One Famous Man's Drive Toward Personal Sustainability
THE PRIVATE SECTOR, academics, and governments all are actively promoting sustainability. But calls for more ecologically sound ways of living and working are also increasingly coming from one of the most influential quarters in our society, the entertainment industry.
For instance, heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio turned from drama to documentary in 2007 to make "The 11th Hour," which urges audiences to green their lifestyles to save the planet. Former vice president Al Gore's wonkish film about climate change, "An Inconvenient Truth," won an Academy Award. Meanwhile, the newest hybrid vehicles and a mansion with solar panels on the roof threaten to overtake full-length mink coats and stretch limousines as status symbols among the entertainment elite.
Actor Ed Begley Jr. is Hollywood's poster child for a more sustainable lifestyle. Perhaps best known for his acting on the 1980s television series "St. Elsewhere," Begley has appeared in numerous films and TV shows. He's also been committed to green living for decades.
In recent years, Begley hosted an HGTV series on eco-living called "Living With Ed." Episodes featured Begley and his wife, Rachelle, buying Energy Star-rated kitchen appliances for their modest two-bedroom house or conducting a green audit at the home of model Cheryl Tiegs and discovering that Tiegs's attic lacked proper insulation. Others included a tour of singer Jackson Browne's house, which is completely powered by solar and wind energy, and examining a rain barrel at the home of Bill Nye, the Science Guy.
These days, Begley is promoting his new book, "Living Like Ed," which describes steps people can take to move toward a greener lifestyle. Begley is also spokesman for MyGreenCottage, a builder that specializes in custom, eco-friendly homes that are energy efficient, feature Energy Star-rated appliances, and are built with nontoxic materials and paint.
What drove Begley to tread more lightly on Earth was growing up in Los Angeles' infamous dirty air.
"I just have such a big burden from that smog. It was so hard to breathe in the '50s and '60s," Begley tells C&EN. By the time of the first Earth Day in 1970, Begley decided he had to do something about air pollution. That year, he bought an electric car, a vehicle made by Taylor-Dunn that he describes as "more a golf cart" than sedan.
Although his initial intentions were to help save the planet, Begley discovered another highly motivating benefit from driving his nontraditional vehicle.
"I was shocked more than anyone that I was saving money," Begley says. So he added a few more green habits. "And I saved more money," he says.
"By 1985, 15 years later, I could afford to buy a wind turbine in the California desert as an investment, part of a wind farm," he says. Begley also installed a solar hot-water system on his home.
"By 1990, 20 years later, I'd saved enough money to afford solar electric. It was a dream my whole life," Begley says. He didn't expect his home's photovoltaic system, installed before governments offered subsidies for adding solar power to homes, ever to pay for itself.
But it did break even—it even turned a profit this year, Begley reports.
And Begley still drives an electric car. His current model is a Phoenix Motorcars sport-utility truck that he charges via his home's photovoltaic system.
Meanwhile, the air quality in Los Angeles has greatly improved over decades past. Begley credits that cleanup not to the handful of people driving electric cars over the years, but to the U.S. Congress, which passed the modern Clean Air Act in 1970.
The air got cleaner, he says, because automakers added catalytic converters to cars, factories reduced their emissions, and the dirtiest power plants in LA converted to combined-cycle gas turbines that both generate electricity directly and use waste heat to run a steam turbine to make additional electricity. "That happened because of good legislation that everybody railed against. 'We all want to clean up the air in LA,' people said, 'but we can't do this! You will cripple Detroit by making them build these crazy smog-control devices, you'll cripple the California economy by doing this, nobody will be able to afford electricity.' "
"We did it all," Begley says. "The air got cleaner in LA, and nobody went broke doing it."
Likewise, people can adopt greener ways of living without going broke or ruining the quality of their lives, he says.
Making sustainability happen, Begley says, involves the ballot box, personal motivation, and the checkbook.
"It's important to vote on election day, it's important to elect the leaders who are going to have good, strong environmental laws," he says.
Directing consumer purchasing power toward energy-efficient appliances and clean-fuel vehicles is a major force in moving society toward sustainability, according to Begley. "You vote with your dollars," he says. "It's the biggest, best vote of all."