Friday, February 19, 2010

Green Drinks: From Beer to Eternity?
(Or more than a pretty web page)

When we first set up shop here in Paris some years ago, we thought a lot about creating lively and inviting environments for all kinds of people to get together and exchange ideas and learn from each other in our areas of common interest. But for the most part this took the form of the familiar mix of workshops, conferences, and of our various virtual get-togethers on the web. Then one day in 2007 we learned of Green Drinks, and thought to give it a go in Paris.

Introduction: Our goal back then was to create here in this big and busy city an inviting environment which would encourage serendipitous encounters which cut across the usual professional and disciplinary lines. For us it was important that participation be easy and open, and that it bring in young people and as many women as possible. And a wide range of different kinds of backgrounds and views. As luck would have it, a group of young Parisian professionals agreed to take over the actual running of the project, which they continue to do successfully to this day.

So on the occasion of your next trip to Paris if you want to take the temperature of the green agenda here in all its varieties be sure you check out the webpage at On the last Monday or each month, the action starts at 19h30 at the Café Epicerie, 38 rue Sambre et Meuse 75010 Paris. you can also check out the organizers blog at

And oh yes, why don't you give some thought to creating a Green Drinks in your own city. You just may surprise yourself? There are more people and more brains thinking about and working on these issues than most of us would ever guess. Try it and let us know how it works out.

Now let's hear what Edwin Datschefski who was there at birth and is the International Coordinator of Green Drinks has to tell us about how all this came to be.
Green Drinks: From Beer to Eternity?

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 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 travelled the world and relocated jobs, more sprung 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 ( 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.

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Edwin Datschefski is the International Coordinator of Green Drinks, . Edwin's latest book, The Total Beauty of Sustainable Products, is proving to be a contemporary classic, introducing everyone from students to CEOs to the delights and nuances of sustainable product development.

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