In November, 2006, Colin and Michelle Beavan, writers who live in New York City, and their two-year-old daughter, Isabella, began a year-long experiment. They lived without electricity, used no fossil fuel-driven transportation and bought almost nothing new, except for locally grown food. Their goal was to live carbon-free.
The highs and lows of their dramatic change in lifestyle were captured on film for a documentary called "No Impact Man." Laura Gabbert, a director and family friend, originated the idea and directed the film.
Justin Schein, who served as co-director and cinematographer, followed the family as they adapted to new rigors of everyday life. He said that Michelle was initially skeptical about the project, but then, "surprisingly and beautifully took to it and found that this was an opportunity for them to come together as a family."
The ground rules for extreme green living
Colin set the ground rules for the household: No trash, toilet paper or paper diapers. There were also no elevator rides to the Beavan's ninth-floor apartment, and no garbage except for what they could compost at home in a worm bin, which was purchased at a local farmer's market.
Gabbert said the film captured the opposing way the Beavan's viewed the world.
"He's really interested in all things natural and organic, and she is clearly not," she said. "She is really in some ways a typical American consumer."
Changing their lifestyle created changes for the family
But the sacrifices Michelle Beavan made during the course of the year were not typical. She gave up coffee, olive oil and spices because they were not produced locally. She rode an un-motorized scooter to her job. Eventually, Michelle was drawn into the project and changed, said Gabbert. "She really does have an awakening of sorts. I think that the biggest thing for her is that she is able to feel closer to her family."
Gabbert noted that Colin Beavan also changed during the making of the film. "His viewpoint evolves into one of a combination of political engagement as well as individual action that is really going to bring about change. So he grows as a person and as an activist."
By the end of the year, Beavan became an educator, said Gabbert. "You see the beginnings of a new career."
From no impact to low impact
A year after the Beavan's experiment in green living, the lights are back on in their apartment and the family uses the refrigerator and washing machine. But, they kept some of their new habits. They remain avid bikers, eat produced locally food and don't watch television. in addition to the film, Colin Beavan has written a book about his "no-impact" year, which he hopes will raise awareness that a change in lifestyle can enrich one's life and make a difference for the planet.