No Impact Man: A Movie Review

What lengths would you go to in order to reduce your environmental impact? Only buy organic? Would you go without electricity? What about giving up toilet paper? That’s what Colin Beavan did for a year with his wife Michelle and daughter Isabella, a feat that’s featured in a new documentary titled “No Impact Man.” The 90-minute movie shows both the successes and challenges of reducing, reusing, and recycling—to the extreme—in a way that’s both inspiring and entertaining, as my coworker Alisa and I found out when we saw it yesterday.

If you’re interested in catching it on the big screen, you’ll have to wait until September 11th, the day select theaters will show the film. If you want to read about Beavan’s year, look for his accompanying book with the same title. And for those of you who want to hear what it’s about from our perspective, our discussion is below for your enjoyment.

Susan: Okay, I'm ready. To change the world, that is, one individual at a time. A la No Impact Man (wife and adorable child).

Alisa: She was so cute! The little girl. The wife was funny.

Susan: Yeah, she was/is. Actually, Alisa, that's what I learned today, that people who set a good example, like Colin Beavan, lead by example and can encourage people to live more sustainably. (And that's only one of the lessons I took away from that great flick.) What did you learn?

Alisa: I learned that if you want to change the world, starting with yourself, and part of that endeavor involves giving up toilet paper, people are likely to talk about giving up toilet paper a lot.

Susan: As shown by that New York Times article. And our snickering during the movie.

Alisa: Exactly—the caption on the green-tinted photo mentioned toilet paper, and it's one of the first things I've been telling people about. But I do love to talk about poop.

Susan: Speaking of toilet paper and diapers and the environment, I did like the angel fold Colin used on his daughter's cloth diaper.

Alisa: I had no idea there were so many different kinds of folds.

Susan: Maybe he posted a "how-to" on his blog. But admit it, you would go without toilet paper.

Alisa: I have a suspicion that actually there's only one kind, but that the folks who support cloth diapers are pushing the notion that there are 17 different folds to make it seem more exciting.

Susan: Maybe you should try it for a week. I was interested to hear that the studies that compare disposable diapers to cloth diapers—and find that they have a similar impact—are largely funded by the disposable diaper industry. I'm serious about you going without toilet paper for a week. Then you could call Colin (or Michelle, since she sounds so entertaining) and compare notes.

Alisa: Haha. Can I call Michelle first and ask for advice? Wait, why am I trying to go tp-free for a week? What are you giving up?

Susan: No, you can only talk to Isabella. She has to be at least four by now.

Alisa: I don't know how helpful she's going to be...she was wearing diapers, remember?

Susan: I'll work in the community garden and befriend Marley, the only guy who grows vegetables in the LaGuardia garden. He seems like a nice guy.

Alisa: Do you think they washed the tp replacement cloths in the tub with the rest of their clothes?

Susan: And then walked on them? That was such a cute part of the movie.

Alisa: That looked like such fun.

Susan: We should try that, too. I'll have you over and we can walk on clothes in the tub while we drink wine. We'll have to learn not to spill.

Alisa: So I'm going without toilet paper and I'm doing your laundry?

Susan: What's wrong with that? We'll be No Impact Partners.

Alisa: I'm starting to feel like Michelle did in the beginning of the documentary. You come up with all of the ideas, and I'm just expected to be a good sport and help out. Fine, you've got a deal...if you also agree to try the clay-pot refrigerator. What if we make these changes, but don't broadcast it? Will our actions have impact? But really--To be effective as an individual, do you think you've got to get the word out? Proselytize, at least to family/friends?

Susan: I think it's great that he broadcast it, and I think that he made a really difficult subject seem easy to tackle with individual actions, so I think he made a positive impact that way. He's probably more effective than a lot of people who take similar actions but don't talk or write about it. I talk about my wigglers a lot.

Alisa: It's true, you do. You love them.

Susan: It's hard not to.

Alisa: Even though you also got flies when using worms to compost (just like Colin did).

Susan: Only once. Do you think it's necessary to tell people about the sustainable life choices you're making?

Alisa: Sure, because it's something that's important to you. But I think it's also important to avoid being preachy about it. The movie showed that some people have really strong negative reactions to others making strides to slash their environmental impact…

Susan: You're right.

Alisa: Continuing my thought before I was meanly interrupted:

Susan: Sorry, sorry.

Alisa: No you're not. I want hot chocolate. It's like a chilly winter day in our office.

Susan: Organic?

Alisa: Of course. Let me check what I've got stashed in my desk.

Alisa: Yes, organic and Fair Trade Certified.

Susan: What were you saying? Before I interrupted you?

Alisa: Something about preaching...Oh yeah. One of the reasons I thought No Impact Man worked is that he owns up to it being gimmicky, but you see how happy the family is. Sure, they struggle, but they actually seem closer at the end of the film. Maybe it's just that they're so happy to have the electricity back on?

Susan: And the heat? They do look awesome in candlelight. So, if you get the message out, have fun trying new things that benefit the environment, and have a positive outlook, you can make a great movie that inspires people like us!

Alisa: It certainly charmed me this morning. And spending their evenings by candlelight did look really romantic.

Susan: Did it [the movie] have a lasting impact?

Alisa: Yes. Now that Matt's on board, I'm going to get my butt up to the farmers' market and buy my worm composting bin, which I've been talking about doing for a couple of months.

Susan: Call first. There's a waiting list for wiggler worms.

Alisa: Thanks for the tip!

Susan: NP

Alisa: I'm also going to try making my own cleaners.

Susan: Let's do that when you come over to do my laundry.

Alisa: Yes! Wait, there will be wine, right?

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