No Impact Man: Living Lightly in NYC


It's a bird, it's a plane, it's... OK, Colin Beavan probably wouldn't describe himself as a superhero, but like many other individuals and families that we've featured, he's taken on a project that's, at the very least, ambitious... and very green. Colin, his wife Michelle, and daughter Isabella have committed a year of their life to serious experimentation with lightening their environmental footprint. Their goal: zero net environmental impact at the end of that year.

For better or worse, the Beavans aren't trying to do this in an idyllic country setting with a straw bale house and big organic garden; rather, they'll shoot for zero net impact in the middle of New York City. The family started their project last November, and have already come across some naysayers:

I mention to a very liberal friend, a guy who used to be spokesman for a Democratic senator, that I'm trying to figure out how to live no impact here in New York. "Forget it. It's impossible," he says. It's one thing to try it in the countryside, maybe in the woods, like Henry David Thoreau, or on a farm, where you grow your own food. But in New York City? No way.

The fact is that if city dwellers can't learn to live without reducing their ecological footprint then we're in deep trouble because most of the world's population now lives in cities. Saving the world can't be left to the country bumpkins. It's an urban problem.

In addressing their small share of this urban problem, the Beavans have embraced William McDonough and Michael Braungart's concept of "eco-effectiveness": "We will ... figure out what our world can productively offer us rather than considering only what we want." The specific tactics they plan to employ include year-long experiments with reducing waste, consumption and energy use, but also engaging in activities with positive impacts: "...we'll volunteer with the Nature Conservancy to clean up garbage off the beach. To help sop up our share of the year's CO2, we will take part in a reforestation project to help plant trees." Everything's an experiment, and Colin claims he'll be researching throughout, and trying to find more effective means of lightening the family's footprint while still maintaining "a life of abundance."

Not bad for a self-described "guilty liberal" who decided it was time for action. In fact, we might just call it "super." You can keep up with the Beavan's efforts on the project's web site; both a book and documentary film are in the works, with plans for 2009 releases. ::No Impact Man: The No Impact Experiment

Related Content on