No Impact Man


No Impact Man: The Documentary, a film by Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein, follows the experiment of author Colin Beavan and his family as they attempt to live with no environmental impact in New York City for one year.  It is a fairly well known documentary (and book) made in 2009 and is available streaming on Netflix and in the AU Library.

This film would be best suited to a high school and younger adult audience because of the open mindedness that often disappears in older age groups.  Also, since some of the themes are more mature (no, not in sexual ways…) I feel that the film might be lost on younger audiences.  Because of the way I envision using this piece, to launch into a larger project that would span 2-4 weeks, it would fit best in a more formal environment or at least an environment which offers repetitive meetings for a minimum of one month.  Because of the diverse themes the film presents, it could fit into many different subjects, but environmental science and psychology are the two that initially come to mind.

The idea for an activity around this film is pretty obvious but has many opportunities for discussion and introspection.  First the class will watch the film.  It is about 90 minutes so it may be split up over two class periods.  This will lead nicely into a discussion of the students’ impressions of Colin and his wife, as well what they thought were the most reasonable things to give up and the things they would not be willing to give up (I’m sure electricity will be top on the list of things no one would be willing to live without).  After this discussion the students will each be charged with a week-long project: choose something in their life to live without for one week straight.  Document this journey either with a written journal or video journal (depending on resources and/or student learning preference).  After their week of abstinence, the students must explore how this impacted their life, the environment and the world and present their findings in a creative class presentation.  The larger issues of personal peace and sustainability can be discussed after the students have a chance to ruminate on their experiences.

At first glance No Impact Man seems strictly like an environmental impact documentary, which does fit in with the peace concept of sustainability.  It could also qualify for a Pacifist theme.  While watching the film, though, another theme emerges: personal peace.  Sure you can take away all of the environmental positives from the film: waste less, use less energy, be less materialistic, eat locally, etc., and these are absolutely important.  But I think the more poignant take away was the improvement of the family and the personal peace they each achieved.  Better yet, this was a surprise to Colin and his wife as well.  They too went in with the environment in mind and came out with a much bigger picture experience.  Their health improved from eating locally and cutting out take away.  They state that they become better parents to their 3-year-old daughter by playing more family games and cutting out television.  They spend more time out of doors exploring the city and being social, especially when they give up electricity.  They are less invested in material possessions and more focused on the well being of their family.  Add to this the obvious environmental discoveries and you have a recipe for a great peace teaching film.

Check out the website and watch the trailer .  Enjoy!

6 thoughts on “No Impact Man

  1. To echo those before me, I think this is a really cool concept. I think a remix I would use to make it “approachable” for a modern audience is a technology fast. Asking students to not use their cell phones, facebooks, computers in general for 48 hrs. You could do a sentence completion activity that starts out with “One piece of technology that I couldn’t imagine going a week without is…” and then use those personal responses to challenge students. I think that encouraging interaction away from technology is something thats often neglected.

    Also thanks for the great movie suggestion, I cant wait to watch this movie when I have some spare time.

  2. I love this idea! I have not seen this movie yet, but now I want to check it out! Another way to incorporate this into classes is with the mandatory advisories that many schools have. My friend runs a recycling club at another middle school in Prince Georges County and I’m going to pass this along to her. It would allow for much longer discussions and give more time to actually implementing a program than you might have time for in the general classroom.

  3. Great resource! I think an additional way to incorporate this resource into the educational setting would be to challenge students to have “no impact” in the school building and classroom as well. I was always conflicted in my classroom as a student when I watched countless pieces of paper wasted, lights left on at all times, heat running full force with the door left open, etc. At my high school students were challenged to find ways to have “no impact” and one student suggested turning off all the lights in the vending machine..because let’s face it, you can still see the cola and crackers without it being lit up like Las Vegas. I can’t remember the exact data, but just by turning off lights in the vending machine it saved thousands of $$ and so much energy!

  4. What a really challenging Idea! This would be great to have your classes try on the individual level. It remind me of what we’ve done with the 30 Days of Good challenge. I think one way to alter it, especially if you have students still living at home would be to expand it to the family. Perhaps have students encourage their families to take on one task or one commitment. This could also work for communities in universities. My undergrad university, like many others, does a program called unPLUg. Here is the website for more details:

  5. Katie–I really like this idea of turning it into a lesson plan to challenge students/participants. I think I may have to watch it with friends now and see what we can do individually/collectively to make our lives less “cluttered”. I have one questions for you–what is a way you could incorporate this film into a classroom/environment with a younger audience? Watch a clip of the film? Is there a guide on their website? What kinds of things would you talk about with students?

  6. What a great idea! I think this film is a great way to bring the environmental movement close to home. This family lives out essentially all of the “go green” tips & tricks. Having students try just one that is modeled for them in the film would be an eye-opening experience for them.

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