In January it seems there are two things on almost everybody’s minds: New Year’s resolutions and shopping. These may seem hard to reconcile, but with the growing market of ‘green’ and ethical consumer products, it may actually be possible to combine the two and put your money where your mouth is in terms of those good intentions. Some of the most exciting developments for environmentally aware consumers in 2008 will surely come from a surprising source: motoring and car companies.

If you’re tiring of your current car – but you’re not ready to go totally green and trade it in for walking, then public transport or a bike (cycling, incidentally, is a great way to shift some of the ‘festive plumpness’ that’s often another top January concern) – it’s worth looking into the environmental impacts of various vehicles’ production and manufacture. Find out about the fuel economy and emissions levels of cars before you buy, and you could be doing a big favour to the planet, human health and your bank balance too: obviously, smaller engines with greater efficiency mean you’ll spend less on fuel while producing less harmful CO2.

Climate change has been the hot topic of the year, from dinner tables to boardrooms and from muddy campsites to Westminster and Washington. Even California’s Governor, one Arnold Schwarzenegger, previously seen saving the world from killer robots and Harrier-surfing terrorists, has added his distinctive voice to the lobby for cleaner, greener transport by setting ground-breaking goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the state. He plans to increase the number of hydrogen fueling stations in California (currently 25) to 200 and create a ‘hydrogen highway’ there by 2010, making it a Mecca for owners of carbon-neutral vehicles like his very own, wildly inefficient and expensive but still hydrogen-powered, ‘green Hummer’.

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Good news for green consumerism, then, which is big news on this side of the pond too – several hybrid and electric cars are already available here and there’s a fast-growing network of ‘biodiesel’ fueling stations across the UK, with a mix of 5% biofuel to regular diesel already common thanks to the RTFO plan. The ‘half-way house’ in the shorter term is represented by small, efficient vehicles like the new diesel Mini and the funky Smart range from Mercedes-Benz, which both also happen to be pretty fantastic in terms of looks.

Another thing to bear in mind whether you’re looking for a new vehicle or just to cut the costs of your driving is car insurance – it’s vital to ensure this is up to date each year, as the law is quite clear that you can’t drive without it. The car you choose will affect your premium, as will many other factors like your driving history, whether the car is kept in a garage, and even having a tracking device installed (often included with satellite navigation systems) can mean a big saving. You can also often save by taking out car and home insurance from the same provider, or simply through a loyalty discount once you’ve found the company that’s right for you.

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