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Ed Begley, Jr. Interview with Greener Living Today

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Actor and environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr. is perhaps best known for his work as Dr. Mark Craig’s intern, Dr. Victor Ehrlich on the television series St. Elsewhere, for which he received six consecutive Emmy Award nominations.

Ed currently has a reality show about green living called Living with Ed on Planet Green with his wife actress Rachelle Carson.

He recently offered to be interviewed by Greener Living Today.

Greener Living Today:
Living with Ed has become a very successful television series.
Who came up with the concept for the show and are there new episodes scheduled for the near future?

Ed: The concept for the show had been brewing in our house for years.  My kids had suggested it even before the Osbournes had become a show.  Then my friend Joe Brutsman asked if he could develop it and shoot a presentation video.  His concept was a sort of ‘Green Acres’ for 2007 with some environmental takeaways.  I was pretty reluctant, but what was shot was really funny, and HGTV bought it from that little 10 minute piece.  It seemed like a much better way to get the message across than some of the less-than-compelling documentaries I had been involved with over the years.  Since then, HGTV licensed the existing episodes to Discovery’s Planet Green network where it now airs.  We’re hopeful that Planet Green will ask us to make more episodes.

Greener Living Today:
One of the segments we enjoyed was the visit to Jackson Browne’s home. How long have you known Jackson and what impressed you the most about his green lifestyle?

Ed: I first met Jackson Browne in the early seventies when he opened for Joni Mitchell at the Music Center in downtown L.A.  We all became lifelong fans after that night.  I soon learned of our shared concern for the environment and many other similar causes and he became a personal hero of mine.  He doesn’t just talk about it…he lives it.

Greener Living Today:
How do you prepare for a “green” celebrity interview?

Ed: I prefer spontaneity, so I never prepare for interviews.

Greener Living Today:
Your own home is pretty impressive. How many years did it take you to implement all of the different methods that you are using to become eco friendly and energy efficient, and what do they consist of?

Ed: I bought the home in 1988 – it’s a 2 bedroom, 1 ½ bath home – 1585 square feet.  When I bought it, it was a very energy inefficient house.  I set out to make it as energy efficient as I could.  I started with insulating the attic and walls as best I could, and replacing all the original windows with double pane windows.  That helped a great deal.  Solar hot water was next, and then solar electric in 1990.  I had a really nice draught tolerant garden put in with fruit trees and vegetables, but I got busy and let it go.  When Rachelle moved in, she said it looked like the Addams Family yard, and got me to put some effort in to fixing it up.  We grow quite a bit of food on-site now and it looks really good.  Over the last several years, we’ve done quite a bit more.  We just went through a huge new insulating project using new technology that wasn’t available to me back when I bought the house.  We used an infra red camera and pressure testing equipment to identify areas of the home that still had insulating problems.  We found one area near the door to our basement that was like a chimney leaking air, and we also decided to seal up the crawl space between the foundation and the basement.  With this new level of insulation, we were able to downsize the air conditioning unit and put it a new high efficiency water heater to augment the solar hot water and heat the house.  Lately, I rarely if ever use grid power and our gas bill is down considerably.  Rachelle has worked on the aesthetics, including re-painting most of the inside of the house with non-VOC paints, a kitchen remodel that included great new energy star appliances and a recycled glass countertop, some new light fixtures and some other odds and ends.  The house has never looked better.

Greener Living Today:
How many solar panels do you have installed and are you completely off the grid?

Ed: I have 6 ½ kW of solar – including the fixed arrays on the house and garage and the tracker on the garage.  Since the system is almost 19 years old, I recently had it gone through and re-wired, and I had the batteries replaced and the old ones recycled.  I’m going to have a few of the older panels replaced with newer more energy efficient ones as well.  The system is working really well now.  It is an off-grid system that uses batteries as storage.  I can flip to grid power when I need to, like to charge the electric car at night.  But lately, I haven’t been using any grid power at all.  I wouldn’t say I’m completely off the grid, but I’m as close as I’ve ever been since I was single.

Greener Living Today:
Are there any solar manufacturing and/or installation companies that you would recommend?

Ed: In California, I always recommend my friend John Schaeffer at Real Goods.  He’s been doing it a long time and is very good.  My friend Stephen Gates in Ojai, California is also quite good.  In the Midwest, I always recommend Chad Lampkin at Michigan Energy Works.  He built my system and he’s the best there is.

Greener Living Today:
Do you have an opinion about the recent economic developments of the U.S. auto makers and what kind of an automobile are you driving these days?

Ed: It’s a very tough time to be in the automobile business.  But the U.S. automakers are working on some exciting stuff like the Chevy Volt, and I think they will come out of it ok…it will take some time and there will be some pain.  Currently, I still use my Toyota RAV4 EV that I bought some years ago.  It still works beautifully and has an 80 mile range with its Nmh batteries.  My wife and daughter both drive Priuses – and I’ll borrow them for long distance travel.  I also work with Phoenix Motorcars in California on their new electric SUT and SUV – hopefully I’ll be driving one full-time soon.  Of course, these days, as most of my acting work has been close to home, I either walk or ride my bike or take the bus / subway.  Sometimes I’ll go a week without using the car at all.

Greener Living Today:
In August you were a speaker at the SolFest conference in Hopland, California. What did you speak on at the conference and will you be attending other conferences in the near future?

Ed: I try to go to SolFest every year – again, my friend John Schaeffer from Real Goods.  I spoke about my optimism towards solving the environmental challenges of today.  In the past, I would do my part by telling people “I’m not coming to speak at your event”.  By saving the travel and associated carbon footprint, I felt NOT coming was my best contribution.  However, David Suzuki and others recently encouraged me to get out and speak – so I’ve been doing a lot of it lately.  In 2008 I will have done 40 to 50 speaking events.  I’ll have to cut back a bit in 2009 due to my acting schedule, but I’m going to continue to try and get out.  I put out a book in 2008 and that helped get the message out too.  I have a new book coming out in September 2009 as well.

Greener Living Today:
Can you tell us more about Begley’s Best and are there more products in development?

Ed: I started Begley’s Best because I had sampled several formulas of non-toxic biodegradable cleaners that I really felt worked well.  Cleaning products can be so toxic in the home.  I also wanted to use the model that Paul Newman had started with Newman’s Own, and so Begley’s Best gives a large chunk of our sales revenue to various environmental charities.  Right now we’re focused on three cleaning products, but I could see Begley’s Best expanding its product line in the future if we continue to grow.  My daughter Amanda is handling most of the business of Begley’s Best these days, and Whole Foods Markets is a big supporter of the line.  It can also be ordered on-line at www.begleysbest.com.

Greener Living Today:
How long have you been active as an environmentalist?

Ed:  I started making changes in my life in 1970.  It was the first Earth Day, and I had had a belly full of the smog in Los Angeles.  So I started recycling and composting in 1970, and I bought my first electric car in 1970.

Greener Living Today:
What sort of impact do you think the recent 2008 presidential election will have in relation to environmental concerns and energy efficiency, here and abroad?

Ed: I’m hopeful that the new administration will have a positive impact.  However, as I travel around the country and speak with people, it’s pretty clear that there’s a consensus on certain things.  Reducing our dependence on Mid-East Oil, cleaning up the smog in cities like L.A., Houston and Bakersfield, putting money back in our pocket – these are things we can all agree on.  I’m very hopeful about the future and I think we can overcome these challenges.  We have four times the number of cars in Los Angeles that we did in 1970, yet we have half the smog.  We’ve proven we can do this.  We’ve proven we can have success.  And, we didn’t go broke doing it.  As the great David Brower said, “Capitalism is a great thing – we ought to try it.”

Greener Living Today:
Do you think your wife Rachelle, will ever get her “green” dream home? One where you don’t have to pedal a bicycle to make toast?

Ed: Her “dream home”?  Probably not.  At least not with me in it.  However, to be fair, we do have a small house and our daughter is getting older and we run two businesses on-site.  So, we’ve agreed to expand a little.  Right now, we’re reviewing plans to add on a bit more square footage to the house.  We’re having Susan Colwell at My Green Cottage supervise the project and she’s bringing in some wonderful people to make sure that it’s not only aesthetically beautiful for Rachelle but that we do everything with an eye towards energy and resource efficiency.  I’m excited about it.  Perhaps we’ll even get to see a bit of it on TV.

Greener Living Today:
What suggestions would you make to those people that want to start making an eco friendly change in their own lifestyle?
 
Ed: Start with the things that are cheap and easy.  You don’t run up Mt. Everest.  Climb slowly, get to base camp, get acclimated, and then climb some more.  Energy saving thermostat, energy saving lighting, insulation, weather stripping, recycling, composting, home gardening, rain barrels, public transportation or bicycling – these are the cheap and easy things that anyone can do TODAY to get started.  Then, as you save money, you can do more.  If there was just one thing you could do, get out of your car – even if it’s just a day or two a month.  That’s a great place to start.

You can learn more about Ed and his television series by visiting his official website located at http://www.livingwithed.net

Find out more about Begley’s Best and other products by visiting http://www.begleysbest.com

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