When it comes to green living, Ed Begley, Jr. sets the gold standard. Eco-conscious long before it became the cool or smart thing to do, the film and TV veteran (Pineapple Express, Gary Unmarried) has been practicing what he preaches for nearly four decades, using his celebrity to get the word out about conserving the planet.
For the past two years, Begley has invited cameras into his home for the reality show Living With Ed, a lighthearted look at his marriage to his not-quite-as-green wife, Rachelle. Its third season returns Oct. 21 on Planet Green, and MNN caught up with Begley for insights into the new episodes as well as the scoop on his new book, Ed Begley Jr.’s Guide to Sustainable Living.
“We’re out and about a fair amount of the season, a lot more than in the past,” Begley says about documented trips to New York, Las Vegas and northern California. Often asked to attend ribbon-cutting ceremonies at power plants, he was invited to the opening of a solar thermal facility in Pahrump, Nev., near Vegas. “For 50 bucks a pop, it will reduce power consumption in the whole community,” he says. In New York, cameras accompanied him to a Good Morning America appearance and signings for his book, and a trip to Lodi, Calif., was a bit of a bait-and-switch: Rachelle wanted to go to Napa wine country, but Ed took her to a ranch next to a methane plant. “She was less than thrilled but she got over it,” Begley says.
The season premiere is home-based, however, depicting a conflict over the new roof solar panels (Rachelle sets up a beach umbrella that blocks them) and a bit of green one-upmanship with neighbor Bill Nye that will continue in a few more episodes. The Begleys’ daughter, Hayden, now 10, will have a greater role this season as well. “She and her friends have a waterless car wash,” her dad says, adding that on the green spectrum, Hayden, whose school emphasizes environmental issues, “is a little closer to my way of thinking than Rachelle’s.”
Begley, who published Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life in 2008, wrote the follow-up in response to the feedback he received. “There was so much e-mail from people saying, ‘This is a great primer, but I want more detail. What is the difference between solar thermal and solar electric? What is the difference between polycrystalline panels and monocrystalline?’ People had all these detailed questions. I thought, ‘I have to do another book.’”
Armed with a long list of reader questions about everything from light bulbs to baby nurseries that provided him with an outline, Begley spent about six months writing, though he pulled from speeches and notes he’s made over the years as well as technical research by Gary Glass and Sue Elliott.
Covering everything a green homeowner needs to know (with a great resources appendix), the book is a step-by-step guide that starts with a green energy audit. “I don’t want anybody to consider a wind turbine or solar panel until they do a full energy audit. Many utilities around the county will give you one for free,” he says. “I want people to do the cheap and easy stuff first, like I did in 1970. I was a broke and struggling actor but I saved dough right away. Later you can do the intermediate stuff and then you will be able to afford things like solar panels and hybrid cars.”
A renter himself in the '70s, Begley includes a chapter for apartment dwellers and stresses that the book is “not just for techno geeks, but for average Joes and Janes who want to save money and protect the environment. And who wouldn’t want to save money nowadays?” Nothing if not frugal, he drives an old electric Toyota Rav-4 he has no intention of trading in for a flashier model. “I love Tesla. I just don’t need one,” he says.
While he’s giving up on his Begley’s Best cleaning products (“I don’t want to be shipping liquid around the country anymore. It’s heavy and spills”), his acting career continues to thrive. He has several movies awaiting release including He’s Such a Girl, 21 and a Wake-Up, and Making Change and is happier than ever at 60. “There are so many things I know now that I wish I’d known years ago, about slowing down and what’s important. Chasing career things and pleasing everybody aren’t things I concern myself with anymore,” he confides.
Looking back, he wouldn’t change a thing, and when asked what he’s proudest of, he quickly responds with the names of his children: Hayden and his son and daughter from his first marriage — Nicholas, an electrical engineer and father of two living in Portland, Ore., and Amanda, a college student interning with the Plastics Coalition. “I’m a very lucky man,” he says. “I don’t have a lot that I want to do. I just want to continue to work towards protecting the environment and raise awareness about it.”
Our car blogger recently got a tour of Begley's garage. Take a look: