Despite what you may think, Ed Begley Jr. wasn't always environmentally friendly. “It was hard to be green in 1970. Riding a bike, people thought I was crazy. And the wind resistance from the Afro really slowed me down,” quips Begley Jr., who otherwise takes environmental matters very seriously. One of the forefathers of the eco movement, Begley has been living green for nearly four decades and says that he owes more than actor DNA to his late father, Ed Begley, who instilled in him a conservationist ethic.

“He was a conservative Republican who lived through the Depression so he turned off the lights, turned off the water, and saved string and tinfoil. He’d never use the word environmentalist, but he was one in many ways,” Begley Jr. reflects.

Back in the ‘70s, the budding activist lived in an apartment but grew vegetables in a window box and made compost near the local railroad tracks. Today, he lives in a suburban Los Angeles home powered by solar panels, generates enough power on his morning turn on his exercise bike to power a toaster, and drives an electric car, which ranks a distant fourth in his transportation hierarchy, “Walking is number one. I deliberately moved to a neighborhood where I could walk to the bank, restaurants and shops,” he says. “Riding a bike is number two. Public transportation is number three.”

Far from anti-technology, Begley Jr. insists he’s “not a Luddite -- I have a computer, a fax machine, a printer and all that stuff but I try to keep things as long as they can possibly last and use as little stuff as possible. The less emphasis you have on stuff, I think the happier you’re going to be,” he believes. “I simplify as much as I can.”

The busy character actor and one-time St. Elsewhere star, is currently playing a doctor again on CBS’ Gary Unmarried, and is the author of Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life, in which he offers green ideas “that will make a big difference, protect the environment and save you money. You can’t go broke saving the environment. You’ve got to do stuff that’s within your budget.” He realizes many people can’t afford Priuses or solar panels, even though good ones “will last forty to fifty years so you come out ahead in the end.” The aforementioned transportation habit changes, turning off lights, and buying energy efficient light bulbs and appliances are good places to start, he says.

In the bigger picture, Begley Jr. also emphasizes the importance of wildlife conservation. “If you don’t care about the spotted owl or the polar bears, think about how many rivets you can lose from an airplane before it ceases to fly,” he suggests. “Rest assured that all these endangered species are rivets, and all of it comes from a web of life that we all depend on.”

Both seasons of Begley Jr.’s HGTV series Living With Ed, in which he and his wife Rachelle help green-ify celebrities’ homes, are now available on DVD.

Stay tuned for next week’s Ecollywood column. In the meantime, check out our Ecollywood videos.

Ecollywood: Interview with Ed Begley Jr.
The actor on fax machines, airplane rivets, and giving up driving ... for the most part.