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LESS IS MORE

Everyday ethical changes every person can make for a better world in 2016

By Thu-Huong Ha

Next year is your year: You’re going to be more efficient at work, exercise three times a week, and make progress on the side projects you put off in 2015.

That’s great for you. But after a big year for high-profile philanthropy, you might also be wondering how you can make a contribution to the greater good in 2016.

Well, we can’t all donate $45 billion to make the world more equal, but if everyone adopted a few small habits in the coming year, we could start to change the planet and society. Here are just a few simple resolutions, recommended to Quartz by experts from philosopher Peter Singer to shopping psychologist April Lane Benson:

Buy more local meat

When it comes to responsible eating, the one thing you can do is buy more local meat.

Christopher Leonard, author of The Meat Racket, tells Quartz that the US meat industry is so huge that two companies control half the chicken market and four companies control 85% of beef—so it can be very difficult to incentivize companies to treat animals well or use environmentally sound practices.

Buying meat from a local producer instead, says Leonard, lets you ask questions about farm conditions.

Local meat isn’t cheap—prices can be anywhere between a third to 200% more than store-bought meat, so it’s not always a feasible option. But, says Leonard, buying local can be a good option for special occasions. “And besides,” he says, “It’s delicious.”

Give cash directly to those in need

Figuring out who to give money to can be tough—charitable organizations can be surprisingly opaque, and people often disagree on which causes are most effective. But a new movement in charity seeks to actually measure the efficiency of giving, and the results thus far suggest that giving directly to those in need may be the best bang for the buck.

Moral philosopher Peter Singer is one proponent of giving cash directly. He writes to Quartz, “People can make a difference to a particular family, or individual. They can help a family to buy an iron roof so that they don’t get wet when it rains (by donating to Give Directly).”

Buy fewer things for your closet

This could be the year that you cut back on new clothes. A 2012 report (PDF) by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that 11% of what Americans throw out are made up of rubber, leather, and textiles.

To cut that down, try buying less. As Patagonia President and CEO Rose Marcario wrote for Quartz earlier this year, ”As individual consumers, the single best thing we can do for the planet is to keep our stuff in use longer.” Keep using what you have, and repair your clothes instead of getting new ones, she suggests.

Psychologist April Lane Benson, author of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop, suggests putting distance between yourself and the thing you’re about to buy. She recommends a series of reflections when you’re tempted to buy things you don’t need:

Why am I here?
How do I feel?
Do I need this?
What if I wait?
How will I pay for it?
Where will I put it?

This idea of more mindful shopping is simple: Put one more step between you and the act of adding, to ”create space between impulse and action,” Benson tells Quartz.

Compost unused produce

The World Resources Institute estimates (PDF) that in 2009 a full 32% of the food produced in the world was lost or wasted. So it’s no surprise that Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for the US EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management, tells Quartz that the one thing everybody can do to help the environment is compost.

The agency sees food waste as one of the world’s biggest threats, and keeping food scraps out of landfills cuts down on methane emissions.

“Simply put, all wasted food can be put to a higher use than just throwing it away,” says Stanislaus. “Composting has a low carbon footprint, enriches soil, reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and suppresses plant diseases and pests thereby reducing the need for pesticides.”

Compost in your yard, or find a nearby composter (for those in North America).

Divest from fossil fuels

In a deal announced on Dec. 12, 195 countries unanimously agreed to an ambitious climate-change plan. It came a year after the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that the world needed to eliminate its dependence on fossil fuels by 2100.

Ordinary people can help, says leading climate change activist Bill McKibben. He tells Quartz that stock owners can make sure to keep their money out of fossil fuels. McKibben writes that this is “a small-scale action that might have some effect on the structural, systemic problem we face.”

He encourages people to find out more from Fossil Free, and to write to their religious denominations and alma maters to do the same.