The Famous Mr. Ed

You may think of Ed Begley Jr. as the hotel manager from "Best in Show," or Dr. Victor Ehrlich from "St. Elsewhere," but he's also the focus of HGTV's reality show "Living with Ed," which features his "live green" lifestyle. Begley, who lives in a modest Los Angeles home powered by solar energy, has been an environmentalist since before it was trendy—his father "instilled in me a love of nature and a deep reverence for the Earth," he says. Begley has expanded that reverence into a life's work, which he now discusses with groups at corporations, universities, and conferences.

Begley cites the first Earth Day in 1970 as the catalyst for his shift from being environmentally aware to being passionate and active about environmental change. In the early 1970s, Begley's quest to lessen his impact on the Earth began with a limited budget and without many of the green resources available today. "Pick the low-hanging fruit first—the cheap and easy stuff," he says. "You can afford a [compact fluorescent] light bulb and weather stripping. You can afford to ride a bike, to do home gardening and composting. Then move up the ladder and do more."

Although he now speaks to groups, "I never really had an interest in teaching others about it. I've never once proselytized—quite the contrary! But people kept tapping me on the shoulder and saying, 'Tell me about that,' or, 'What's that you're doing?'" In addition to speaking, he serves on the boards of the Environmental Media Association, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the Thoreau Institute, the Earth Communications Office, Tree People, and Friends of the Earth, among others.

He realized that his celebrity status could help spread the word about being environmentally responsible and taking action. "I know if I ride to an event on a bicycle people will notice it," he says. "Celebrity is a means to an end; it's a megaphone that you want to use carefully."

Does he worry the current interest in the environment is a passing warm-and-fuzzy trend? "There have been waves of interest in the past," he says, such as during the 1970s, "then the '80s came along and everybody said, 'Screw that. I want a nice house,' then the '90s came along and there was a lot of pollution, so there was a little more interest [in the environment]. Then that died down." He says the one-two punch a few years ago of Hurricane Katrina and Al Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth" showed people what a weather-related natural disaster could look like, which renewed the public's interest—an interest Begley hopes will hold this time around.

Originally published Nov. 1, 2008

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