Sustainability Corner: ‘No Impact Man’ makes an impact at UMKC

Johanna Poppel

New York City resident and author Colin Beavan visited UMKC last Tuesday to discuss his family’s year-long experiment to see if it could live without making any negative impact on the environment.

Beavan discusses this experience in his book, “No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process.”

The Division of Diversity, Access and Equity sponsored the event in the Student Union as a part of its Social Justice Book and Lecture Program.

The 2009 documentary “No Impact Man” filmed Beavan, his wife and their daughter on the year-long experiment to see if it was possible or practical to live such an extreme environmentally conscious lifestyle.

Beavan and his wife never considered themselves environmentalists, just average liberals living an average fast-paced, high-maintenance New York City lifestyle.

Beavan decided it was time to be a true liberal and not wait around for the government to do something for the environment, but instead take matters into his own hands. Beavan’s goal was to do everything that would lead to a life free of a harmful environmental impact.

The guidelines of the project were to produce no trash, emit no carbon dioxide, pour no toxins down the drain, buy no produce from distant lands, and to use no plastic, paper, electricity or motorized transportation.

Beavan did all the extremes to see if he can live on the Earth and actually do more good than harm on the planet.

Beavan begins the documentary joking about protecting trees and polar bears, and later moves on to a more serious discussion of how his actions impact others locally.

For example, all the trash and trucks transporting large amounts of trash to a nearby neighborhood affect the health of children living there. Beavan also noticed other benefits to living sustainably.

His family’s health improved by eating locally and seasonally. With no lights, air conditioning or television, the family enjoyed more time outside, since electronic devices no longer kept the family in its apartment.

In the documentary, Beavan suggested that the most positive impact an individual can make on the environment is to volunteer with an environmental organization.

“A lot of our environmental problems have come because of the breakdown of community. Without community, none of us feel accountable to anybody else,” Beavan said.

At the end of the documentary, Beavan and his wife reflect on their realization that some environmentally-friendly activities they initially thought would be dreadful, like not eating meat and commuting by bike, actually ended up being enjoyable.

Have you ever wondered if it is possible to be fully sustainable and not have any negative impact on the environment? Could you go without producing trash or using electricity? Could you only eat locally and seasonally?

What is doable and practical for you to lessen your impact on the environment?

In his blog,, Beaven writes about his efforts to promote sustainability and shares links with advice on what one can do to lessen his or her own negative impact on the environment.

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