The following piece is an opinion and does not reflect the views of The Eagle and its staff. All opinions are edited for grammar, style and argument structure and fact-checked, but the opinions are the writer’s own.
Amid the litany of possible New Year’s resolutions, what if your 2024 goals made both you and your community better off? When Dr. Julie Anderson, the associate program director of the Master’s of Science in Sustainability Management program, asked us this question, we had to think beyond the lackluster and overused “learn how to recycle” ideas. We realized how many of the sustainability goals touted on the internet (go vegan, avoid plastic, have a reusable cup) are individualistic. In our cohort, we believe in the power of “squad goals.” Our ideas are not just resolutions; they are a community movement. So, why not drag your friends into the adventure?
We know that New Year’s resolutions — regardless of what they entail — are most likely to be achieved when they are actionable, small and fun. Our challenge was to think of a list of sustainability-related resolutions accessible to everyone, regardless of whether you’re a nature novice or a carbon-reduction champion. So, we distilled our list into three categories we want to share with the community: Be Curious, Live Greener and Get Engaged.
To us, Be Curious is all about kicking back and absorbing content. We do this by subscribing to sustainability-oriented newsletters to learn something new. Some favorites from the MSSM students include The Commons, Wall Street Journal Sustainable Business, Green Biz and Grist. Another goal is to read (or listen to!) one book about a sustainable solution to a societal problem. Topics are endless. For example, “Flush” by Bryn Nelson, Ph.D. proposes how human waste can be a potential medicine, a sustainable power source and a fertilizer to restore soil health. Another example is “Unraveled – The Life and Death of a Garment” by Maxine Bédat, which is a deep dive into the sustainability implications of fast fashion.
Another goal is to choose a podcast or documentary on a sustainability topic that interests you. One of us cried during “The Last Tourist” — if you think sustainability is only about saving forests and recycling, this is a must-watch. You will come out of it with a deeper appreciation for the socioeconomic pillars of sustainability. As for podcasts, we get our fix from ones like “Climate Rising,” “Switched ON,” “The Great Simplification” and these episodes from NPR.
It wouldn’t be an article about sustainability if we didn’t also talk about how to Live Greener, of course. If you’re interested in finding a new hobby, look at thrift stores or Facebook Marketplace for second-hand board games, puzzles, craft supplies or sports equipment to kick-start your new hobby for a fraction of the price. Make an event out of your hobby and host a game/hobby night with friends to share your second-hand scores!
Next, you can fight food waste at home. According to USDA, more than one-third of the overall U.S. food supply goes to waste. Before leaving on winter break, one MSSM student froze their remaining milk in ice-cube trays to use in their coffee rather than throwing it out.
Lastly, challenge yourself to take a single trip using a new method of sustainable transportation this year like public transportation or bike share, and enlist a friend to accompany you. After you’ve done it once, you’ll feel more confident to use it again.
Our “final boss” on the list of resolutions is to Get Engaged. The first on this list is to get out and vote! 2024 is a big election year in the U.S., and it’s not just the top of the ticket that matters: all levels of government play a role in shaping sustainability policy, from the transition to clean energy to managing local environmental concerns. Make voting part of your 2024 resolutions list, register to vote if you haven’t already and look up candidates’ environmental and energy policy positions before heading into the voting booth. If there’s a sustainability policy issue you’ve grown passionate about (remember the newsletters or book you started to read?), you can write to one of your representatives to demand action.
You can also be sustainably social and regularly join a sustainability-oriented happy hour event — or create one with your friends or coworkers. Networking with individuals interested in or employed in green jobs will open your eyes to the numerous ways different industries approach sustainability. For example, search for “Green Drinks” and your city name to find your local chapter on Facebook or LinkedIn. Finally, we recommend you volunteer with a local environmental action group to do trash cleanups, plant trees, run energy efficiency trainings or support advocacy on local environment and energy-related policies. You can find a group near you through the EPA or Keep America Beautiful.
Climate dread is real, and we all need small wins. We hope you’ll grab a friend and try some of these resolutions to Be Curious, Live Greener and Get Engaged.
Luis, Savannah, Florence and Bindi are current Sustainability Management master’s students at American University.
This article was edited by Alana Parker, Jelinda Montes and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks, Isabelle Kravis and Charlie Mennuti