Sustainable happiness



When mentee Ron emailed me Thursday with a heads-up on a radio show, I wasn’t too enthusiastic. Yet another discussion of our carbon footprint on NPR? Sure, there are less appetizing topics (economic forecasts, for one), but for some time green living has inspired a media feeding frenzy. How much more guilt needs to be heaped upon us? How many more dire scenarios must we envision? But as I obediently listened to On Point on Thursday, I found myself intrigued by the equation one of the guests, Colin Beavan, had devised to make sustainability work for him and his family.

A “don’t freak out; don’t be self-righteous; do what you can” mindset appeals to me and that’s at least partially a driving force behind Beavan’s famous blog, No Impact Man, though Beavan takes sustainable living farther than most of us ever will. Here’s Beavan’s opening manifesto:

A guilty liberal finally snaps, swears off plastic, goes organic, becomes a bicycle nut, turns off his power, composts his poop, and, while living in New York City, generally turns into a tree-hugging lunatic, who tries to save the polar bears and the rest of the planet from environmental catastrophe while dragging his baby daughter and Prada-wearing, four seasons-loving wife along for the ride.

Yes. Humor. That’s what’s needed. But I appreciate Beavan’s on-going rationale even more. On the NPR program, he continually paired the word “happy” with his advice and in the blog always uses words like “abundance”; the idea is to focus less on deprivation/restriction and more on changes that work, and that actually make life better, not just more sustainable. Sort of like effective dieting I guess (but probably equally as difficult!).

Beavan’s initial concept was to take a year to develop a no impact lifestyle, a year that is now up. After the year, he would assess what worked, what didn’t, and how to proceed. For a typical day in a no impact year, this post tells it best. I particularly liked the premise of “escaping city life by embracing it:” using mass transportation, hanging out more with neighbors, and families spending more time with each other.

OK, the gardening part. Beavan started a vegetable plot in a nearby community garden; stuck to a locally-grown (local trumping organic), meat-free, minimal-dairy diet; and vermi-composted (no garbage allowed!). His posts on the problems of eating meat are very compelling; particularly since after years of always preferring the side dishes to the main course, I’m feeling more and more inclined to give it up as well. Maybe.

I am sure many of you are familiar with the No Impact Man project and blog, but to me it was new and—I don’t hesitate to say—inspirational, particularly given its urban setting. Will I follow suit? Not to the same degree, certainly, but finding a way to do all I can happily and abundantly sounds more like fun and less like punishment.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Thanks for the edging info. I’ve been pouring over my options for some new beds I’m building and your recommendation definitely fits my garden’s look (and budget)! Thanks!

  2. Hi Joy,
    I have been trying to live greener since I was 12. I learned a lot from my grandparents. As farmer/ranchers they simply could not waste. The new way of treating this as a “guilt trip” really turns me off. Glad you added a sense of “Come on, I can’t save the world on a quarter acre lot, but I will do what I can and enjoy it.


  3. I love this post and the “don’t freak out, don’t be self-righteous” message from the No Impact Man. It’s a huge challenge to write about environmental issues WITHOUT sounding self-righteous or fear-mongering, but definitely worth the effort.

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