I first heard about the No Impact Experiment a year ago: a one-week carbon cleanse that challenges participants to examine and reduce their impact on the planet. It was initiated by Colin Beavan, who created No Impact Man, a film documenting his family’s attempt at going zero-waste and carbon neutral over the course of a year in New York City. Inspired by Colin’s courage, and curious about what I would discover for my own life if I did the same for a week, I joined hundreds of other people around the world and signed up.
I considered myself to be fairly informed and environmentally friendly, so I thought this one-week carbon cleanse would be somewhat unsurprising. After all, I already recycled, composted, and purchased local organic food whenever I could.
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I began the week by examining my personal consumption, and as the days progressed I moved on to my generation of waste, use of water and energy, and more. I met the daily challenges as best I could, and found that it was quite easy to make small adjustments in my routine that resulted in a big decrease in my carbon footprint. Encouraged to take alternative transportation by the experiment, I discovered that biking and busing around the city were not as difficult as I had assumed. I actually ended up finding a route to my gym by bike that was faster than driving!
I considered the week a success in terms of reducing my carbon footprint, but the most profound and powerful change came from the community contribution focus on Saturday, and the “eco-sabbath” on Sunday.
Saturday was about giving back and volunteering in the community. Reflecting on this day, I realized how distant and separated from my community I had become-—a realization that made me take steps to connect with my neighbors and find time to volunteer at local rallies and events.
Sunday’s eco-sabbath was all about switching off—getting away from e-mail and phones, and outside into nature. It gave me a much-needed break from the stress and distraction of the city and my computer. I was able to recharge and reflect on what was actually important in my life. Contemplating—and being in—nature, even for a day, helped me meditate on my life and recapture a sense of perspective that I had somehow lost in the noise of everyday life.
Christmas Without Presents?
"No Impact Man" Colin Beavan suspected the holidays would be just as merry without all the stuff.
Now, a year later, I can see how the No Impact Experiment changed my life. Low-impact Transportation Tuesday inspired me to sell my car and take up public transit and biking. Not buying anything but food for a week made me realize how much money I could save by refraining from the superficial week-to-week purchases we often indulge in to make ourselves feel better. It freed me to focus on real things that actually do make me feel better. I was reminded how important community is, and since then I have become much more active in my city and group of friends. I am happier because of it.
Reflecting on the past year and the improvements that this experiment has brought to my life, I find myself compelled to do it again. I can’t recommend a better way to kick off the New Year.
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"No Impact Man's" picks for getting started on a climate-friendly life.