No Impact project inspires sustainable living

Imagine if you could cause no environmental impact. I’m not talking about recycling a few bottles here and there. I’m talking about no transportation, no plastic, no trash, no meat, no new things, no take-out food and no electricity.

Colin Beavan imagined what it would be like as well, and along with his wife Michelle and 3-year-old daughter, Isabella, he turned it into reality.

In the 2009 documentary “No Impact Man,” Beavan and his family lived a “no impact” lifestyle in New York City for a year. Three years later, the no impact project is making waves across the country as readers of his blog echo the project on smaller scales.

I am an environmentalist. Yet, before watching “No Impact Man,” I had never thought about how much trash I create, or where it goes after the garbage men take it away. This inspired me to try it myself. So I’ll focus my no impact week on reducing my trash, take-out food and use of plastics.

There are countless comments on his facebook page from people attempting the project for a week or longer.

Despite my aspirations to imitate Beavan’s project, my first impression of the film was not optimistic. It could have been due to the first scene beginning with Beavan sitting alone on a couch, where he delivers the opening line — which both misrepresents and adds naivety to the film: “We need the trees to save the planet…and the polar bears.”

Something about the inclusion of the polar bears rubbed me the wrong way. It made me picture hundreds of viewers rolling their eyes at this stereotypical statement, writing Beavan off as a tree-hugging, animal-loving hippie.

But it occurred to me that my initial irritation with Beavan had nothing to do with him and everything to do with me.  His dedication made me defensive about my own consuming habits.

But that’s the point. Though only one person, his actions cause people to rethink the consumer bubble that we have comfortably lived in all our lives. His family attempted to experience all aspects of no impact life to learn first-hand what is practical and what is not. This film held a mirror up to my lifestyle and caused me to question my actions.

So help me out Echo readers, and send me your tips and advice for living no-impact life. Better yet, watch the film and try it out yourself.

Featured image: Promotional film poster

  • Paul

    Above are described 3 levels of cutting back, all which have merit. Realistically, we will not approach the level of the Beavan family, that would require turning back the clock to the 1800s, and, most importantly, shrinking the world’s population commensurately. However, every little bit helps. Altho in the long run we have probably reached the tipping point, and some cataclysmic event will be needed to reset Man and this planet to equilibrium.

  • Becky

    We are a depressed and anxious society as well as a consumer society. I think low-impact lives are happier. I think each move that helps the planet aligns that person more with what a human being truly is. Are we REALLY consumers? Ads tell us multiple times daily what we need and where we need to go to be happy. But being human has nothing to do with stuff; every ancient bit of wisdom covers this topic. Why do we know this and yet follow a consumer lifestyle to the point of automatically assuming that green lives are deprived lives?

    Throughout human history, most humans have had to live thoughtfully and have had to notice how they use water and deal with food and shelter. The wrench we’ve experienced in which these facets of life became more thoughtless is surely bigger than we assume. The reasonably sudden switch to living almost entirely indoors with little thought to how we get food or water is very far from the vast majority of human existence so far. Rarely seeing the sky or feeling the wind or having the fascinating moments of seeing wildlife are probably harder to live without than we know.

    Saving water or electricity or keeping the heat low probably are sorts of reset buttons. They realign us with our history and possibly our DNA. Funny how even the environmental movement can assume that cutting back on this lifestyle is a negative that has to be adjusted to for the sake of the planet. I’m willing to bet that greener people are happier in a low, contented, very deep way. We could reframe this as a move to our real roots and a return to basic happiness rather than a constantly growing doing-without.

    Becky

    sierraclubgreatlakes.blogspot.com

  • Doug

    The concepts of “no impact” and “sustainable living” are myths. Do Colin and his family consider what it takes to collect, treat, and dispense the water they drink in a city? Do they consider the energy and resources it takes to create the concrete sidewalks they walk on or the building they live in? How do they heat their living space without creating environmental impacts? Do they make their clothing entirely from reused cloth (well, maybe on that one, I guess).

    I applaud them for doing really well at minimizing their impacts, but to think of their lifestyle as “no impact” is nonsense. Perhaps the only way one could think of one’s life as having no impact or being sustainable it to think in terms of one’s net impact. Spreading the gospel of minimal impact living may result in the impacts that those who learn from you being reduced by a greater amount than the impacts that you as an individual have. So, your net impact is <= zero.

  • Lauren

    As an environmentalist, personally and professionally, I think that “No Impact Man” does a disservice to the movement by framing the issue as one of personal sacrifice. To save the world does not mean there has to be a “year without toilet paper” (as the New York Times article on Beavan was titled) but a revolution in thinking about human society’s relationship with convenience, goods, services– about our consumption. It’s about long-range planning at each step of the treadmill of production so that less resources are used over the lifetime of owning something or living one’s life. This could be manifested, for example, in offering incentives to new building construction to use installation to the highest degree, even in the building is to be leased and that leaser takes on the energy costs. It means that you might not have this year’s knee high boots in brown. It means that maybe we each need to own less and utilize sharing more.