How to set green goals – and achieve them

green goals

It’s the time of year when folks are making resolutions and promising themselves this is the year they will lose weight, learn to speak Mandarin or take up ballet. While you’re in the mood, I’d like to seize the opportunity to suggest jotting down a few green goals alongside your personal, professional and parenting resolutions.

Ideas for “green goals”

If you’re reading this blog, you’re somewhere on the spectrum of sustainability. And that’s why I love you! But whether you’re a minty pastel or khaki green, there’s always more you can do or an area to improve on. Here are some ideas for green goals or resolutions:

  • Reduce your household waste
  • Lower your carbon emissions
  • Consume less
  • Eliminate synthetic chemicals in the home
  • Make a stand on an issue that’s important

At this level, the goals above look pretty big and scary, right? Let’s look at how to make these goals less airy-fairy and more achievable.

Setting achievable goals

I’ve been doing some work helping businesses make sustainability changes in their organisation and this had taught me a lot about setting realistic goals. Some of you may be familiar with the acronym SMART – this is a tool for goal-setting used in everything from personal development to market dominance.

SMART describes the goal:

S = Specific
Your goal needs to be an actual, definitive thing. Saying “I will be more eco-aware” is not a specific goal, deciding to research the environmental issues of your region is.

M= Measurable
This is a really important factor. As strategists like to say – if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. Your goal needs some kind of metric that you can compare before and after your efforts. Examples are megalitres of water, tonnes of carbon, the number of bags of rubbish in your bin. Obviously some metrics might be less concrete: understanding of three green issues, to use the example above, or five eco-themed excursions with your kids.

A = Achievable
It seems obvious, but setting goals you can actually achieve is paramount. If you regularly aim too high, you are more likely to give up within two minutes. Try to think realistically – but not pessimistically – and set goals within your grasp.

R = Rewarding
Your goal must reward you in a way that is meaningful to you. That could be a financial or time saving measure – it could be a sense of satisfaction, better health, the knowledge you’re helping someone or making a difference. Examine your goal and make sure it gives you some nice kick-backs. It’s all well and good to change something for the greater good. But if it makes life more difficult and offers no reward, you’re unlikely to stick with it.

T = Time-bound
Ever wondered why there are so many books and blogs out there with titles like My Year Without Toilet Paper, Six Months Spending no Money, or Two Years Alone in the Wilderness With Nothing But a Nutcracker? It’s because goals with end-point are more concrete and therefore more achievable. Having a timeframe also allows you to compare (using your metric) and track your progress. If halfway through the year you realise your energy usage is down by 20 percent and you’re aiming for a 25 percent decrease by December, then you know you”re on the right track.

What are your goals?

With the SMART description in mind, let’s look at those bigger goals mentioned above. Here are examples of how they could be rephrased to be more achievable:

  • Collect and reduce soft-plastic packaging (measured by the bag-full or weight) by 50% by December 2014.
  • Reduce general waste by half by autumn.
  • Buy nothing new for the year of 2014 (see one family who did just that for 2013 here).
  • Reduce family’s carbon emissions by 25% by the end of the year (measured using an online carbon calculator).
  • Switch to natural personal care products by June.
  • Connect with an environmental organisation and offer your services by March.

These are just examples and I have not included the rewards as they are different for every person. When setting your green goals, make sure they are meaningful to you, not just what you think you “should” be doing. I’m guessing there’s something you have been meaning to change but for whatever reason haven’t yet. That is a great place to start.

Once you’ve set specific, measurable, achievable, rewarding and timely goals, the next step is to break them down into smaller goals steps. Below, I’ve listed three of my green goals for 2014 as examples of achievable goals setting.

1. Establish support for Plastic-bag Free Redcliffe by March
It is a long-term goal of mine to see single-use plastic bags banned from my area. I’ve been talking about it forever, but this year I am going to move forward. As you can see, my goal is just one step of the bigger, slightly terrifying, goal. I am going to break it down even further:

  • Contact Queensland Conservation Society for advice
  • Meet with retailers association to garner support
  • Approach local council member for support

I have until March to do these three things. After that I will take stock of my situation and determine the next set of goals.

2. Reduce general waste by 50% by year’s end
This may seem like an ambitious figure, but I am assuming my kids will finally be shot of plastic nappies by then (I use them overnight). To achieve this goal, I will need to:

  • audit our waste for two months
  • analyse what we put in the bin
  • find alternate waste disposal method or way to avoid items all together

3. Reach more people via this blog: double traffic by year’s end
I could (and will) write a whole plan for this goal, but there are a number of steps I plan to take, including:

  • Write useful content
  • Partner with major environmental charity
  • Provide free resources
  • Build presence on more diverse social media networks
  • Connect with more people/blogs/brands

In my experience, it’s easy to come out of the gate of the new year with guns blazing. It’s a wonderfully cleansing, optimistic time of year, but unless you have clear, achievable goals it’s easy to let your ambitions slide. What follows is guilt, an F-it attitude or even a bit of disappointment in oneself, which is never fun or productive. So get out your pen and paper and jot down some SMART goals. Why not commit to them and share in the comments below?

What are your green goals for 2014?


  1. Jonathan says

    Great post! It’s really important to focus on these sorts of issues and also how to achieve the objectives that you talk about.

    This year, I want to try to shop more responsibly. For me, this is going to mean trying to avoid ordering books and DVDs from Amazon as much as possible due to how little tax they pay on the profits that they make here in the UK. I’m going to try to buy as many books as possible from our local bookstore. I’m also going to try to cut down on unnecessary purchases, such as going to the sales in search of a bargain rather than something I need. I’m going to try to have a bit of a wardrobe clear out and drop off a bag or two of clothes to charity shops during January.
    Jonathan recently posted..8 thoughts from my 8th month as a parentMy Profile

    • (dt)em says

      Great resolutions, Jonathan. Hope the declutter goes well. One trick is to never buy something straight away. Ask the shop assistant to hold it, wander around for ten minutes and then it you really want the item, go back and buy it.

  2. Verity says

    As always, great post. Good luck with each of your goals! My primary green goal this year is to initiate more conversations with people (both online and in person) about environmental sustainability. I’m halfway through my Masters in Sustainability and it’s my personal mission to educate others and share what I am learning. In order to make this goal measurable, I will be posting a ‘Baby Steps to a Greener World’ series on my blog, sharing more environmental topics via social media and making a point of initiating at least one actual conversation on environmental issues outside the home each week. The major challenge will be doing it without insulting anyone!!
    Verity recently posted..The Nuts & Bolts of HappinessMy Profile

    • (dt)em says

      That’s a great resolution – I’ll be following on Bloglovin. I am getting bolder in talking to people about sustainability, I’m conscious of scaring people off, which is why I started this blog in the first place. Your course sounds fantastic – I miss study!

    • (dt)em says

      That’s a great strategy. Obviously you can’t have any food waste in there or your bin will stink so it forces you to really think about what you’re throwing out. Love it!

  3. Eliza says

    We have been talking about our green goals a lot in the last month or so. I have just started reading The Zero-Waste Lifestyle by Amy KOrst and I would like to implement some of these ideas at home. I’m not sure how much we can reduce our waste by, but I definitely want to start by analysing each piece of rubbish that goes into the bin and assess whether we can use simple methods to prevent this type of rubbish. (We’ll get on to the more complex methods as time goes on.) I know that there is a lot of stuff that should be going into the Coles soft plastic recycling bins, so that’s a place we’ll start. We are also going to trial using cloth nappies out of the home as well as in.
    I’m really looking forward to this new challenge. I LOVE your goals and will enjoy reading about your progress. Happy new year, Jo.
    Eliza recently posted..Whoop whoop!!My Profile

    • (dt)em says

      Happy new year to you too, Eliza. Sorry about the broken link in the post, I have just updated it :)

      To audit our bin, I trialled having it on the kitchen bench – we had a 1L yoghurt bucket for chooks, one for worms, one for compost and one for waste. It forced us to really think about what we were chucking in the bin (the recycling and soft-plastic collection are in the pantry). Ultimately, it took up too much bench space, but it was an interesting exercise.

      I’m so pleased your blog (and eco-lifestyle!) is continuing into 2014, I shall enjoy reading it xx

  4. Mother Down Under says

    I am buying no new clothes in 2014…this one will be hard for me because I am drawn to pretty things!
    But I have a closet full of pretty things…and really never get to wear any of them!
    So nothing new for me!
    Happy New Year!
    Mother Down Under recently posted..Taking StockMy Profile

    • (dt)em says

      Thanks for all your support in 2013, Bek – I know this year is going to be a big one for both of us. PS: one of my green goals for last year was to switch to reusable menstrual products and guess what? You helped me do it xxx

  5. Fiona says

    Great post Jo. I have just started a huge declutter of our house as I think we can live with a lot less. The next challenge will be to find the most suitable charity to donate the items too so they don’t end up in landfill. I am also going to find out the environmental policies and practices of the suppliers for my business to make sure we are partnering with like-minded companies. You’ve inspired me!

    • (dt)em says

      Go Fi! Going green beyond the home is a massive, that would make a huge impact. I have a list on my fridge of areas of the home to declutter and will be posting lots about how to responsibly get rid of stuff. It’s not easy… x


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