Advice from Hollywood’s Greenest Actor
An Interview with Ed Begley, Jr.
By Randy Peyser
How many Hollywood stars do you know who would rather ride their bikes to work than show up in a Beamer? Ed Begley, Jr. rides his bike to a film shoot. He takes public transportation to a TV taping. He grows his own vegetables, captures water for his fruit trees in an underground cistern, and is driven to teach others how they, too, can make a positive impact on the environment.
Begley is the author of Ed Begley’s Guide to Sustainable Living, and co-star, with his wife, Rachelle Carson, of the reality TV series, Living with Ed. He has received six Emmy nominations for his role in the TV series, “St. Elsewhere” and has been a familiar face on such TV shows as “Six Feet Under,” “Arrested Development,” and “Boston Legal.” His film credits include “Pineapple Express,” “Best In Show,” “Batman Forever,” “The Accidental Tourist,” and others. He will also be starring in a new CBS comedy called, “Gary Unmarried.”
Begley has been called “Hollywood’s Greenest Actor,” an “Uber-Environmentalist,” and even “Eco-obsessed.” In addition to his prolific TV and film work, he is active on the boards of Friends of the Earth, Tree People, and many other environmental organizations. He has been the recipient of awards from the California League of Conservation Voters, the Coalition for Clean Air, the Santa Monica Baykeeper, Heal the Bay, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and others.
Begley is a passionate way shower for those of us who desire to step up our part in saving the planet. What impressed me the most during our interview was his repeated emphasis on focusing on the small steps that anyone can take to contribute to energy efficiency, without having a movie star’s budget.
Randy Peyser: Can you talk about your mission?
Ed Begley, Jr.: I didn’t intend to be on a mission. I’d lived in Los Angeles for two decades and was fed up with the smog. When the first Earth Day was announced in 1970, they talked about the dirty water. I’d seen that at the Santa Monica Bay. They talked about the dirty air. I breathed that for years. I said, “Sign me up.” These were not theoretical problems about some future ozone depletion or climate change; they were real things happening to me that I could taste and feel in my lungs and that I could see in the Bay.
So I got involved, and I did all this stuff on a very modest budget. I was a struggling actor in 1970. I started recycling, composting, using public transportation, riding a bike, eating lower in the food chain, and using vinegar, water and baking soda to clean things. I didn’t buy expensive solar panels; I just did what I could afford. As a result, I had extra money in my pocket. So, my mission, if you want to call it that, is to share this information.
Randy: What are some things you’ve done to your home?
Ed: I started in 1970 with the cheap and easy stuff. In 1990, I started to take my environmental activism to another level. It was the 20th Anniversary of Earth Day. There was a book out called, 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. I did all 50 of them and they worked. I bought weather stripping with an adhesive backing. I put in compact fluorescent bulbs. I got an energy-saving, programmable thermostat. The gas company offered a 0% loan to put insulation in my attic. Right away, my energy bills plummeted.
Again, I had extra dough in my pocket so I decided to do more. I put up solar hot water. My natural gas bill dropped even more. I put in a drought-tolerant garden, which meant less money for gardening, and no money on garden supplies or lawn amendments. I took out my lawn and put in fruit trees. I was saving money at the grocery store by growing fruit. The trees quickly paid for themselves.
I put up solar electric. That’s a big-ticket item, but I theorized that I would get my money back over time and I have. The State and Federal government now provides assistance in most cases. There are all kinds of rebates. And if you don’t want to own solar panels, you can put them on your roof for $500 down. There are people all over the country leasing solar panels.
Then I decided to see what I could do beyond that book. I needed to put up a fence. The only reason my fence stayed up was because the termites were holding hands. I found fencing made out of recycled plastic.
I also put in an underground cistern where I collect rainwater. I have 550 gallons underground that I use to water my vegetable gardens and trees. That’s free water from the sky. These are a few examples of the things I’ve done.
Randy: What are some innovations that people don’t know about but should?
Ed: I alluded to one briefly; it’s the new solar leasing program. Sanyo’s is the best. They have bi-facial solar panels. These are panels that have both a front and back face. Normally, the back face has a backing that is just a coating that serves no purpose. These panels get sunlight from the bounce off your roof, as well as from the sunlight striking on the top of the panel. You get extra current from the bottom of the panel. That’s very exciting and something that not a lot of people know about.
Other innovations are rain-water catchment systems that are available where you can store up to 10,000 gallons of water underground.
Randy: Can you tell us about one of the boards you serve on?
Ed: I’ve been on the Coalition for Clean Air for years. In 1970, they told kids: “No playground today; you must stay inside,” because the smog was so bad. Now we have four times the cars and millions more people, but we have cut that smog in half.
We can thank the American Lung Association and other advocates for clean air, but the Coalition for Clean Air brought government leaders, the private sector, citizen activists, and associations together to hold the Air District responsible and to get them to enact the kinds of rules we needed to clean up the air.
Randy: Where should someone start if they want to make a difference?
Ed: I suggest that people do it exactly the way I did — pick the “low-hanging fruit” first. Do the cheap and easy stuff. I didn’t run out and get solar in 1970. I would have gone broke. I did what I could. Do that. There are so many choices today to make your utility bills drop considerably. Use public transportation. Get on a bike. Do it in a fiscally-responsible manner and you will save money if you do it right.
Randy: Can small steps really make a difference?
Ed: If everyone in America put into efficiency everything they could afford, we could quickly reduce that horrible number of 350 billion dollars, which is the amount of money leaving the country every year for foreign oil. How many wind turbines could we build for $350 billion?
Randy: How can someone figure out what to do to make their home more energy efficient?
Ed: I recommend that people do an energy audit first. I had a book and a TV show about energy efficiency. When the energy auditors came to do a home-energy audit of my house, I was sure they wouldn’t find anything. But they were able to cut my natural gas bill and my electric bill in half!
If I could cut my bills in half, think about what every home in America could do. Do an energy audit for your home, then pick the low-hanging fruit first. Save some money, then think about the solar.
Randy: I love your references to low-hanging fruit, considering you plant fruit trees in your yard.
Ed: That’s true. I’m eating delicious tangerines. I’ve got lemons and kale in the backyard, and I have broccoli and lettuce for dinner tonight. There’s nothing more delicious than fresh produce.
Randy: What’s next for you?
Ed: I’m building a new, LEED platinum green home. (LEED is a rating system for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings. Platinum is the highest level of LEED certification.) I want to demonstrate what you can do by building from the ground up. You can have a passive solar design where you align the house with the movement and patterns of the sun in summer and winter for the Summer and Winter Solstices and the Fall and Spring Equinoxes.
Randy: Final thoughts?
Ed: The basic underlying principle for all I do is: Live simply so that others can simply live.
For more information, visit www.EdBegley.com You can follow Ed Begley, Jr. on Twitter at EdBegleyJr.
Randy Peyser is the author of The Power of Miracle Thinking, www.MiracleThinking.com She also edits books and helps people find agents and publishers. www.AuthorOneStop.com