The Sustainability Journey: On leaving luxury

Talking about sustainability and why I gave up my luxury lifestyle and what I always considered to be "everything" to live in a pod made from reclaimed materials, in an "intentional community" with 8 people sharing all resources, requires some back story.
Written by Evan Kopelson, Contributor on

Evan Kopelsontook the plunge two weeks ago to be sustainable. That leap meant he said “So long!” to his Beverly Hills lifestyle to live in a yoga pod in a communal environment. “The Sustainability Journey” is a window into Evan’s world.

Here’s his second journal entry. (Read the first.)

"Everything to excess!"

I was born in New York but grew up for the most part in Beverly Hills.  However, I had enough time in White Plains (around nine years) to realize our lifestyle had changed dramatically.  White Plains was a simple, happy childhood.  I went to school, rode my bike, played with friends at their houses or mine, swung from ropes in trees, chased the ice cream truck at sunset to meet all my friends and neighbors on the corner.  Beverly Hills was a lot different. We never knew our neighbors; every house was an island.  A really, really nice island -- where everyone works for you and you know everybody.

By the time I graduated Beverly Hills High School in 1983 and moved back east to attend the University of Pennsylvania, I proudly lived by the mantra, “Everything to excess!”

Even so, my freshman dorm room at Penn was about the size of my bathroom in Beverly Hills, and I only mention that because it’s partly why I knew I could be happy living in a pod.  Not in the 80s and 90s however, those were the “everything to excess!” years, and man, was I good at that.

My bedroom in Beverly Hills was at least six times bigger than my room in White Plains. I went from a twin bed to a king, from a small rectangular shaped room to a massive square one with a whole couch and seating area which we changed to oversized beanbags.  There were windows everywhere and a private balcony sweeping across the front and side of the house.  I was like a little 9-year-old prince holding court with my friends after school.  The only thing was, my mother died of cancer a year later and all that luxury stuff didn’t matter much after that -- not that I didn’t continue to acquire things. It just didn’t fill the void.

I didn’t realize that until years later, however, and in fact went into a haze of accumulation… accumulating more and more stuff, eating at the best restaurants five nights a week, traveling First Class exclusively, and did I mention acquiring more stuff? I didn’t realize just how toxic all that excess luxury can be, until years later, after a lot of damage had already been done.

Talking about sustainability and why I gave up my luxury lifestyle and what I always considered to be “everything” to live in a pod made from reclaimed materials, in an “intentional community” with 8 people sharing all resources, requires some back story.

Flashbacks from the 'Crying Indian' commercial (see yesterday's post) would rise up and haunt me several times in my life. The first time at camp when I was seven years old. We were butterfly catching, and I was having fun with my net, until I saw what happened when the first camper caught his butterfly -- it got stuffed in a jar with a big cork and suffocated and died, and then they stuck a big pin through its dead body and put it behind glass.

I was mortified.

I let my butterfly go and was the only camper who didn’t “get” to do the art project.  My counselor understood.  I never got over not being able to save the other butterflies.

But as things go, I ended up killing a frog accidentally while trying to bring one home from a field trip, not realizing it needed water all the time and wouldn’t make the hour-plus drive back home in my jacket pocket.

These anecdotes all tie together because the lifestyle change I just made is so extreme that it doesn’t really make sense without putting it into context.  There are tons of ways of explaining the choice, such as “walking the talk on sustainability” or “slashing my personal carbon footprint,” but there are other reasons at work -- reasons that could appear deep to some and shallow to others.

The economy is troubled. My old three-bedroom place on the beach was getting very expensive to own. I stopped shopping projects around Hollywood a few years ago and have been teaching yoga and consulting in sustainability.  I haven’t made big Hollywood money in years, and one way or another it was time to downsize.

I could have gone anywhere. Communal living is cheaper for sure -- but it’s not so cheap that anyone can just participate for kicks.  We choose to be here, and the price point guarantees that anyone who isn’t 100% committed to living in community will choose to go elsewhere.

Somehow my career path has led me from music lawyer to hit song writer, from development and production guy in film and TV, to yoga teacher, to sustainability consultant, and more recently, researcher and writer.  At every step the past six to seven years, I’ve had the opportunity to look at my lifestyle and compare it against those of my teachers, colleagues, students and clients. I finally reached the tipping point where I realized that the only way to make up for all the excess luxury in my life was to give it all up now and wipe the slate clean.

I wanted to do like Gandhi said and “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  I wanted to change my life -- completely.  But not leave the country and go on world tours and eat my way toward spiritual enlightenment.  And that’s a great book, by the way, but I’m just saying that I wanted to stay right here, in Los Angeles, and see how much of a major lifestyle change I could achieve.

Find out what the process would be, and the result.

On Wednesday's The Sustainability Journey, Evan describes what it's like to live day-to-day in the community.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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