How low can you go?

nim_poster_1944_2844You may have seen online tools such as the Footprint Network that allow you to estimate your impact on the environment and offer somewhat conservative lifestyle suggestions on how to lower one’s impact (taking it easy on the thermostat, more public transportation… you know the drill).

Well, what would happen if you took all those suggestions and then some? Colin Beavan, known as No Impact Man, took on quite a difficult task when he (and his wife and 2-year old daughter) decided to attempt a life with no net impact on the environment.

Sick of government inaction on climate issues, Beavan decided to take matters into his own hands. In other words, “no trash, no carbon emissions, no toxins in the water, no elevators, no subway, no products in packaging, no plastics, no air conditioning, no TV, no toilets…”

It was a radical idea, but that was the point. Beavan wanted to find out just how hard it would be, in our throw-away culture, to avoid generating waste. They bought their food at farmers markets and from bulk bins at grocery stores using reusable containers, they composted in their Manhattan apartment, and they did their laundry in the bathtub with homemade soap.

They faced some unexpected challenges along the way—including public backlash and ridicule for Beavan’s wife Michelle Conlin, a senior writer for Business Week, when people found out they were even eschewing toilet paper. It was interesting to watch the documentary from Conlin’s perspective—because although she respected the experiment, she did not defend every piece of it. Her view was a refreshing alternative to Beavan himself, who, although well-intentioned, could sometimes come across as a bit self-important.

Since I watched the documentary last month, I’ve been thinking more about the final destination of that Starbucks cup, plastic bag or pizza box. When we throw things away, we tend to not think about it anymore. It’s gone…so it no longer exists, right? Perhaps the first step is a greater awareness of the landfill-bound byproducts of our consumption—and that’s where No Impact Man can help us consider alternatives to the status quo.

Colin’s goal was not to turn everyone into “No Impact people”, but rather to get people to think about their choices and what changes they could institute in their lives. So what do you think? After seeing the documentary or checking out the blog, are you inspired to reduce your impact? What steps do you think you could take– and which ones would be way too much to ask?

– Patti Truant