It’s not midnight in Hawaii yet!! I would like to work on using our air conditioner less.

  • Jen

    It’s still the 22nd in Hawaii!! I would like to work on using our air conditioner less.

  • Toni

    Shut down my computer instead of using standby all the time

  • Ron-Michael

    Not sure if it’s Earth changing, but I’d like to stop procrastinating. Wish I’d started on that before midnight last night. sigh.

  • Karen

    I just put vinegar spray bottles in all the bathrooms, so I keep everything clean as I go along and not let the grime build up so much that I have to use the toxic cleaners.

  • Karen

    Also, I have just started taking a close look at every piece of trash I throw out to see if it has the recycle triangle on it. In the past, if I haven’t been sure, I’ve just thrown it out. Now, I am trying to be more thourough.

  • lucylu

    I would like to purchase a hybrid or electric car soon.

  • Karen

    Lastly, related to tip number 2 above, I learned in my family to “set yourself up for success”. The catchiness of the phrase has helped me stay on track for following through with high resolve.

  • Mikki Bazurto-Greene

    We will be doing much more carpooling and walking from now on. My children protested at first but they genuinely now
    enjoy the calming effect that walking has on their overall day.