No Impact Man: Impactful on your Road to Impact Reduction?
I have a running list of DVD’s to watch, free from the library, of course.
I’m not in to the $11 movie theater experience unless it’s something epic like Star Wars or Garbage Pail Kids, The Movie. Fortunately, there’s very few epic movie experiences these days. So I usually opt for the DVD a year later, instead. Delayed gratification is a beautiful thing.
Speaking of delayed gratification, one of the movies I just picked up was No Impact Man, which was released in 2010.
Yes, I’m a little late to the party, but this is a relevant movie to the personal finance crowd, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on it now.
The No Impact Man Story
No Impact Man is a documentary about a Manhattan man who decides to try out a year of no impact living. While doing so, he decides to film the experiment and blog about it. Along for the ride is his wife, Michelle (a writer at Business Week), their 18-month old daughter, Isabella, and the family dog.
Colin and Michelle start out by setting ground rules of what “no impact” means. They slowly work themselves in to their no-impact lifestyle (vs. a cold turkey, all-at-once approach), and over the year they:
- cut out all restaurant eating
- only eat in-season foods from a local farmers market
- only use no toxic, natural cleaning products
- eliminate all food packaging waste
- eliminate the use of toilet paper (this one left me with more questions than answers) and other paper products
- turn off electricity to their apartment (outside of solar used to power laptop)
- compost food waste
- no private or public motor transportation – they rode their bikes and walked everywhere
- didn’t buy anything new – they did buy used
I have a bit of a guilty environmental conscience and reducing my own impact as much as possible is idealistic to me. So I decided to give the movie a shot out of curiosity to see how the experiment would turn out and how close to zero impact the couple could get.
Over the course of the documentary, the couple documents many of the steps they took to reduce their impact and the psychological effects of doing so.
What I Liked
There are definitely some aspects of the movie that I thought were great.
- You get to see how they reduced their impact. I jotted down a few ideas that I’d like to try out.
- They highlight some of their slip-ups.
- They explore the psychological component of making the shift from a wasteful consumer to almost zero impact.
- Their daughter! Being as young as she was, there was no complaining about anything, even their limited food choices. She was always happy and excited to learn. This was more of a personal observation than anything discussed in the movie, but I thought it was interesting, and was case in point that spoiling kids with stuff has no beneficial impact on their happiness levels. Plus, she was ridiculously adorable.
One of the most intriguing parts of the film is how Michelle, a reality TV-loving, unhealthy eating diabetic, and shopaholic turns from a detached skeptic to a full believer in a low impact lifestyle. By the end of the film, she detests her old wasteful ways, and expresses no desire to go back to her wasteful old self.
Meanwhile, Colin, the “No Impact Man” who dreamed up the experiment, struggles with how others are perceiving and criticizing his efforts, and frankly, displays himself as a bit of ego-maniac at times.
What I Didn’t Like
One of the biggest benefits of reducing your impact is the financial impact of doing so. There is a strong connection between impact reduction and personal finance. This was all but completely ignored in the film. I would have loved to have seen some numbers behind what the family was able to do (i.e. before and after expenses, by category). Maybe they ignored this because they live in New York City and housing costs are so disproportionately large compared to everything else – but for others living in lower cost geographies, the impact would be nothing short of life-changing.
They didn’t need to turn it into a personal finance documentary, but the financial component, more than anything else, could have driven more of a far-reaching impact by reaching out to a broader audience.
On a separate note, there was a little too much drama around Michelle’s desire to have a second child and Colin’s resistance to doing so. Having a child is highly relevant to your impact on the planet, but it wasn’t framed in this context, and just seemed out of place. It would have been more interesting for them to discuss their existing daughter’s reactions to the experiment, and the positive impact on their family life.
And what about the dog? You occasionally see their dog in the film, but there was absolutely zero mention of impact reduction in pet ownership, which makes me think they cut corners here. And we already know they were borrowing ice from an all-too-nice neighbor. Come on!
The end of the film felt a bit empty. I was hoping for more context on exactly how their purchasing habits changed after the experiment from before, cost savings, and philosophical changes. Some delayed gratification would have been nice here – like a 1-year later check-in, for example.
Closing Thoughts on No Impact Man
While I believe that impact reduction is a very worthwhile cause and EVERYONE who has either:
- a desire to reduce their negative impact on the planet
- a desire to reduce their wasteful consumer spending
will enjoy watching this movie, the tactical and financial details run a bit shallow on guiding you towards either goal. If either is a goal of yours, you’d be much better served to prioritize watching Food Inc. and The Story of Stuff instead. In true low impact fashion, if you do check out the movie, promise me you will ride your bike or walk to the library to pick up a free DVD viewing, or at least stream it on Netflix.
Either way – impact reduction is a noble effort for all to take on, and it is intensely tied to your personal finances.
Did you see No Impact Man? What was your take?
How have you reduced your impact in recent years?