Actor, author, and pioneering environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr. has been a long-standing advocate for environmental issues. Ed has led the green movement for many years, both as a personal example of sustainable lifestyle practices, and a vocal spokesperson towards a more Earth-responsible society. He believes that even the simplest changes in personal habits, multiplied by a growing populace of concerned humans, can create a lasting effect on the health of our planet and of all living things. He currently lives in Los Angeles in a home powered by solar energy, and drives an electric car when not riding his bicycle.
As I walked up to Ed Begley Jr.’s home, the property greeted me with a fresh scent of herbs and citrus. I rang the doorbell and was pleasantly greeted by his 12-year-old daughter. She led me through the family room and into the dining room that had vintage flair, then rang for her father to come down.
Within minutes, Ed Begley Jr. burst into the room with his hand out, and greeted me with all the graciousness of a wonderful host. “Can I get you coffee, a latte, water, orange juice?” Not what you would expect from a celebrity of this magnitude. Wasting no time to get to the subject at hand, Ed began pointing out green facets around the room. There was a true energy and enthusiasm exuding from his face and body language as he moved around the room pointing out energy-saving light bulbs and double-paned windows. I could tell this interview would be a sit down, buckle up, and hold on for one green ride of your life.
The journey began here…
The Front Yard
“When I bought the home in 1988, the entranceway between the sidewalk and the fence was grass. I wanted to rip it out but the city wouldn’t let me. It wasn’t until about three to four years ago that I was able to change it to a drought-tolerant landscaping. I don’t need a lawn – we are in Southern California, a dry region, and I save so much water from the landscape.” Fruit trees such as apple, orange, tangerine, and lemon fill the front yard among the plethora of sage, rosemary and mint herbs and vegetation. As you cross through the yard, you’ll see a pathway laid with recycled pavers that draw you to a serene place where you can sit and enjoy nature.
The property is surrounded by a white fence, but not just any fence. “The best part is all of the fencing, including the backyard fence, that is seven feet high…it’s all recycled plastic out of plastic jugs!” Ed said.
As we walked from the main house to the office, we passed through the courtyard filled with vegetation and rainwater harvesting systems. It was a gardener’s paradise with vegetation such as kale and broccoli in abundance. Ed was quick to brag about how it was the “seventh cutting” of his broccoli and it’s still producing. Being a vegan, he enjoys the fresh produce that the garden produces for him and his family. His daughter joined us again, telling me she’s been a part of the gardening from an early age and is looking forward to planting sweet corn for the summer.
For Ed, growing a garden isn’t about putting soil down, planting a seed, adding water and hoping for the best. He talks about his soil as a living and breathing thing. “My soil is alive! It’s moving around. I compost on site and I return the rich nutrients to the soil.” He is most proud of the guests that have found their way to his garden. “When I bought the property, there wasn’t one earthworm… now, they just show up!” Ed exclaimed.
The rainwater harvesting systems are another point of pride, including the installation of a 550-gallon underground tank with a compressor. He indicated that his new house, which will be built to LEED Platinum certification, will have a 10,000-gallon tank. Ed remarked that he will be able to capture enough water to supply his garden for an entire year. Across the yard, the other rainwater system – a barrel placed strategically under his roof – is what Ed refers to as the “poor man’s rainwater system.” Anyone can do it, he says. Above the courtyard, solar panels grace the roof off the main house. Ed explained that the panels supply 90 percent or more of the power to the house and heating requirements, and can charge his car. If the power isn’t sufficient, Ed purchases Green Power from the City of Los Angeles. “Around 35,000 people have signed up for the Green Power program, and I wish more did it,” Ed said.
How do the neighbors feel about the solar panels and significant vegetation? “I have VERY nice neighbors,” he said with a chuckle.
The Living Space
After ascending the stairs made of recycled plastic bottles and the railing of recycled wood, we entered the office. He paused and asked, “Do you feel how cool it is in here?” “Why yes!” I replied. Today in Los Angeles was a warm 86 degrees, and without air conditioning, the heat would make any space a bit muggy – but not here. Ed moved around the room as he explained the green features. The coolness of the space was a result of heavy insulation to an R-35, and every outlet and slit was caulked and sealed. The floors were recycled engineered wood, paint was no-VOC, floor mats were made of hemp and other sustainable material, and all the lighting included energy-saving bulbs. A true green space.
All the same practices were used in the main house including solar tubing for natural light, ENERGY STAR appliances, and the coolest feature – recycled Coke bottles converted into a kitchen countertop.
Ed Begley Gets a C+ for Green
As we settle into the office for our chat, I ask, “What are we missing here with sustainability…why aren’t people getting it?”
“Because it’s human nature – people resist change. Also, not everyone can afford it. I’ve been a green guy for 20 years and it wasn’t until recently that I could afford to put solar panels on my house,” Ed replied.
So what can people do? What is the most important step we as homeowners can take? Surprisingly, he said, “A home energy audit!”
“A few years ago two of my friends, conducting home energy audits, asked me if they could audit my house. I was confident that they wouldn’t find anything and told them, ‘Have at it.’ The first home energy audit I had years ago was a ‘clipboard audit’ – nothing like
this one. They brought out equipment – a thermal imaging device, duct blaster, and blower door. After they were done, they presented me with a C+ rating on my home! C+ for Ed Begley!” he exclaimed.
Ed became quite animated as he revealed the findings for his ‘green’ point average. “They found holes in walls! And leaks! And one space that had been leaking air for years that a $10 piece of insulation could fix! I couldn’t believe it… a simple fix! After this audit, I cut my electric bill in half!” His face glowed as he shared his win on energy savings.
Ed repeatedly talked about how homeowners can do simple fixes up to larger practices to save energy and “put real money back in your pockets!”
“Somebody had to talk me into doing an energy audit. At the end [of the audit] there will be a column A and column B of items to do – and not everyone can afford to do all of the column A items. You have to look at this as an investment and find the things you can afford to ‘rock your energy bill!’”
Ed suggests starting with the affordable changes – light bulbs, sealing the envelope (weather stripping, caulking), and “poor man’s” rainwater harvesting – and says within one to three billing cycles, you will see some savings. Excuses are not part of Ed’s makeup. He says, “Don’t hand me a list that you can’t do, tell me what you can do!”
Following the energy audit, Ed had another epiphany to reduce energy waste – eliminate all “vampire power.” Ed defined this as the electronics and whatnots that are sucking power when you aren’t using it.
“There are some electronics that are sucking 40 to 50 watts of power without you using it, and it all adds up on your bill,” Ed said. His favorite product right now is the power strip, and he calls it “the poor man’s energy conservation.”
“If there is an outlet that you use for two or more plug-ins, get a power strip. Then make a list of all the essential things that need to be plugged in – you’ll find you don’t need much. This will save you real money! I saw my electric bill go down again by simply putting things on a power strip and turning things OFF!”
A Car – The 5th Choice
An early adopter of the electric car, Ed still uses other modes to get around before resorting to the gas car. “My Prius is the last choice of transportation and it goes in this order: walk, bike, public transportation, electric car, then Prius.” Curious as to why more consumers aren’t purchasing electric cars, Ed believes that “people still have range anxiety about running out of power. Chevy, Ford, and Toyota are wisely moving in a direction to manage that. If you think about it, 90 percent of your driving is 40 miles or less. So get yourself a hybrid or plug-in.” Believe it or not, Ed says his friend Jay Leno, an avid auto collector, drives a hybrid, and told Ed that he hadn’t put gas in his car in four months!
“As more cars get out in the marketplace and charging stations are available, then there will be less anxiety. And manufacturers need to make them more affordable,” Ed said.
Begley’s Earth Responsible
Ed is well known around town as the guy who has charity events for environmental causes, and his friends knew they’d get hit up to buy a table. Ed said he wanted to find a better way to raise money for Earth causes and help people live a healthier life – introducing Begley’s Earth Responsible. His complete cleaning line is sustainable, safe and non-toxic for the home. To raise money, Ed uses Paul Newman’s model of Newman’s Own and sends proceeds from sales of the line to charities. “I give 25 percent of net sales to charities for the environment.”
Ed was also quick to talk about embracing third-party certifiers to test his products and eliminate any greenwashing – a phrase he defines as someone who is trying to, through perception management and spin control, say something that isn’t entirely true. However, if you have third-party testing, you’ll have a harder time messing with the system.
How does Ed approach certifiers? “I don’t want them to do me any favors, the product is what it is,” he said. “I hope my cleaning products get the highest rating and we will list all of the ingredients.”
Ed is a genuine man who lives and breathes green, and excites even a green editor like me to do more. The best part was when his daughter rejoined us and, unsolicited, said, “My dad sets an example for people and especially for me – it’s a great way of living.” Ed, surprised by the honest moment, hugged his daughter and said, “Thanks for that.”
Ed Begley, Jr., environmentalist, actor, and author, recently launched Begley’s Earth Responsible Products, a line of eco-responsible household products with natural, non-toxic formulas, that are equal to, or more effective than, their non-green alternatives. And each product lists 100 percent of its ingredients on the label. Products will soon be available in national grocers. Purchase now at Begleysbest.com
Ed’s Top 10 List
1. Family 2. Preserving our environment 3. Reading
4. Hiking 5. Biking 6. Gardening
7. Cooking 8. Astronomy 9. Snorkeling