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No Impact Man - Could You Live Without Hurting the Environment?

Updated on August 30, 2010

I just watched a fascinating movie about a man named Colin Beavan aka the No Impact Man. Beavan was tired of just talking about the changes that needed to be made to quit hurting the planet and help sustain the world. So he opted to do something about them. Beavan, his wife, and his daughter lived for a year in their New York City apartment making as little impact on the environment as they could.

Can you even fathom what that means for a family to not hurt the environment? Have you thought recently about how your everyday actions impact the world? Here is a brief list of the things they opted to do without in order to succeed in making no impact on the environment.

  • cars
  • elevators
  • restaurant food
  • takeout food
  • new clothes
  • new anything really (other than food)
  • environmentally hazardous cleaning supplies and toiletries
  • disposable diapers
  • newspapers and magazines
  • toilet paper
  • meat
  • television
  • anything at all that was disposable
  • electricity

Could you live without those things? Honestly, some I could and some I couldn't. I could do without eating out, elevators, disposable diapers, newspapers and magazines, and cleaning supplies. The rest of the stuff I need in my daily life. How about you?

The movie No Impact Man showed exactly how this small family lived for the year. They implemented the project in phases. For instance when they ran out of toilet paper, they didn't buy more. At the six month mark they flipped the switch on electricity. They did later get a solar panel to power the essentials such as a computer to document his work and the stove to cook their food.

I think it helps that they live in NYC because locally grown food is so readily available. They shopped at farmer's markets daily and ate only things grown within 250 miles of their home. They climbed nine flights of stairs to get to their apartment and Beavan's wife rode a scooter to work. Later they were given bicycles (one with a seat in back for their daughter) to get around the city with. Those were their only forms of transportation. Only what they could power themselves.

The No Impact Man family made all their own cleaning supplies and toiletry items, washed their clothing in the bathtub, and diapered their daughter with cloth diapers rather than disposable. Did you know that every single day 49 million disposable diapers go into landfills around the world? How long do you think it will take for those to break down?

They ate by candlelight simple home cooked meals made from fresh vegetables and fruits. It sounds almost quaint! Did you know that worldwide raising meat for food consumption produces more carbon emissions than all forms of transportation combined? That fact caused them to eat vegetarian for the year. They had a worm composting system in their apartment to recycle food scraps into earth.

Believe it or not, Beavan took a lot of criticism for attempting to live this way. Many people thought he was out to make money (the project was for a book he was writing, although something he was keenly interested in prior to the project). People thought his family was dirty and gross. What people don't realize is that special cleaning supplies and toilet paper have only been around for the past century or so. Cloth rags were used for thousands of years just fine. Homemade cleaners do just as good a job as chemical cleaners - without harming the environment. I have a feeling that Beavan's family is healthier than they have ever been before.

I particularly liked the footage of his wife and her struggles with embracing this way of life. It was also interesting to see in the end what things they would bring back. They did turn the electricity back on and I know Beavan's wife was looking forward to having a refrigerator again as well as a washing machine. As far as I know they did not bring back the television and they still use their own power to travel places.

If you have wondered what you could do differently to help the environment and live a greener, cleaner life, the movie No Impact Man is for you. This movie encouraged my husband and me on our journey to live without hurting the environment. We came away with new ideas, new reasons for living this way and new opinions about ways things could change. As Colin Beavan has shown in this movie, one person really can make a difference.


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      Robert P 6 years ago from Canada

      I think that there is too much focus being placed on changing consumption patterns as a way to help the environment while we ignore the obvious - there are too many people. As our population expands, even minimal consumption and impact has an enormous total effect. We will soon reach the tipping point where our population, even if we adopt stringent personal austerity measures to reduce our impact, will be destitute or dead.

      If we had fewer people on the planet, there would be more resources to go around. We could consume more, with less net harm to the environment. I am not advocating some sort of genocide or mass culling to bring our population down, but reducing the birth rate so that it no longer replaces natural deaths would soon reduce our population to a manageable level.

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      Amie Warren 7 years ago

      I had heard of this, but didn't see the movie. I want to see that. I wouldn't live in NYC without heat for any amount of money. I live in the south, and AC is a necessity.

    • rural exile profile image

      rural exile 7 years ago from Derbyshire

      Thanks Jennifer for a thought provoking hub - that way of life was similar in many ways to our family way of life in childhood - I still try and live in a similar fashion but find it increasingly difficult now living in a city. Thanks again.

    • Jennifer profile image

      Jennifer 7 years ago

      Wandererh, the movie does talk about trying to reach a point where you are living sustainably. that is the ultimate goal.

    • wandererh profile image

      David Lim 7 years ago from Singapore

      I don't think the solution is to avoid having an impact on the environment as that is unavoidable in modern day living. And the idea of reduce, reuse and recycle will only postpone the inevitable. Ultimately, we would have to find a sustainable way to maintain our way of life, such that whatever we take from the environment, we put back in equal measure.

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      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      They still sit about instead giving the householders solar panels. It is cheaper than building a nuclear power station and it produces waste which can't be re-cycled. They will wait till the last day and then they all look surprised to cover their own back.

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      someonewhoknows 7 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      I didn't see the movie.I would like to read the book if there is one to read.However If,I were to see the movie wouldn't I be using energy? If,I read the book in printed form it would be made of paper I assume which requires the cutting of trees.

      Hemp fiber that has been used to make paper and cloth for centuries is clearly sustainable and would allkow us to let trees continue to grow and sequester carbon within itself.It's seed is high in protein and omega 3 fatty acid which is healthy to eat.

      We need sustainable energy sources.We could have them if we really want them.

      Just using less energy is not the answer.We will eventually run out of oil from underground sources making them more exspensive as time goes on.If,we don't aquire sustainable sources of energy before we run out of conventionale sources we will have more war.