How to Keep New Year's (and Deforestation-Free) Resolutions

December 30, 2015 | 11:00 am
Lael Goodman
Former contributor

New Year’s is possibly my least favorite time of the year—it reminds me of getting older, everything that I didn’t get done in the past year, and that I still don’t know much Spanish. But this year, inspired by my colleagues, my brother-in-law, and the movie Fed Up, I will be reducing the amount of sugar in my diet.

It is that time of the year again. Image: pixabay

It’s that time of the year again.

To give myself every advantage, I’m planning ahead. I looked up tips and tricks for keeping New Year’s resolutions. As I began to write down the findings listed on multiple websites, I realized that everything advised for keeping personal resolutions has a corollary in the corporate world for making and following through on strong palm oil and deforestation-free pledges.

In 2015, businesses all over the world have made sustainability commitments. Of course, this is fantastic news. But as I’ve noted before, forests are helped only once these commitments begin to be implemented. So as a reminder to those of us using 2016 as an excuse to better ourselves—and to those companies bettering the world with environmental pledges—here are some tips for success.

  1. Make your commitment public.

Companies: This is sometimes the very first public step for companies. Often, they have been researching for months or even years to find out what is entailed in making a deforestation-free commitment. But companies should publicly post their commitments, and do it loudly and proudly. Not only will this show customers that they are taking their concerns into account, but it will show other companies that the tide has turned, and it is no longer acceptable to make products at the expense of forests.

Me: This blog post serves as my public commitment to reduce my sugar intake in 2016.

  1. Make a plan.

Companies: Unfortunately, many companies have made public commitments, and as far as the public can tell, that is where the effort has stopped. To show that there is intention and follow-through, companies should also release a detailed plan of what are the steps needed to reach the ultimate goal. How will they work with their suppliers? How will they ensure that the ingredients they source are not linked to deforestation? Who is responsible within the company for overseeing these efforts? What will happen if violations are found?

Me: In order to tackle my sugar intake, I will need to modify three key areas of my life: breakfast, desserts, and hidden sugar. Although I am ultimately responsible for my sugar habits, I will inform my sugar suppliers (parents, friends, coworkers) that my sourcing habits will be changing. I would urge them to work with me in meeting my goals.

  1. Be specific.

Companies: After commitments without a lot of details, questions remain. What commodities does the commitment apply to? What standards apply? How does the company define “deforestation”?

Me: I will reduce my sugar intake by one-third in 2015. The scope of my efforts excludes naturally sweetened items such as fruit and includes but is not limited to cane and beet sugar, corn syrup (high fructose or otherwise), honey, agave nectar, and all artificial sweeteners.

  1. Set short-term goals.

Companies: Transforming an entire supply chain is complicated and is likely time-consuming. The entirety of the challenge may seem less overwhelming if it is broken up into manageable pieces. Many companies have dates by which they will have traced all their palm oil or by which they will be using sustainable (but not necessarily deforestation-free) palm oil.

Me: Although I am not even coming close to cutting all sugar out of my diet, it still feels like quite a task. So I will focus on the easiest parts to tackle first. While this might seem like a laughable goal to many, I will endeavor to remove chocolate chips from my breakfast meal by the end of February.  Don’t laugh! Chocolate chip and dried cherry oatmeal is delicious—it will be hard to give up.

  1. Make it automatic.

Companies: At first glance, this one seems a little more difficult to apply to companies. But after careful consideration, the spirit of the advice is very resonant. Companies should no longer be thinking of removing deforestation from their supply chains as “extra.” Instead, this is something that should be part of a company’s regular standards. Instead of contracting new suppliers first and then going back to figure out if their supply chain involves deforestation, ensuring environmental responsibility should be a requirement before any business is done.

Me: For many of you, eating chocolate chips at breakfast is something that is not acceptable. Indeed, my parents did not raise me this way; when I was growing up, I had a choice of approximately 6 cereals for breakfast and all of them involved bran. Yet somewhere along the way chocolate in my oatmeal because habit. I need to find a new, healthier, and less sugary go-to breakfast option and upon waking, reach for that instead of my chocolate chip oatmeal.

  1. Get support from a community.

Companies: The good news is that there are enough companies making global commitments to deforestation-free commodities that there truly is a community. Companies can and should (and to some degree already are) work together to figure out the most efficient way to enact their policies. No one said this would be easy. Growth has been occurring at the expense of tropical forests for decades. To truly change this pattern, companies must learn from one another’s mistakes, and the resources from companies working together will go much further than individual efforts.

Me: I live alone, so I know there are so many decisions in the course of my life that no one knows about but me. I need a community to turn to when I’m going back for my third serving of ice cream (usually Moosetracks).  Fed Up has some experts to follow who talk about the addiction to sugar or I could turn to my brother-in-law, who has successfully cut much of the sugar from his diet.

  1. Celebrate successes.

Companies: The struggle is real. When there is so much at stake, the health of the planet and all its residents, it feels like anything less than achieving the final goal is failure. However, every step forward is a step in the right direction. Meeting those short-term goals is an achievement, especially if it shows that companies are putting the necessary resources into meeting their commitments. Instead of seeing these steps as falling far short of the goal, see them as a reaffirmation of the importance of the overall goal and proof that companies are taking these responsibilities seriously.

Me: Let’s be real, I’m not cutting sugar out of my diet entirely and that is not my goal. I will likely have multiple servings of desserts on some occasions and may eat chocolate for breakfast once in a while. But every day I pay attention to my sugar intake is a day that I am healthier than I would be otherwise. And that is worth celebrating, in 2016 and beyond.