New Year’s Resolutions for a More Sustainable 2021

Are you resolved to a greener 2021?

As we welcome in the new year and all it’s possibility, we are being inundated with reminders that it is New Year’s Resolution time. New Year, New You, right? 

But what if 2021 brought a new, GREENER, or more sustainable, you? 

Saying Goodbye to 2020

For many, the end of 2020 couldn’t come soon enough. Pandemic. Protests. General feelings of angst.  Not to mention global warming. The arrival of 2021 and this new year offers us a blank calendar and a clean slate. We have 365 days to do better, to do more than we did last year.  It brings us hope and renews our ambition.  But before we dive head first into the new year and the plans you have for yourself, let’s take this opportunity to reflect on the year.  

What have you accomplished? 

There are lots of ways to reflect on what you’ve accomplished, but I really appreciate the progression and scaffolding of Pappa’s Taxonomy of Reflection, which builds on Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.  Take a few moments and consider each of these questions that move from a broad, general concept to help you narrow in your reflection and progress to a plan for the future.

Stepping into 2021

If you went through the steps of the Reflection taxonomy, you’re left with the question– What next? Perhaps you gave yourself some great time to reflect and you’re amazing at making a plan. But if you’re like me, the idea of taking the next step can be a bit daunting. If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you are at least considering making some a New Year’s resolution that centers on your impact on the environment or making personal progress in the areas introduced by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. But just because you have a desire to lead a more sustainable life doesn’t mean that you know how to make a resolution for the new year, right? That’s okay! We’ve got your back. 

What is a New Year’s Resolution?

Did you know that the concept of a New Year’s resolution dates back over 4000 years (Pruitt, n.d)?! Mind blown! The earliest known resolutions were made by the Babylonians as part of a twelve-day religious celebration at the start of their year when they would make promises to the gods in hopes of fulfilling them and earning favor in the following year. Various cultures and religions developed similar celebrations over the years. Today, the New Year’s resolution needn’t be connected to any particular culture or religion, but it still involves making a commitment or promise to do something in the next year. These promises usually involve a commitment to being a better self or making a better world in some way. 

How Do I Set a New Year’s Resolution for a More Sustainable 2021? 2021 with a clock in the place of the 0

Honestly, there is no single process for setting a New Year’s Resolution as long as you end up with a commitment and a plan to achieve your goal through the year. There are, however, some good tips to help you identify a resolution that will bring you success.

  1. Limit your resolutions. It can be tempting to write a bunch of resolutions for the year and try to save the world and become a healthier, happier, wealthier you all in one year. But you are more likely to be successful if you choose one area to really focus on this year (Weiss, 2016.; WikiHow, 2020).
  2. Choose something that you are passionate about. Don’t pick something that you think society wants you to choose or that you’re being pressured into doing. If YOU aren’t invested in the resolution, you’re not likely to achieve it. Your resolution should align with your values and what you define as important in life (WikiHow, 2020).
  3. Share your resolution. Sharing your resolution and your progress can make you more likely to achieve your goals (Evans, 2015; Cherry, 2020).
  4. Make a plan. If you have a plan giving you a road map, you are much more likely to reach your destination. One of the best ways to do that is to break your resolution into more manageable SMART goals (Miller, n.d.).


“SMART goals should give you the opportunity for success, which is going to keep you on track to keeping your New Year’s Resolution”

SMART Goals for Your
New Year’s Resolution

What are SMART goals? I thought you’d never ask.  SMART is an acronym that can help you develop goals that have been shown to lead people to achievement.  You’ll see why as we go through the characteristics of a SMART goal.


When you break your resolution down into goals, they should be very precise. It’s not helpful to say, “I will conserve energy.” Think about saying something like, “I will turn off all the lights in the house each day this week.” 


You want to be able to determine if you were successful or not. You need some sort of measurement to make this determination. For this reason, it isn’t enough to say, “I will take shorter showers.” You could say, “I will take progressively shorter showers each day this week” and log the duration of your showers during that time period. Or you could try “I will set an alarm for seven minutes to ensure my shower is shorter than it is now.”


SMART goals should give you the opportunity for success, which is going to keep you on track to keeping your New Year’s Resolution. It’s probably not realistic to say, “I won’t use a single piece of single-use plastic this month” unless you’re not going anywhere and you have already made changes in your home to support that change– in which case, is it really a goal? It may be more realistic to say, “I will use containers instead of plastic bags to pack my sandwich for lunch this week.” That is a smaller, more achievable goal. And hey, if that’s easy, you can always progress the next week.


Does this goal really support your resolution? Is the goal (and resolution) something you actually care about? 


You need to set a realistic timeframe for your SMART goal. And each of your SMART goals should be working toward your overall goal of the year. Therefore, your SMART goals should be for shorter periods of time.  Having these shorter-term goals can help you feel good along the way.

Ideas for New Year’s Resolutions for a More Sustainable 2021


Eat less meat

There are many SMART goals you can create to help you break this resolution into specific, measurable, achievable, relatable and time-bound chunks.  Here are some suggestions: 

  • I will engage in Meatless Mondays, reducing the number of meals containing meat each month. 
    • You can start off by just doing one meal and slowly convert more meals to meatless options each month until your entire day is meatless. You can keep going to expand to an additional day of meatless meals or expand to make it a vegan Monday! We can get you started if you hop over to our post “A Month of Meatless Monday dinners.”
  • I will consider the impact of my food and select lower impact options for at least 4 dinners each week. 
    • To reach this goal, you need to have some understanding of the carbon footprint for your food and how they compare. For example, chicken has a lower impact than beef or lamb, so you would want to choose poultry over red meat. To learn more about the carbon footprint of food you eat and do a quick comparison of foods, check out the Climate Change Food Calculator from BBC News.


Make a Point to Shop Local

Yessss! Shop local, especially now when your small businesses are suffering and your delivery workers are overworked.  But let’s break this down so we can see real progress.  Check out these suggestions for SMART Goals:

  • I will look for a local option for at least 75% of birthday gifts this year.
    • This doesn’t mean that you necessarily buy everything local right away. But this is a commitment to take the time and be intentional enough to look for local options. This should help you reduce the amount of times you order from big box stores and the amount of shipping involved in your shopping.  You will also learn a lot about what is really available in your local area. You can track your progress by writing out the birthdays you recognize each month and marking which ones you are able to get at local stores. 
  • I will limit my orders from [insert frequently used big box store] to [insert number] times per month.
    • For those of us who place a lot of Amazon orders and rely on Walmart, Target, and other big box stores for most of our shopping, this limitation will force us to seek out other options for some of our shopping. Keep track of how many times you use your favorite big box store(s) in a month. Set your goal each month to be a little less! 


Reduce waste

This is a super broad resolution, which means you’re likely to find success! Yay! But it also means that you should add some really specific goals to help you better shape the direction you’d like to take this resolution. 

  • I will reduce food waste by creating weekly meal plans and organizing food bi-weekly to ensure things are eaten or frozen before they’re spoiled.
    • Food waste is a huge problem! But with this goal you can attack the problem from two angles. By creating a meal plan, you buy less unnecessary food to begin with. Then, by keeping track of food expiration dates, you are less likely to have to throw away rotting or spoiled food.
  • I will buy at least 80% of my clothing second hand this year.
    • By buying second hand, we extend the life of clothing and keep them out of the landfills. Further, you are avoiding buying/consuming new material.  In a world of fast fashion, this type of commitment is challenging and rewarding.  Read more about fast fashion, watch this YouTube video by Kristen Leo.
  • I will make one additional swap each month to replace a single-use item with a reusable one.
    • There are so many swaps that you can make. Be sure that these swaps are NEW to you and not something that you’re already doing. Also, be sure that the swap is based on a need. Buying or making a reusable item that you won’t use or already have isn’t sustainable. If you follow this SMART goal, by the end of the year, you will have made twelve small changes and a huge impact. Find some ideas for swaps from The Edgy Veg.


Advocate for Sustainable Practices

While posting about sustainability on your favorite social media platform may be considered to be a form of activism by some, I encourage you to dig a little bit deeper this year if this is your goal. Consider how you can set meaningful goals related to this resolution by utilizing the examples below:

  • I will write a tactful letter or review encouraging one business that I patron [insert time frame] to reflect on their practices and look for more sustainable solutions. 
    • If you go to a restaurant who is still using plastic straws, consider writing them to swap the plastic out for paper and/or to only provide straws when requested.  If you see a company using styrofoam packaging, write them and ask them to consider a recyclable or compostable option.  There are many practices that can be modified and lots of opportunity to bring these concerns to the attention of businesses.
  • I will vote based on environmental issues from small community votes to large scale government votes.
    • When you’re voting on a fundraiser for the PTA, are you thinking about the environmental impact of the suggestions? When you vote for a politician, are you aware of where they stand in relation to climate change? 
  • I will write to various legislators at least [number] times a year to highlight concerns related to sustainability and advocate for policy changes.
    • Consider the various levels of government and the issues that make the most sense in their arena. Also consider what is most pressing in your community. Add your voice and encourage others to do the same.
  • I will share my sustainable practice successes in public forums (social media, organizational meetings, etc.) at least [number] times per month.
    • By sharing what you’re doing, you will motivate yourself and give yourself some accountability. You will also have the opportunity to inspire others.  Include messages about how others can get involved or do something similar so that they can learn from you rather than just see your achievement.

Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions 

There are a number of tips and tricks to help you keep your New Year’s Resolutions available on the world wide web. One article from The Harvard Gazette offers a break down by month on how to achieve your goal (Step-by-step, 2019).  I really resonate with the idea of accountability and support through sharing our resolution and goals with others and finding support. And guess what! There is a way you can get BOTH of those things through our FREE CHALLENGE.  We have our first challenge beginning in February when the novelty of your resolution may be wearing off. Don’t worry, we’ll get you back on track. We’ve designed a 3-week challenge to motivate you and help you form ONE habit that can help you keep your New Year’s Resolution. 



Find support, community, and accountability with Green Whale’s Free Challenge: 3 Weeks to a Greener Me! 

Learn More



20 Easy Sustainable Swaps to Reduce Waste: 20 Eco-Friendly Life Hacks. (2019, October 30). The Edgy Veg. Retrieved December 31, 2020, from

A step-by-step guide on how to choose, make, and keep New Year’s resolutions. (2019, January 04). The Harvard Gazette. Retrieved January 01, 2021, from

Cherry, K. (2020, December 21). How to Stick to Your New Year’s Resolutions This Year. Retrieved December 31, 2020, from

Evans, L. (2015, June 19). Why Sharing Your Progress Makes You More Likely To Accomplish Your Goals. Fast Company. Retrieved December 31, 2020, from

Grand, A. (2020, December 26). 21 Sustainable New Year’s Resolutions for 2021. Good Intent. Retrieved December 31, 2020, from

Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. (n.d.). Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy. Retrieved December 31, 2020, from

Miller, J. A. (n.d.). How to Make (and Keep) a New Year’s Resolution. The New York Times. Retrieved December 31, 2020, from

Pappas, P. (2020, July 02). A Taxonomy of Reflection: Critical Thinking For Students, Teachers, and Principals (Part 1). Retrieved December 31, 2020, from

Sustainable Development Goals. (n.d.). Retrieved December 31, 2020, from

Weiss, K. (2016, December 31). 5 Steps to Choosing Expansive New Year’s Resolutions. LifeHack. Retrieved December 31, 2020, from

WikiHow. (2020, December 30). How to Pick a Realistic New Year’s Resolution. Retrieved December 31, 2020, from’s-Resolution

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