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At once noble and naive, earnest and a tad obnoxious, Colin Beavan’s mission in the documentary No Impact Man is simple enough: to live for a year with his wife and toddler in their Manhattan apartment without making even the smallest dent in the environment. Buy food from farmers markets, ride a bike, use the stairs (nine flights) rather than the elevator. No TV, no toilet paper. For a year.

Beavan and his cranky wife, Michelle Conlin, shift into their über-green mode, of course, with filmmakers in tow. (Was the power usage for the documentary crew factored into the equation?) Like reality TV, there are moments of drama that have an aura of awkward self-consciousness about them and incidents that feel, if not staged, at the very least orchestrated, amped up.

But you have to hand it to Beavan and Conlin. He embraces his cause with the ardor of a newly minted zealot, gently lecturing about the importance of eating only what is in season (and not freighted, and frozen, to get to the table). She goes through serious caffeine withdrawal – a coffee junkie deprived of her fix because, well, coffee beans come from nowhere near New York.

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Conlin’s gripes – no triple iced Starbucks, no new designer skirts and shoes, not enough light to read her books by – reflect what I’d wager to say are the sentiments of most of the audience of the film directed by Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein. Come on, consumer goods were invented to be consumed!

But that makes Conlin’s transformation over the course of the year all the more affecting. Committing to this goofy eco-experiment seems to bring husband (he cooks, he cleans) and wife (she works at Business Week) together in their challenging enterprise. And thanks to the donation of a solar panel, rigged on the apartment building’s roof, Beavan manages to continue posting blog entries on his laptop.

The couple even find a patch of New York City beach, with dunes and sea birds, that reminds them of the Hamptons. Maybe even better than the Hamptons: no Range Rovers, no sunbathers in bikini couture.

 

Mitchell Englander

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