4 cheap New Year’s resolutions to cut your carbon footprint

Brandon Pytel
Jan 19 · 4 min read

We’re already halfway through January, and some of us have fallen behind our New Year’s resolutions. One survey shows that a third of Americans will ditch their resolutions by February.

The good news, though, is that January 1 is arbitrary, and you can make resolutions whenever. After all, I should’ve written this post weeks ago, but here we are. Regardless, the New Year gives us a chance to reevaluate some of our own behaviors and change them to better serve our Planet.

With that in mind, these four resolutions will focus solely on cutting the biggest chunk of your individual carbon footprint (sorry, recycling). And because we can’t all just install offshore wind farms, they’ll be easy, cheap, and attainable goals — stuff you can realistically do once you finish reading this post.

But before we start, let’s set some ground rules first. The New York Times suggests applying management’s SMART framework (specific, measurable, relevant, achievable, and time-bound) to your resolution.

Or, to put it briefly, follow these guidelines:

  • Avoid all-or-nothing goals — resolutions are rarely binary
  • Come up with a game plan — to-do lists, journals, support networks, you name it
  • Make goals concrete — “being a better person” is admirable, but hard to measure
  • Be easy on yourself — it’s a pandemic

Here are five resolutions to cut your carbon footprint in 2021:

Eat more plants

Animal agriculture is one of the largest contributors to climate change, accounting for over 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions. An easy fix is to eat more plants, like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested in its special report on land use.

Going entirely plant based seems like a huge jump, but remember our first rule: It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can start with a once a week goal, like Meatless Mondays, or you can go plant based for only breakfast and lunch, as Jonathan Safron Foer suggests in We Are the Weather. Websites like Rabbit & Wolves, Nora Cooks, and Minimalist Baker offer free and easy vegan recipes to get you started.

Plus, replacing meat, at $3–$4 a pound, with something like beans will give you the same amount of protein for a fraction of the cost. Still not sure you can do it? A little over a year ago, I switched from a processed, carnivorous diet to an all-plant diet overnight — here’s what I learned.


Globally, we waste about a third of our food, accounting for a whopping 6% of greenhouse gas emissions. So, while you’re rearranging your kitchen to create more plant-based dishes, make some room for composting.

You can buy your own compost bin, but the cheaper option is to take advantage of the resources already in your community — my local farmers market has a compost stand where I drop off our food scraps once a week. You can also use some of those scraps to make vegetable broth.

Another way to avoid so much food waste is simply doing an audit of your fridge. See what food is going bad, and next time you’re at the store, shop a little more consciously. Whatever you do, don’t be like my roommate and leave compost uncovered on the counter, festering a fruit fly problem I’ve yet to manage.

Fly less

When climate scientist Peter Kalmus calculated his carbon footprint in 2010, he found that air travel accounted for two-thirds of his annual emissions. Kalmus has since cut flying out of his life, becoming part of a growing no-flying movement.

Globally, the airline industry accounts for 2% of all greenhouse gas emissions, a number expected to triple by 2050. Flying is also one of the most inequitable forms of emissions, with 1% of people responsible for half of global airline emissions.

Since people are flying less because of COVID-19, we have an opportunity to reconsider some of our most wasteful habits and find the good in their alternatives: For example, a six-hour car ride through the mountains with a friend is more rewarding than a 90-minute flight muted by a podcast.

Switch to green power

In the United States, homes and apartments account for 21% of all energy use. Unfortunately, most of that energy use comes from fossil fuels. If we’re to tackle the climate crisis, we need to change this.

Fortunately, even if you rent, most places give residents the option to switch your energy source with renewables like wind and solar. Usually, all it takes is a quick phone call or internet search. Here are the most common and easiest ways to switch:

The switch to green power varies around the country, but the Environmental Protection Agency has plenty of resources to get started.

These resolutions won’t solve climate change, but they’re a start

None of these actions will solve climate change alone. For that, we need sweeping policy, systematic reform, and international cooperation.

But changing the conversation around many of these daily activities — cooking, flying, and, well, living — is a necessary first step. If these resolutions stick, they can help us change culture and pressure politicians, businesses, and others to enact climate action at a larger scale.

Plus, New Year’s resolutions still offer us a chance to establish new habits that are healthier for ourselves and the Planet. That’s a good enough reason to try them.

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Brandon Pytel

Written by

Environmental writer living in Washington, DC. Opinions are his own.

Planet Days

An environmental newsroom with a flair for drama and a fanfare for Earth, informing and empowering people who prefer the planet liveable.

Brandon Pytel

Written by

Environmental writer living in Washington, DC. Opinions are his own.

Planet Days

An environmental newsroom with a flair for drama and a fanfare for Earth, informing and empowering people who prefer the planet liveable.

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