Colin Beavan and his family spent one year trying to take the term “green” to the extreme. By the time his book was finished and the documentary had launched, the No Impact Man had lived without electricity, a car or even throwaway diapers- not an easy feat with a toddler running around. Now, a few years after No Impact Man launched, Colin still strives to live as environmentally as possible. He is a vegetarian, an avid biker and has an apartment completely furnished with second hand furniture. He also heads NoImpactProject.org, a site dedicated to helping people get involved in the environmental agenda. Colin spends time visiting colleges and schools, publicly speaking about environmental issues and lifestyle. He’s also working on a book about how to live a life that’s both better for humans and the planet, which is set to hit shelves near the end of the 2013. MomTrusted talked to Colin about his environmental experiment and how any family can lead a greener life.
MomTrusted: Can you summarize the documentary and book No Impact Man?
Colin Beavan: It was a year in which my family and I lived as environmentally as possible in the middle of New York City. When I say that we lived as environmentally as possible, it wasn’t about making sure we did the recycling, but, for example, not making any trash at all or using a more efficient vehicle and actually trying to make no carbon emission through our transportation at all. We worked in all the areas from trash to consumption to travel to household operation, trying to live for a year making as little impact as possible.
MomTrusted: What were you hoping to gain?
Colin: I needed to ask this question: Is it possible to live doing more good than harm, environmentally speaking? Also does the modern, consumer lifestyle actually make us happy or is it possible that there’s a way of life that’s both better for us and better for the planet?
MomTrusted: What were the added challenges of doing this experiment with a toddler?
Colin: For one thing, she was in diapers and so obviously we couldn’t use throwaway diapers. We went on to cloth ones.
But I think that having a toddler made it easier in a lot of ways because I came to see everything through her eyes. For example, one time I went to pick her up from childcare and we were on our way home in pouring rain. She was riding my shoulders. I had an umbrella and I was struggling to keep the umbrella over her. Obviously in New York City, it’s hard to get a taxi when it’s raining, but if you can’t get in a taxi because you’re leading an environmental life experiment there seem to be lots of empty cabs around.
So we’re walking along, it’s pouring rain and I’m wrestling with the umbrella in the rain. The wind would blow and Isabella would start crying and the rain would hit her. I said, “I’m trying to keep you dry.” Then I realized she wasn’t crying when the wind blew the umbrella off of her. She was crying when I was keeping the umbrella over her because she wanted to feel the rain. So I took the umbrella down, we got soaking wet and splashed our way home. I thought, “What have we come to that we struggle to not feel the elements?”
In a lot of ways she wasn’t an extra challenge, but made it easier.
MomTrusted: How do you explain the concept of going green to your children?
Colin: It doesn’t need much explaining as far as the kids are concerned. For example, if you say to a kid, “So this is how our energy system works: What we do is we find a nice mountain and we blow the top off of it. We harvest the coal out of the mountain and, while we do that, we actually make it so that all the drinking water for the people down stream from the mountain becomes poison. So the people can’t drink the water anymore. Then we take the coal from the mountain and we throw it in a big fire and make electricity. When we burn that coal, it pumps this poison called carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and starts to make the planet warmer. It makes it harder for a bunch of species to survive and could actually make it harder for us as human beings to survive.” Now when you tell that story to children, usually they think, “What the hell is wrong with you grownups?”
So when it comes to explaining stuff, kids get it really well. It’s the grownups that have a hard time getting it.
MomTrusted: What advice would you give to a family interested in leading a more environmentally friendly lifestyle?
Colin: Look for those areas that are more environmental and help the family at the same time. For example, if the family is concerned about their diet, moving toward a non-processed, plant-based diet is good for the family and is good for the environment. If the family’s concerned about not getting enough exercise, then look into ways that actually use your body to transport yourself. If money is an issue, conserve energy around the home. Move toward things that would actually improve your life.