In 1989, at a pub called the Slug and Lettuce in North London, Edwin Datschefski was sitting with his green design colleagues Yorick Benjamin and Paul Scott when he noticed an enviro-minded acquaintance at a nearby table. As it turned out, the friend was sitting with a few of his own eco-conscious mates, so they pulled some tables together. And so a movement was born.
The concept evolved into Green Drinks and now it's global. In 2001, Datschefski created an official Web site, and it has since spread across the world. See www.greendrinks.org for the latest city count and a list of countries. Each city has an organiser who arranges meetings in bars and restaurants (often with organic or vegetarian food), relays information via email, and facilitates discussions.
The spirit of Green Drinks is that anyone can come, and this makes for interesting interactions.
There are lots of benefits to green drinks; they are hard to quantify, but when you have seen people come and make new links and learn and argue and set up new schemes and get new jobs etc, it is a good feeling.
As told by Edwin Datschefski:
A bunch of us who work in the environmental field used to meet up for a beer in London once a month. It was a nice gathering, and we always encouraged people to invite others, so you never knew who would be there and they were always interesting people and great connections were made and cool ideas were had. We started in 1990 and called it Green Drinks.
We used to call round the week before and tell people the date and venue, and for a while we tried mass faxing, but it was quite hard work and this was of course just in our spare time and "borrowing" office resources etc. so we were very pleased when email finally became widespread and we could set up an email list to send out reminders.
We also set up a fixed date (second Tuesday of the month) and venue so people could easily remember the rule and also put it in their diaries ahead of time.
In 2000 I set up a website greendrinks.org as an easy-to-remember URL and soon after that we realised a few friends from Oxford were having their own Green Drinks too so we listed them on the website. Soon there were quite a few listed on the website so I handed over organisation of the London Green Drinks to Paul Scott, who still runs it, in order to concentrate on the now-international website. When I say 'concentrate' bear in mind this is all stuff in my spare time, the odd hour here and there.
New York City joined as the first US GD in 2002 and as Green Drinkers saw the website, travelled the world and relocated jobs, more sprang up. Today in 2010 there are 600 Green Drinks in 62 countries.
I specifically used biological thinking in the design of Green Drinks. I wrote the Green Drinks Code (http://www.greendrinks.org/Start) as a code of practice but also as a genetic code, the DNA of the organism.
Green Drinks is biological in that it is:
Distributed -- there is no central organisation, each city organiser can do what they like and maintains their own list of members.
Viral -- member-get-member is the basic principle -- a simple concept spread by word of mouth.
Adaptive -- each Green Drinks city has its own logo and traits, the ones that work best for its location -- some are a little formal, some rather random, some have speakers to break the ice (like in Scandinvia and some US cities), most are just freeform. The freeform nature of most of the mingling is the key, and this can be enhanced by good hosting and introduction-making on the night.
I think the strangest thing about Green Drinks is that the goals are so vague and the benefits hard to quantify -- but they are undoubtedly there. Sometimes people say we should get some charitable or government funding, but then others will insist that independence is far more important. Of course it's not much of a proposal in conventional terms -- 'We need this funding so me and my mates can go have a few beers together' ...
I've upgraded the website a few times in recent years, and we are flirting with on-line social networking via Facebook, Ning, Twitter etc but there are countless online environmental networks, and Green Drinks is fundamentally about face to face interaction in a room.
I have never made any predictions or even plans about Green Drinks, but I would guess we will continue to expand though this may well slow as of course sometimes cities drop out and that has to be matched with new cities joining up.
I think Green Drinks has some good lessons for other types of organisation who want to grow, and staying informal and ad hoc is a key one of them. Go along to a Green Drinks near you to see how it works, or drop me a line if you think I can help with any ideas on your organisation design.
Edwin Datschefski is the International Coordinator of Green Drinks, www.greendrinks.org