Going Green: Good for Earth, Good for You

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WASHINGTON -- Dozens of bicyclists with "Climate Ride" splashed across their shirts came wheeling into Washington, D.C., recently.

As they pedaled past the White House and up to Capitol Hill, they celebrated the end of a five-day ride from New York City to D.C. meant to focus attention on their concerns about our environment.

Among them was Colin Beavan, who has become known as "No Impact Man" for going one year in Manhattan trying to make as little negative impact on the environment as possible.

"These were really inspiring people who took five days out of their life because they care so much about this issue to do this ride," Beavan said of his fellow riders

No Impact Man

Another environmental superstar Josh Dorfman also joined their ranks. Dorfman spreads the "Green" gospel through his Sundance Channel program The Lazy Environmentalist. His basic message is you don't have to work really hard or deprive yourself to live green, You can even save quite a bit of money, he says.

But Beavan's year-long experiment was about trying to find just how much deprivation a family could take trying to make as small a carbon footprint as possible.

Beavan and his wife, Business Week writer Michelle Conlin, became the most broadcasted and blogged about enviro-couple in the world during their No Impact Man year.

A documentary and book, both titled No Impact Man, tell the tale of their living without electricity, heat, refrigeration, motorized transportation, eating only locally grown food and no buying of anything in any sort of packaging for months on end.

In it, Beavan lists off just a few of the things they'd be giving up: "No elevators, no subway, no products in packages, no plastics, no air conditioning, no TV, no paper."

Plenty of Impact on Wife

Many reviewers found the most charming angle of the documentary the fact that Conlin was pretty much dragged kicking and screaming into husband Beavan's year-long radical experiment.

She hated giving up shopping for new clothes, for instance.

"I have an intense relationship with retail," she said during the documentary. And she bitterly resented the headaches from giving up her Starbucks coffee addiction:

"Basically, this is easy for Colin and murder for me," she said.

Pro-Green Turned into Pro-Family

But as they moved about by just bike and foot, Conlin and Beavan lost weight and grew fit. Without TV, they spent much more time with each other, their two-year-old daughter, and friends. Many positive results came, and Conlin's attitude changed.

Beavan summed up Conlin's new attitude:

"We found that we were getting exercise as part of our daily routine. We were eating food that was way better for us, we were spending less money, we were spending more time together as a family and with our community. And finally she said, 'you know, this isn't for the planet. This is for our family that we're doing this.'"

Beavan and Conlin's extreme-green experiment is over. Their lights, their power and their refrigerator are back on. But they're holding on to the green changes they believe really help their family.

Beavan's fellow biker in the Climate Ride, Dorfman, shows how every family can help themselves by going green, and do it easily and cheaply, in his new book The Lazy Environmentalist on a Budget.

Savings Showering Down

There he shares hundreds of tips and ideas such as installing low-flow, but still powerful, showerheads that can cut both water and power bills.

"If you took a 10 minute shower, you'd save 10 gallons of water if you were to swap out to a low-flow, and you'd save all the energy to heat that water," Dorfman told CBN News.

Want pure water super-cheap? An $8 water filter in a pitcher "can replace as many as 300 standard-sized water bottles," Dorfman said.

Going Green, Making Money

When it's time to get rid of old electronics, like a cell phone or computer, Dorfman said people can make money with Gazelle.com.

"Gazelle shows you what its residual value is still worth," Dorfman explained. "They send you a pre-paid shipping box, you ship it to Gazelle, they verify its condition, and then they send you a check."

For college students, Dorfman recommended they go to Chegg.com to rent rather than buy textbooks.

"And save 60 to 85 percent off the cover price," he said. "So you use the textbooks for the semester, you send them back to Chegg, and then students at another university can use those textbooks."

Dollar Democracy

Dorfman said the more green spending consumers all do, the more companies will make green products and sell green services. He suggested it's like voting.

"Dollar democracy: how you spend your dollars is really a vote for the kind of planet that you're helping to create," Dorfman said.

Beavan agreed, and added that living, spending, and saving green can be both good for the environment and the individual making those green decisions. As he put it, "There's lots of stuff we can do that's good for the planet and good for us, too."

Among the stuff Beavan and Conlin held on to since their No Impact Man year: walking and biking almost all the time.

Beavan pointed out that's a perfect example of where participants can pretty easily help both the environment and themselves.

"Fifty percent of the trips in the United States are less than two miles, so we can walk and we can bike and we can get rid of our guts at the same time," he said.

Beavan and Conlin have also held on to some extremely economical changes.

"We got rid of our air conditioners and it saves us $1,200 a year," Beavan said.

Connecting Instead of Consuming

Beavan knows that's too radical a step for many people, but said it made hot New York City nights more interesting for his family.

"We grab our little girl and we go down to our park and she plays in the fountain and we talk to our neighbors," he described about those nights. "So it kind of becomes a chance to connect with people: out on a hot night connecting instead of being by yourself in the air conditioning."

Dorfman pointed out, even if you don't believe in global warming, if you'll go green, you'll still cut pollution and waste and improve your own life.

"The environmental choice increasingly is actually the best choice you can make," he said.

"You kind of think that living environmentally is going to cause deprivation," Beavan added. "But actually, in a lot of ways it improved our quality of life. And that's because we replaced consumption with connection."

*Original broadcast October 26, 2009.

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CBN News
Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.