Is Green Drinks an important event for cities, something that could strengthen the fibers of the environmental community? It might be; it’s growing like an invasive species. At Green Drinks, the environment and cocktails get stirred together, not shaken. The informal monthly networking event is where people working in the green sector share a glass with those who simply care for the welfare of the environment and talk sustainability shop. There are now are now over 420 chapters globally. The largest US chapter is in New York City, at 10,000 members. It was founded seven years ago by Margaret Lydecker. Seven years may not seem like a long time, but if you consider that it was only a year ago that “carbon footprint” became part of the country’s collective consciousness, seven years is an epoch.
The city’s October installation took place at The Park, a very spacious and moderately upscale bar and restaurant located in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. I attended with a friend who has no environmental background whatsoever: She works in fashion photography production. We were greeted by very friendly people at the table who gave us badges on which to write our names.
Other than the badges, however, the networking part was up to the attendees. Had I not been a journalist reviewing the event, I might find it difficult to strike up a conversation with strangers here, green or not. Some people lose their social inhibitions with alcohol. But if one doesn’t drink much, like me, they may need a little nudge to make first connections with strangers. My reaction, then, was that what this event needed was moderated introductions. It could be a simple, immediate way to find out who was present, what you might have in common with them and how they might be a lasting contact.
What if there were a host and, at select points throughout the evening, they brought various people up to a microphone to introduce themselves to the crowd? Or, if there were a group of moderators who literally walked around and introduced people to one another? The event could maintain its informality while being a direct conduit of connections. But I attended for an hour and a half, and this was my very first Green Drinks, so I may have simply missed precisely the structure I desired.
I look around and watch people a lot and notice that the people who came together seem to be sticking to their friends and not really talking to others, nor looking interested in doing so. But it’s early, and most people probably have not loosened their collars enough yet.
At one point, I decided that the best way to introduce myself to people was to interview them for my review. I find that among the crowd are people are varying ages — mainly twenty-something to fifty-something. There is a dentist who has no official green affiliation but wants to socialize and, he adds, cares what’s happening in the world. He’s likely here looking for date, but there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s an FSC-certified printing company owner present and an engineer who does building commission services for US Green Building Certification LEED certification.
I also spoke with a young woman who works in the finance department at McGraw-Hill publishing (which sponsored this event) who is very enthusiastic about her company office’s recycling and double-sided printing practices. She used to work in fashion where she grew increasingly disturbed by their excessive waste. The woman is a good example of a young citizen with a conscience who believes in the power of recycling and switching to energy efficient light-bulbs.
A few seconds later, another young woman walks by carrying a canvas tote-bag that says “GREEN IS GOOD.” If New York is the heartland of trendiness, then slogan-covered tote-bags are the green craze’s “add water and stir” ritual of participation.
It strikes me that the mix of the young, idealistic attendees with the older, seasoned career environmentalists is a good thing. There’s a definite need to cross-pollinate so that the young attendees begin to wrap their heads around more profound ways of seeing environmental change than just printing less emails and putting out their blue bins every week. That is precisely why the introductions that I spoke of earlier could make the event an invaluable tool for connecting people.
Another potential tool that could increase the already significant value of Green Drinks is the way eblasts are utilized. Currently, they simply advertise the monthly event and list the sponsors. But what if the emails were yet another way of connecting members to one another? What if the eblasts were weekly, and introduced a number of members by listing who they are and what they do. It would enrich the actual events, where attendees could find people listed in the emails whose work was of interest.
On the long and bumpy road to global environmental change, Green Drinks could turn trendiness into a hugely important vehicle for communication between people who otherwise might not have any. It seems that there is still a lot of potential to mine the event for all that it could offer.
Hamida Kinge has written about everything from food security to ocean acidification to luxury cell phones. She was a 2009 fellow of the Scripps Howard Institute on the Environment and a 2008/09 reporting fellow of the Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting. She has contributed to Next American City, Grist, Philadelphia City Paper and U.R.B. domestically as well as Europe-based magazines Essential Macau and Straight No Chaser. For the past year, she has been teaching English as a foreign language to international students and business professionals. Hamida has also been a volunteer English tutor for the International Center in New York.