Selecting a green New Year’s resolution for 2012: An eco-friendly commute

While purchasing a fuel-efficient vehicle can be beneficial to the environment, making that kind of investment may be outside of many individuals' current budget. And while biking and utilizing public transportation is a greener alternative to driving, it's not always a practical solution for those who keep a busy schedule or have a long commute. But, there are a number of good driving tips from reliable sources like the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency that you can use to craft a New Year's resolution that cuts your car's energy consumption and helps the environment this year.

Buy a GPS or just ask for directions. Asking for directions is nearly taboo for men, and according to a survey conducted by insurance company Sheilas' Wheels, the average male drives 276 miles without knowing where he's going each year. Twenty-six percent of men said they drive around lost for at least 30 minutes before they stop and ask for directions, while 12 percent said they wouldn't stop at all. Green suggestion, keep your pride and buy a GPS. Those not ready to spend $100 on a new gadget can download navigation apps on their smartphones. Android devices come with a free Google Maps GPS app, and iPhone users can get the free Waze navigation app or download GPS apps from trusted names like Garmin and TomTom.

Buy new tires. Your car's tires are responsible for up to 30 percent of the vehicle's total amount of fuel consumption. As such, purchasing fuel-efficient tires can improve your fuel economy by up to 4 percent. It may not be without an upfront cost, but it will ultimately save you money on gas and cut your energy consumption significantly over time. Keeping your tires inflated to the correct PSI is also important, as your car's fuel economy decreases by 0.3 percent for each PSI drop in tire pressure.

Leave earlier and slow down. Accelerating and rapid braking can lower your gas mileage by as much as 33 percent on the highway, or in other words, about 99 cents per gallon of gas (assuming gasoline costs $3 a gallon). Your car's gas mileage progressively worsens once you top 60 miles per hour. For every five miles per hour over that threshold, your car becomes anywhere from 7 to 23 percent less efficient.


Selecting a green New Year’s resolution for 2012: Eating less red meat

While 2012 is already underway, Americans who have yet to come up with a New Year's resolution they feel confident in adhering to may want to consider making a pledge to decrease their carbon footprint this year. By taking this approach, green consumers can spread the word about their decision when friends and family ask them about what they have planned for 2012.

After all, while buying environmentally friendly products and investing in green housing upgrades can beneficial, creating lasting habits that can benefit not only yourself, but also the environment, may be the best long-term initiative green consumers can make. That's why one resolution these individuals may want to consider is going red meat free.

This approach can be a suitable resolution for those who don't want to forgo all types of meat and convert to vegetarianism or vegan-ism. Individuals who choose to make this resolution may find it a great alternative to other lifestyle choices, as they can still enjoy other meats such as chicken, fish and vegetables.

Another way for consumers to help reduce the carbon footprint from meat production without substantially changing their diet is for them to engage in popular practices such as Meatless Monday, a movement that encourages individuals to think about their meat consumption and its effects on the environment.

Recent studies have shown that cow carbon from food production is a major contributor to global warming, as carbon is emitted at nearly every stage of the milk and meat production process from the growing of crops for feed to the cows' ultimate retail distribution. As a result, by simply reducing their meat consumption even one day a week, green-minded individuals can ensure that their resolution helps enact change in 2012.

Drop in holiday card sending a positive for the environment

This holiday season, many consumers resolved to limit their spending, purchase American products and look for environmentally friendly products that could help reduce the use of natural resources during this time of year. While this all contributes positively to the green movement, a report by The National Retail Federation (NRF), conducted before the holiday season, found that a number of trends – brought on by economic problems and other larger market forces – could be contributing positively to environmental initiatives.

According to the report, consumers expected to allocate the smallest percentage of their budgets to the sending of holiday greeting cards when they were polled this December. The survey found that consumers expected less than 4 percent of their seasonal budget to go toward this expense, a sharp drop off from previous years.

Part of the reason for this shift is that more environmentally conscious consumers are sending their holiday greetings via email. This means that while the United States Postal Service will not be experiencing a strong revenue boost, its carrier vehicles may not have used as much fuel delivering these well wishes between friends and relatives.

In addition, Marianne Bickle, a retail expert and Forbes contributor, found that many neighborhoods chose not to decorate their homes this year with potentially energy-sucking adornments for their shrubs, trees and gutters. Still, due to the steep discounts offered by many stores, she indicated that the NRF report found that roughly 8 percent of consumer budgets were expected to go toward decorations.

Overall, these trends may help contribute positively by reducing America's reliance on foreign fuels until renewable energy can provide a suitable alternative. However, it remains to be seen that in the event of an economic upturn, consumers may revert to their old energy use habits in the future.

Getting involved with the federal Green Ribbon Schools program

Announced in September of 2011, the Green Ribbon Schools program is a new federal initiative by the U.S. Department of Education that aims to recognize schools that are doing their best to save energy, invest in environmentally friendly products and that feature sustainable learning spaces. Overall, the goal is to create happier, healthier environments for students, teachers and the surrounding communities.

While this program was only recently announced, some schools have been leading the charge when it comes to going green for some time. For example, Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., was profiled by area TV news source WJLA for its environmental activism, which it says has been ongoing for some time.

The newly renovated green building that houses the school comes complete with green roofing, an eco-lab and solar panels, and instructors have even altered curriculum to include classes that are focused on the environment and sustainability. These features will allow it to compete against other schools in the country as part of the new federal initiative, but it has other benefits.

"Definitely environmentalism and sustainable growth and sustainable use of resources are something these kids care about," Alex Wilson, director of academic development, told the news source.

According to the Green Ribbon Schools program's official website, parents can play an important role in raising awareness about the program with local educators. When schools decide to participate, parents can continue to play a crucial role, agreeing to host green activities and help enhance their child's career and technical skills.

As a result, parents may want to visit the program's website to find out how they can get involved in spreading this initiative to their city or town.

Buying ideas: Purchasing quality secondhand clothes this holiday season

While green consumers are typically guided toward environmentally friendly products in the supermarket or at high-end electronics stores through the use of labeling, in other industries, this marketing is less pervasive. For example, many green consumers – and even those who otherwise pursue green careers – still buy their clothing at trendy outlets, where often the only information that's available comes on the manufacturer's tag.

Now, savvy green consumers likely know to avoid certain products – say, cotton, which uses a number of the top pesticides in the course of its production – in favor of alternatives such as organic cotton, soy, modal and wool. But, instead of buying new goods that have less of a carbon footprint, environmentally conscious consumers may want to consider the secondhand clothing market.

According to a recent report from The Green Blog of The Boston Globe, many secondhand items – those not initially used in Salvation Armys, Goodwills or other big consignment stores – end up overseas, where they threaten local industries.

This news source highlighted the efforts of Sean Hewens and Ross Lohr, the founders of two Boston-based nonprofits, who thought of a creative way to resell these shirts through their No More New Campaign. Using Kickstarter to raise the funds, these eco-warriors are buying back the t-shirts and working with African artists to redesign the shirts for American consumption.

"The idea is so ridiculous that it resonates with people," Hewens told the news source.

The two founders hope to raise awareness about consumption in the United States and how it affects other industries abroad through the program. Consumers who want to join in the effort – and purchase a stylish new shirt for a friend or loved one this season – should take note, or at least think twice about their holiday clothing purchases this year. 

John Hopkins student wins national green competition

While many college students do their part to help the green movement by recycling and spreading awareness of new environmentally friendly products to their friends and family, some go above and beyond by enrolling in challenges that inspire them to get more young adults to commit to helping their favorite cause. Recently, Teens Turning Green asked high school and college students to partake in its Project Green Challenge, a month-long lifestyle competition. 

Participants who applied for entry were then asked to create innovative projects based around social initiatives. The grand prize winner, Raychel Santo of John Hopkins University, had prior experience inspiring others to lead an environmentally friendly lifestyle. Santos had engaged in environmental activities during high school and later founded a chapter of the national Real Food Challenge when she arrived at college.

Santo later joined the sustainability board at John Hopkins, where she worked with the organization's "Meatless Monday" campaign. She was named the winner at a Teens Turning Green gathering in San Francisco, where she competed against 12 other finalists, including a sister team that also hailed from John Hopkins.

"I intend to continue to subtly model sustainable behaviors to my family, friends, community, and now I guess the nation," Santa said after she learned about her victory. "While many may have initially been resistant to change, my hope is that once they can see how normal and exciting a green lifestyle can be, they will slowly adopt and promote greener lifestyles, too."

To find out how they can get involved in similar initiatives, college and high school students may want to speak with their student advisers or search the internet for similar porgrams. Some may involve exciting scholarship or learning opportunities that could eventually lead them to the best green careers when they graduate.

Creating an eco-friendly baby room with a smartphone app

Since young Americans are increasingly concerned about the environment (the Environmental Protection Agency says that more than 60 percent of Teen People readers buy environmentally friendly products), these individuals are influencing the values of their parents. However, it's also important for expecting parents to do their best to raise their child in an environment that's free from toxins and chemicals, even if they don't have an older son or daughter to point the way.

Those who are expecting a bundle of joy this holiday season can turn to smartphone apps to help them make the best decisions when it comes to furnishing their new baby's room. For example, the Peaceful Nursery app looks to make shopping quick and easy for busy parents by providing easy-to-access information at their fingertips.

Available at the iTunes store, the app has received many positive reviews since it was first introduced in April. Parents say they can use the app to make clean, user-friendly lists that help them navigate the many tasks they need to tackle before the big day.

Less focused on specific brands than other apps, this relatively inexpensive tool – it costs $1.99 – aims to teach parents about what environmentally friendly products contribute to the safety and health of their child. By using this app as a guide, parents may be able to reduce the amount of potentially harmful substances the baby is exposed to in its nursery or in other parts of the house.

The app also provides advice on what kind of plastics and shampoos are safe for their use. As a result, those who are expecting this holiday season may have more of a reason than ever to invest in smartphone technology, however, they should be sure to conduct research into the best green smartphones available before making a purchase as well.

Going green for the holidays: Eco-friendly gift wrapping

Even most die-hard eco-enthusiasts will likely admit that a gift just doesn't have the same magic without the addition of truly spectacular wrapping. At the same time, individuals who want to do their best to help America conserve resources this holiday season know that they should be careful not to waste paper. But, by conducting some smart holiday shopping this winter and turning to environmentally friendly products, each American can do their part to make this Christmas greener than the Grinch himself.

One way green-minded individuals can help their favorite cause is by changing the way they open their gifts. While ripping and tearing may be part of the fun for small children, these actions create wasted materials that need to once again be extracted from nature next year.

When opening their gifts, these individuals should undo wrapping in a way that leaves most of the paper intact. This way, they can put the wrapping paper aside and save it for next year's gifts. If done right, the future recipient of the gift will hardly notice that he's been handed an iPod in reused wrapping paper – especially, if there's an iPod inside.

Gift wrapping isn't just limited to paper, however. Tape and scissors also need to be utilized depending on the gift. To make the best purchase, consumers can look to alternative environmentally friendly products such as green tape. For example, Scotch recently released the Scotch 75-percent Recycled Magic version of its signature product, three-quarters of which is made out of plant-based or recycled material.

Paper bags are also a good environmentally friendly product consumers can give out this holiday season. To provide helpful knowledge as well as the intended present, gift givers may want to encourage their friends and family to reuse these bags next year when they wrap their own presents.