Do you want to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, but don't know where to start? Are you wanting to reduce your household carbon emissions but feel overwhelmed by the prospect of change? Do you start off motivated and then find it all gets too much? You aren't alone.
Four in five Australians are fairly or very concerned about climate change, while feelings of despair and helplessness about the climate are becoming increasingly common, according to the Australian Psychology Society (APS).
It's become abundantly clear that all Australians have a role in reducing household waste and carbon emissions. While it's easy to get bogged down in politics and disastrous media headlines, there's a lot we can on an individual level that is within our control.
So, where exactly do you start? You may want to reduce your household waste or decrease your carbon footprint. Great! These big goals keep you motivated and focussed, but a big goal without an action plan will set you up to fail. Because, how will you know when you're wasting less or when you've lowered your carbon emissions? You won't because you have no way of measuring your progress or success when your goals are general or vague.
To remain motivated and on track, we not only need to set clear goals but we need to have a sound plan. That's where the SMART principle can help.
What is a SMART eco goal?
Forming goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-framed (SMART) means that not only do we have a goal, but we will see our progress and know when our goal has been achieved. This means taking broad eco goals such as I want to reduce my electricity footprint, and making them practical and specific: I want to reduce my electricity bill by 10% in three months.
Let's break this down by using 'reduce household waste' as an example.
SPECIFIC: Reduce waste in the bathroom.
MEASURABLE: Convert to reusable / compostable / recyclable options for five bathroom items.
ACHIEVABLE: Focus on five key items: cotton buds, cotton balls, razors, hand soap (bottle) and body soap (bottle).
RELEVANT: I am responsible for household purchases and therefore can source alternatives.
TIME-FRAMED: I want to reduce bathroom waste (on these five items) within twelve weeks.
See how this goal has been broken down into a specific and manageable goal that has a timeline? Not only is it clear what you need to do, but you'll also be able to review your progress. It's important to point out here that goals do not have to be fixed, they can be fluid and adapt to our changing needs.
Plan, Plan, Plan
SMART goals are the first part of the process. Now that you have a goal, you also need to make a plan. This involves breaking down your goal into specific tasks. For the SMART goal example I've used above, you may have a list of the following tasks:
1. Purchase bamboo cotton buds (to replace plastic) so they can be composted
2. Cut an old towel or purchase reusable cotton cloths in place of cotton balls
3. Purchase a reusable steel safety razor when my supply of disposable razors is finished.
4. Purchase a soap bar in place of hand soap
5. Purchase a soap bar in place of body wash
6. Install a new 'compost' waste bin in the bathroom
You can see how this goal will quickly come to fruition. With each task, you can set yourself an action date, or you may want to break the task down into even smaller chunks (for example research safety razors, add to the monthly budget, etc). Once you get the hang of forming goals like this it will become second-nature and you can set multiple eco goals to work on at the same time.
With a new (hopefully brighter!) year around the corner, now is the time to make SMART eco goals, be kind to the planet, while being kind to yourself.
Written by Lauren Keegan
Lauren Keegan is a Sydney-based psychologist and freelance writer who is passionate about sustainability and learning new ways to lead an eco-conscious life. To find out more visit laurenkeeganwriter.com