Josh Hylton, Staff Writer

No Impact Man is a new documentary that portrays the life of a family in New York City who attempt to live for one year without having any negative impact on the environment. Recently, Broadside had a chance to speak with Michelle Beavan on her experiences.

Broadside: What was the idea behind this year-long project?

My husband, Colin Beavan, he writes books for a living, and in 2006 he really wanted to write about global warming.

He wanted to change his focus, and so he came up with this idea about trying to live in New York City for a year without making any environmental impact, any negative environmental impact.

He asked me if I would join him because he wanted to write a book about it, and so that was the genesis of the whole thing. It began with the book basically.

Considering how much impact each human being does have on the environment, what was the breaking point for you? What was it that made you and Colin decide that doing this was a good idea?

Colin came up with the idea in late 2006, and I had recently seen An Inconvenient Truth. It was sort of the era for that movie.

I remember very vividly—I saw it in this movie theater and the theater was blasting air conditioning and I was the only person in the movie theater. I had this moment where I was just like, you know, my God, my lifestyle was very wasteful.

So that kind of laid the groundwork and it was right after that that Colin had this idea and I was, just like everybody, worried about global warming.

I was also a new mother, so that made me worried on another level. When he asked me to do it, it just seemed like the right thing to do.

It just seemed like a good idea, just to see what would happen if we dropped out of the culture and dropped off the grid, just to see what would emerge and see if there was a way that we could live in a more sustainable way.

You had to give up a lot of things for this experiment. What was the toughest thing to adjust to?

The coffee was the hardest for me. The withdrawal was ugly and brutal.

I know in the movie there wasn’t a lot of footage of the holidays. Was one of those tough things not being able to go visit your family and friends during those times?

We definitely had to give that up, but after the project ended, I did go see my family. I got [on] a plane and went and saw them.

Yeah, that was one of the difficult things. I think that we’ve resolved that it’s better to take trips that are longer and fly less.

Now, for example, as opposed to jumping on a plane for tiny little trips, we try to go for longer chunks of time so that we fly less frequently.

How dramatically has your lifestyle changed since the experiment’s end? Are you more aware of how you are affecting the environment or is it more or less back to the way it was?

It had a very dramatic and profound effect on our life and it continues to.

We still have our community garden that we love where we grow vegetables and we still eat local food as much as possible.

We still bike everywhere. We still don’t have a TV. We still don’t have air conditioning. We just try to do our best and we do what makes sense for us.

Do you think the movie effectively condensed a year’s worth of material into a potent 90 minute film?

I think that the movie and the book are very complimentary, and I think that when you take the two together, the movie and the book, it gives you a rounded perspective of what we were trying to do. They are good together.

So you think that both of those will work as effective catalysts for your message that you can live happily while still protecting the environment?

You know, I hope so. That was our hope and that was why we did it. Our hope is that it can encourage people to think more about living sustainably and also becoming more engaged citizens to promote that in the country and all over the world.

The film was just as much a documentary about your relationship with your family as it was about the environment. How did the experiment affect your family?

I think it made me a better mother because by removing all the distractions, TV and all that, our family got really close and we just entertained one another.

There was something just totally lovely about the intimacy and closeness that we had and I think it put me more in the moment with my daughter so I think that it made me a better mom. I hope that it did and I think that it did.

What advice would you give people who similarly want to cut back on their negative impact on the environment?

The number one piece of advice I would give would be to do something in their community, to join some environmental organization, whether it be to fight smog in their community or promote recycling or what have you, to just join a community environmental group and that will start anybody on the way towards getting more and more engaged in this issue.