Time For a Little More Impact, No Impact Style

by Katy on August 22, 2010 · 27 comments

I followed Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man blog during his foray into all things environmental in 2007; read his book when it came out in 2009, and even interviewed him when he came into town for a reading last fall. So I was not exactly running to the theater when his movie came out. I kind of wanted to see it, but felt like I had pretty much learned all there was to learn about No Impact Man. (He did invite me to come to a screening with him after our interview, but I had babysitter issues.)

We’re currently doing a free trial Netflix subscription through our Wii, and I noticed that the No Impact Man documentary was available to instantly watch. I figured it would be a good enough way to relax after a full day at work and making dinner.

I was surprised how much I liked the movie. There’s just something unfiltered about the medium of film that can’t be recreated in the written form. Tone of voice, facial expression and general exasperation lose something in the translation.

Colin’s wife Michelle is an equal partner in the No Impact Man movie, which is great. She is the yin to his yang. A self-professed reality TV junkie and designer clothing aficionado. She explains that she told her husband before marriage that she didn’t like nature and would not be participating in any camping trips. But that despite her wishes, their entire life had since become a never ending camping trip.

Michelle’s transformation through the year is just as compelling, if not more so than Colin’s.

I explained this to my younger son last week:

When you do something difficult, it is more of an accomplishment than for someone else who gets through it easily.

The situation was a long bike ride that my son was struggling with. Others were breezing though it, but my son had to walk his bike at one point.  I was more proud of his cycling that day because it was hard for him than I was for my older son who breezed through the route. This tenet has been ruminating in my brain ever since, and I’ve found it to be relevant a number of times.

I kind of wish I had someone else watching the movie with me to discuss it with, (my son was in the room, but was goofing around on the computer while wearing headphones.) so I guess I’ll have to hit you guys up instead.

Did you see the No Impact Man movie, and if so, do you have any thoughts to share?

Click HERE to read my interview with Colin Beavan.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristen@TheFrugalGirl August 22, 2010 at 11:05 am

I have not. I haven’t even read Colin’s book.

I did read his blog for a while, though. Does that count?


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl August 22, 2010 at 11:05 am

Just to add, I “used to” read his blog because I enjoyed it a lot more at the beginning, when he was doing his No Impact year. It was more practical than theoretical at that point, and it resonated with me more.


Katy August 22, 2010 at 11:10 am

I agree. I enjoyed the No Impact Man blog during the actual No Impact year, and rarely look at it now.



LBC Teacher August 22, 2010 at 11:32 am

I watched the movie on instant too. I liked it, and totally related to his wife…wants to do the right thing, but finds it hard to give up what’s comfortable. Plus, I thought she was funny. 🙂


Linda August 22, 2010 at 11:33 am

I saw the movie in the theatre and I loved it. I thought his wife was the star of the show. She was so funny.


Practical Parsimony August 22, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Katy, I followed his blog for a bit. I don’t have netflix, but tried to find it on http://www.hulu.com. So far, that is all free. I typed “no impact man” in the search box and came up interviews and trailers. The trailer for doing laundry and his throwing away her cosmetics was funny. Her expressions say more than words could explain. She is a trooper!


Cyndi August 22, 2010 at 12:34 pm

I think the movie really conveyed the idea that we all have choices in how we live our lives. We can try different things and see how they go.


pat August 22, 2010 at 3:19 pm

I saw the movie on Netflix and loved it. I thought his wife’s transformation was amazing. Yes, she was the star of the show since her views changed so much during the course of the whole thing and the parts she fought against the most turned out to be the parts she wanted to keep doing when the year was up. Really good film.


My Roman Apartment August 22, 2010 at 3:59 pm

I’m glad I saw the movie. Colin always talked about how Michelle was the real star of the No Impact Man project, but you never saw that from his writing. In the movie, Michelle really is the long-suffering spouse who puts up with her husband’s shenanigans with a lot of humor and common sense.

I thought the film makers did a good job with making this easy-access for the average viewer. Colin and Michelle get asked all the hard questions that get asked of everyone who is trying to live with less impact, and their answers are really, really good.


Anne Weber-Falk August 22, 2010 at 4:46 pm

We watched the movie too. While we choose not to go to such lengths as they did, we have made changes in our daily habits. We shop for used goods more often than not. We use it up as much as possible before disposing of it. We try to buy more local and humane foods. No more paper products for any meals. I used to make all of my cleaning products, but my DH does not like this. Now we are sure that all cleaning products are purchased with a safer environment in mind.


namastemama August 22, 2010 at 6:26 pm

I read the blog some but really got into him (the project) more recently. I’ve done WITH my family 2 no impact weeks and are going to do the one that starts August 29. Then, I saw him speak in person, THEN I read the book, THEN I watched the movie.
What stuck me about meeting him. He is so kind. He gets that I live in the midwest and if I walk out my back door and yard I will get run over by a combine or a semi. REALLY. He gets that public transportation is few and far between and although we grow a lot of corn and soybeans, none of it is fit to eat by humans but there is so much we can do to save ourselves and the environment. He was also so great about saying that we, the people, have all the answers not him.
What struck me about the book was the trash. Missed in the movie because he had already done that part of the project and of course Michelle.
I would encourage everyone to participate in a No Impact Week. Actually doing it, even for a week, will make the biggest impact on you. I had never thought about water consumption before on that level or the trash. You start to see trash everywhere. The week just takes it to a new level. We never bought bottled water and already produce very little trash, especially compared to our neighbors. But try taking a 3 min. shower!
Also, you are the perfect person to host a No Impact Man screening. Info on the website.


Amy August 22, 2010 at 9:20 pm

I’ve been a big fan on “No Impact Man” since Colin Beavan’s no impact year. I followed his blog closely because I could relate in so many ways: I was living in a large, urban area and have a daughter the same age as his. My sister, who lives in NYC, bought his book for me for Christmas and was able to attend one of his book signings, so I have a signed copy.

But I agree, even after all that, seeing the movie made the experience more real to me. I blogged about my thoughts after watching it:



Ellen August 22, 2010 at 9:24 pm

I find myself swimming against the tide, here. While I enjoyed the movie and found it very thought-provoking, I thought Colin came off as a selfish control freak. Maybe that’s because I HAVEN’T read the blog or the book, or read more than a few snippets of interviews/articles, so my sole impression of him was shaped by the film, which, as you say, was Michelle’s story. My husband, who watched the movie with me, was furious with him, and found it difficult to separate Colin’s message from his bullying, guilt-tripping behavior.

Are we the lone nay-sayers?


Barb @ 1 Sentence Diary August 23, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Ellen, I’m with you on this one. I also haven’t read the book, and only a few blog posts which I didn’t particularly care for. I love the idea of the no impact year, but I thought Colin came across as arrogant and controlling. I saw the movie in the theater last year and have not been inspired to read the book.


Amy August 22, 2010 at 11:05 pm

Ellen, I think I feel some affection and affinity for Colin because I had spent so much time reading his blog and book prior to seeing the movie. There are some scenes where I see your point; for example, when he was criticizing her for wanting to go buy some coffee when she was really fatigued but had to stay up to work on a project. Yes, he was being a royal jerk then.

The other big issue was their conflict about whether or not to try to conceive another child, which Michelle wanted but Colin felt would not be a wise decision environmentally. In this instance, I think the movie doesn’t capture the full story. It was a big conflict, but it was one where Colin came around, and the loss of the baby was devastating to both of them.


Molly On Money August 23, 2010 at 8:18 am

I saw it and wanted Colin to go away so we could follow his wife. She was the ‘star’ in this. She was very relatable and funny.


Darci August 23, 2010 at 10:56 am

I watched the movie last week and I found myself making lists of things to do that could add to my no-impact status. I thought it was thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time.

Initially, I found Michelle totally annoying, with her ability to find excuses for her “slip ups” – I thought she really undermined the project. As it went along, though, she finally bought in on the project and got on board. Colin didn’t act like a jerk, but was just dedicated to his project. It’s not always easy, but they powered through and adjusted course (ie: the two-pot fridge), when it wasn’t working.


Barb @ 1 Sentence Diary August 23, 2010 at 2:35 pm

“When you do something difficult, it is more of an accomplishment than for someone else who gets through it easily.”

So true. And worth lots more noodling. I’ll be thinking about that one for a long while.


Susan August 23, 2010 at 3:25 pm

My husband and I watched it when it came to Atlanta. It was a great little movie. I loved when he and his child were washing the laundry in the tub. So cute!


Jinger August 24, 2010 at 4:35 am

He has a show on the Green Planet channel now. I, myself, felt he took some extreme measures and always wonder how much of such lifestyle change is real or designed for a book, movie TV show sale….many people today live lives of quiet frugality with concern for the environment without such extremes…their lives interest me more.


Anne Marie @ Married to the Empire August 24, 2010 at 9:38 am

My husband I watched the documentary on Netflix several months ago. We both enjoyed it quite a bit. However, I have to be honest in saying that I thought some aspects of the experiment were somewhat irresponsible. The compost bin is a good idea, but not inside a home. The flies! *shudder*

Then there was the lack of heat during a New York winter. Without a fireplace, that’s just irresponsible, IMO. As I saw his wife huddled in her work clothes underneath a big blanket, I kept wondering how they were keeping their little daughter warm.

I really enjoyed seeing their trips to the farmers market and seeing them work hard to create no trash. The clothes washing was great. There was a lot of good and interesting information gleaned from the film, but I’d be lying if I said I thought it was all great.


Karen August 24, 2010 at 3:07 pm

I agree. But then again, we average folks are not getting book contracts; we are just changing the way we live, without all the fanfare. And also, every story needs drama. The book and film would have been less interesting without the conflict between Michelle and Colin. I often sympathized with Michelle much more, because this was HIS project and she got dragged into it. (Hopefully she is laughing all the way to the bank now!) I sometimes wondered, during the film, whether some of that conflict wasn’t manufactured. In these days of reality tv, many cannot tell the difference anymore.

As to how much they changed their lives, who knows. It was only a one year experiment. It was certainly food for thought.


Margaret August 25, 2010 at 7:36 am

I found the No Impact Man blog when he was about halfway through the project, and read it avidly. It was very interesting to see him test ideas & push the limits — especially because he was in an urban environment, not a rural homestead or hobby farm.

I just watched the film on Netflix. As a film, I thought it lacked structure and focus. The theme was obvious, of course, but I didn’t get a strong sense of what his wrap-up message was. It just seemed to wander through a year in a dilettante sort of way. Not a bad film, and I’d be happy if it were mine. It just wasn’t in the same category as Supersize Me (which I watched after No Impact Man).

The moments of reflection and humor were the best. Loved the clothes washing; that was a good example of testing extreme idea, and it showed that they were, in fact, a pretty happy family. But the movie never told us if he continued to wash all of their clothes like this or not (that’s the lack of focus).

I didn’t find anything irresponsible about their experiments (Anne Marie, it was a worm bin, not a compost bin; there’s a big difference, and they’re meant to be kept in the home (but must be properly maintained; flies mean it wasn’t being maintained properly)). The “refrigerator” was utterly ridiculous & shows how bad the US is at educating people about basic physics (if you want significant evaporative cooling, the air has to be VERY dry; in other words, not New York City in the summer!), but even if it was likely to fail, I’m glad someone had the guts to try it and show their failure to the world!

At its best, it reminded me that lowering my impact on the world can mean that there’s more enjoyment in my life, not less.


Linda August 25, 2010 at 12:57 pm

I read the book and watched the movie. I thought it was a great experiment. Would I do it? Not unless I absolutely had no choice in the matter. I do small things that make a difference to the environment and my family…recylce, buying less, drying clothes on the line, keeping the heat on 62, not putting the heat on until November (much to my family’s dismay), etc.

I think awareness and small changes will make a huge impact.


Bec August 26, 2010 at 10:33 am

I just finished reading his book and found it incredibly interesting. Gave me lots of food for thought about how we can improve our life.
Would love to see the film but don’t know how I can in the UK…


Monica at In Wanderment August 28, 2010 at 4:08 pm

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. I found it interesting that some people reacted so negatively to their lifestyle choice. People didn’t want to shake their hands because they were perceived as dirty, etc.


helen November 28, 2010 at 8:05 pm

My daughter and I watched and were very upset that this man was so protective and nurturing of animals and the environment, but unwilling to have another child with is wife or give his daughter a sibling – one of the greatest treasures in life and oh so NATURAL. Also, the impact of his wife’s birth control on her and on the environment is something that should have been considered. Too inconvenient.


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