Last night, I saw a preview screening of “No Impact Man,” the documentary about Colin Beavan. Chances are you know him as the guy who gave up everything from toilet paper to electricity for a year, on a quest to make himself and his family have absolutely no negative effects on the environment. After an article about him ran about him in the New York Times, a media blitz ensued and Colin became something of a celebrity (though a polarizing one), landing on “Good Morning America,” “The Colbert Report,” etc, etc, etc.
But while he may be the titular No Impact Man, the real star of the documentary is Colin’s wife, Michelle Conlin. Michelle is a girl after our own hearts—she’s a journalist at Business Week who has a serious hankering for designer clothes. In one of the first scenes in the movie, she’s embarrassed at having dropped $1000 on a pair of Chloe boots. She drinks multiple Starbucks beverages a day and loves bottled water. So you can imagine her reaction when her husband came up with the hair-brained idea for the two of them, along with their two-year-old daughter Isabella, to embark on a year-long mission to do no harm to the earth so that he could write a blog and book about the experience. “My first reaction was—I’m thrilled he’s excited about something,” she said. She begrudgingly signed on to a year with absolutely no shopping. She made jokes when they began eating only food from farmer’s markets, when they started swathing Isabella in cloth diapers, and when they decided to only use bikes and their feet as transportation.
Clearly, Michelle wasn’t always thrilled about giving up elevators and all her beauty products, but she continued with a project out of what’s obviously sincere love and desire to support her dude. And he keeps pushing her farther and farther down the green-freak path. In one particularly endearing scene, the couple has given up washing machines. So Colin fills the tub with water, castille soap, and dirty clothes. He hops in and works the clothes with his feet, as if he were smashing grapes for wine. Isabella quickly joins him, thinking it’s fun. Together they coax Michelle into the tub, too.
As the stakes keep getting raised, Michelle has a rough time. She’s forced to give up her beloved coffee because no coffee is grown locally to New York City. Then went the toilet paper. Next, Colin got rid of their refrigerator and instead built a stone cooler that could only be called primitive at best. When Colin turns off the electricity, I think Michelle is about to pummel him. But she doesn’t. Instead, she gets used to reading by candlelight and making a cocoon for herself in comforters to keep warm.
I, like Michelle, am a complete skeptic when it comes to going green—I want convenience and comfort above all else. So it was pretty powerful to see Michelle go from hating the new lifestyle to embracing it. In the end, Michelle is thrilled to have her electricity back. But she says that many of the changes they made, especially traveling by bike and shopping at farmer’s markets, will definitely stay.