No Impact Man

No Impact Man is a 2009 American comic documentary film directed by Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein. It tells the story of Colin Beavan, Michelle Conlin and their daughter after they decide to abandon all aspects of their consumption during a one-year experiment without making any form of net environmental impact. Colin Beavan wants to “live a life in line with his values” while following the ‘reduce, reuse, and recycle’ principle. This means that they didn’t produce any trash, they didn’t purchase any goods except for local food, they didn’t use carbon-based transportation, and they didn’t use paper products which includes toilet paper. In the film they show how to live more sustainably and to what extent that is humanly possible.

In opposition to people who talk about the fact that individual action is of no relevance—that American corporate capitalism did all of this—the ‘no impact man’ (Colin Beavan), being a liberal, promotes individual and personal responsibility: “But the hope is that if each of us as individuals changes, it’s going to inspire everybody to change (…) So I believe the most radical political act there is, is to believe that if I change, other people will follow suit.” Nevertheless, at the end of the documentary he realizes that “we need to demand that our systems become sustainable” as well, and that we need individual as well as collective action, for example by becoming a volunteer for an environmental organization.

This film makes clear that individual action is of importance. The United Nations, for example, has formulated a set of ten actions you should apply to your daily lives in order to live more sustainably. These actions include: saving energy at home; walking, biking, or using public transportation; eating more vegetables; considering your travels; throwing away less food; reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible; changing your source of energy; switching to an electric vehicle; only buying products that are necessary; and to speak up for the environment. 

After the one-year experiment, the family returns to their normal life. But still keeping some aspects of their no-impact-life, such as reducing their garbage, eating vegetarian, keep going to the farmer’s market, and not having a TV in the house (but going to the movies so now and then). Given these long-term results, the one-year experiment can be considered to be a success and a small but significant contribution to a better future.

Click here for a film review and an interview with Colin Beavan.

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