No Impact Man

The Documentary


Do you ever get the thought - do I live sustainably and consciously enough? When will I reach that goal? And when is enough ever enough? I think the New York-based author and initiator to the documentary No Impact Man, Colin Beavan, must have had that thought. In the film he, his wife Michelle Conlin, and their baby daughter attempt to live with as little impact on the planet as possible for a year. The experiment evolves gradually by starting out with only buying and eating locally produced foods - so NO COFFEE! - and only using self propelled transportation like walking, biking and non-electrical scootering.

Colin Beavan is an American non-fiction writer and internet blogger, mainly known for this documentary and his book, both titled No Impact Man.

Photo courtesy Oscilloscope Laboratories

Photo courtesy Oscilloscope Laboratories

His reason for living with no or as little impact as possible is pretty much summed up in this quote from the film:

“The fact of the matter is that if only I change, it's not going to make a difference, but the hope is that if each of us as individuals change, it's going to inspire everybody to change. So I believe the most radical political act there is, is to be an optimist. The most radical political act there is, is to believe that if I change, other people will follow suit.”

Through the film you follow the rollercoaster ride of emotions the couple goes through as they set restrictions on they daily life with the goal of leaving as little impact on the environment as possible. You see the despair Michelle goes through when she realizes that she can’t have another iced quad espresso because they can only have locally produced food and drinks - she hilariously binge drinks coffee the last day before the year of no impact begins. But you also get to witness her feeling of overcoming, success and sense of unity with her family when the challenging year is over. Colin also goes through an emotional register of blinded optimism at first, which evolves into humiliation because the press seems to turn against him - accusing him of being self promoting. In the end it circles back to feeling that he is doing the right thing for himself and his family.


To me the biggest leap they made was when they, in the last 6 months of the experiment, turned off the electricity, only having a little solar cell on the roof of their building which was reserved for charging Colin’s computer, so he could write from home. In the night time and dark hours of the day they had to use candles for light and they washed all their clothing by hand - or actually, by foot. They filled their bathtub with soap, water and all of their dirty clothing, left it to soak, and then later stepped into the tub and walked around in it with their bare feet. To live in the way the No Impact Family did really took a lot more physical labor around the household instead of having electrical machines to do the job.


How and if they live without toilet paper is to be kept a mystery.

One comment that really resonated with me was from an urban farmer Colin helps in his city garden - he questioned the project’s impact since Colin’s wife, Michelle , works for the magazine, BusinessWeek. Though not all aspects of one’s life can be fully of “no impact,” we could still integrate sustainable or more conscious ways of living into our daily routine.

The documentary is not as heavy and dark as a lot of other of the documentaries I have seen about consciousness and sustainability and our planet. This documentary is about ordinary people with ordinary lives. Michelle, the wife of No Impact Man, really brings a lot of humor into the film and it seems as though she is not taking herself too seriously all the time. For example when she says something like this: I want to be a vegetarian, but I want to have a hot dog now and then. I would be a vege-hogian... or a vege-dogian.

Photo courtesy Oscilloscope Laboratories

Photo courtesy Oscilloscope Laboratories