No coffee for a year sound rough? Try “No Impact”

Posted on September 16, 2009. Filed under: Recommendations | Tags: , , |

No Impact Man Book Cover

No Impact Man Book Cover

I listened to a really interesting podcast from Treehugger radio yesterday featuring Colin Beavan’s aka the “No Impact Man.” Colin described his year long adventure of committing to make no environmental impact while living in Manhattan with his wife, Michelle, and their diapered daughter. This saga has now been chronicled in a book and documentary and is the basis for Beavan’s non-profit: No Impact Project.

This was not the first time I had heard about the No Impact Man project and I started listening with reluctance- thinking this was just going to be a dry description of some attention grabbing stunt with no real meaning or value.

I was pleasantly surprised, entertained, and enlightened and now I can’t wait to read the book! Colin described his motivations for pursuing the No Impact experiment, the challenges, and the lessons he and his family have taken from it. Here is a brief synopsis:

The Motivation: Colin was deeply concerned with the climate crisis and the face that humans, specifically Americans, were having such an adverse affect on the planet. At the same time, he observed that these lifestyles that were dominated by the consumption of stuff were not actually leading to fulfillment or happiness and actually just made his family and friends stressed out. So he decided to impose a set of rules (including eating local products, not using electricity–no renewable options were feasible, not creating waste, and walking or biking around Manhattan) and stick to them for a year. Through this experiment, Colin hoped to get a sense of what stuff was actually important to him and what was just clutter.

Challenges: From the first day of the experiment, it was obvious that this huge lifestyle shift would be full of challenges. Cutting out coffee (no locally grown beans), disposable diapers, electricity, cars, New York Pizza (ingredients are not local), etc…seem daunting even in isolation- but the Beavans managed to do them all at once and maintain for an entire year. They replaced their daily routine with something completely different (homegrown peppermint tea instead of coffee, sitting outside at the park by the fountain instead of inside by the AC on a hot summer day). Colin noted that the first 6 months were the most difficult and after that they had a new routine and new habits that seemed natural.

Lessons: Although the Beavans are back to drinking coffee, riding the subway on a rainy day, and taking the escalator there were a few things that definitely stuck. First, was the idea of eating fresh, local food- a healthier and tastier alternative to the processed and preserved stuff which the Beavans continue to enjoy. Next, riding bikes, walking and taking the stairs to get places and get exercise. Colin described the New York cliche of taking a cab to the gym to run in place for an hour and then cab it back home- which really does seem pretty ridiculous when you stop and think about it. A final take-away was that by spending less money on discretionary purchases and less time on work (hard to work with no electricity after sundown), the Beavans were able to save money, relieve financial stress and spend much more quality time together.

Although I’m not inspired enough to commit to my own No Impact year, the experiment and the lessons are definitely thought-provoking. And to go beyond the thinking and spur action there is the No Impact Project, Beavan’s non-profit, shares tips and how-tos on cutting down your impact and prompts people to partake in their own No Impact mini experiments.

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