ASHEVILLE, North Carolina, April 22, 2014 –/WORLD-WIRE/– Western North Carolina is home the world’s hardest working sustainability networking and education event and on the 23th of April, 2014 it will celebrate the 500th iteration of Asheville Green Drinks – quite a feat for a small town nestled in bosom of the Appalachian Mountains. The “Green Drinks” movement is an international grassroots event series mostly focused on after work networking for professionals and community members who have an interest in the science of sustainability.
It was originally created by Edwin Datschefski in 1989 at a British pub called the Slug and Lettuce in North London, England. Mr. 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 a movement was born, spawning events in over 650 cities around the world.
Unlike most green drinks events Mr. Datschefski remarked that to his knowledge, “…Asheville seems to be the only city on earth hosting a weekly green drinks programme. No doubt that with the added feature of educational programming at each event, Asheville Green Drinks is one of the most unique hosts for the green drinks movement.”
Asheville’s event series was initiated by Joseph B. Malki, then a partner at eco event producers Seven-Star producers of Green Festivals and greeners of the 2009 Democratic National Convention and Live Earth!
Malki says “I heard about the Green Drinks movement from one of Austin’s eco-pioneers, Brandi Clark. It sounded like the perfect reason to leave the office on a Friday before 5pm for something ecologically related” chuckles Malki. “I went to my favorite spot in town at the time; Bobo Gallery and asked Brad & Elizabeth Reichart to host.
They were so enthusiastic and became the first of many bars to host our event. Luckily, Ms. Ulla Britt, Asheville environmental scientist, had initiated a similar event concept, Enviro Beer night (another national networking series) and was ready to relinquish management of the event. She invited all her mates to join Asheville Green Drinks. I then called up Ty Hallock from Top Floor Studio and pitched him a weekly green drinks event concept. He loved it and helped me start the website and co-managed the event for three years. Folks like Sage Linden and Jim Barton also helped coordinate this regular event.”
Malki had cut his teeth on ecologically minded events since his teens with punk rock benefits in Sacramento and later with the University of California at Davis where he volunteered and eventually helped produce the student and community led Whole Earth Festival. He later became the public relations liaison for the California State Fair. and went on to form Seven-Star with his family, sister Georgia Malki and brother-in-law Alan van de Kamp Grau.
Malki continues, “The way Asheville Green Drinks began reveals how much Asheville is rooted in a community of cooperation and collaboration. Since 2005, the Asheville community has embraced this weekly event and really made it their own.”
In 2010, Malki decided to widen the involvement in Asheville Green Drinks coordination and programming by inviting the regions leading activist organizations to the table to collaborate around education. “Ty and I started to stress a little with just how busy we were with our respective lives. Top Floor Studios was gaining new international contracts and I had just recovered from a second surgery from a training accident at Ft. Bragg Army Officer Candidate School. The idea of sharing the load with our local non-profits made sense since we were relying on them for proramming content anyway.”
Malki reached out to Western North Carolina Alliance, Western North Carolina Green Building Council, Sierra Club of Western North Carolina (WENOCA), Just Economics WNC, United Nations Association of WNC and Transition Asheville and formed a steering committee dubbed Partners in Education.
“Asheville has a great track record of collaboration between non-profits and grassroots movements. It was really a no-brainer to join forces with complementary allies and help make Asheville Green Drinks more popular and stronger,” says Julie Mayfield executive director of Western North Carolina Alliance and the chair of Asheville Green Drinks’ steering committee. “We continue to have amazing free educational events every week and now all this work is shared by seven organizations, a few private individuals and the greater Asheville community who attend. This is the essence of collaboration and community building and we are thrilled at how many lives we have touched.”
In 2012 Lenoir-Rhyne University – Center for Graduate Studies of Asheville joined the Partners in Education steering committee. “Bridging conversations between the academic community and the community where we live is a critical step forward.” says Dr. Keith McDade, Assistant Professor of Sustainability Studies of Lenoir-Rhyne. “ We participate in the community in a variety of ways. This learning from and sharing with the community is not only an important role for the University but is foundational for the possibility of sustainability.” McDade and the Lenoir-Rhyne graduate group readily embrace community events based on the educational principles.
“Events such as Green Drinks are catalysts for community building and individual empowerment. I have learned a great deal from attending Green Drinks, and I regularly see connections being made and people learning from each other in ways that build the intellectual and social capital of our community. This is essential for sustainability in our region to advance” McDade concludes.
Asheville Green Drinks has hosted a wide variety of educational programming ranging from climate change to green building. A few weeks ago Tommy Cabe, Chief Forester of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee presented a new sustainable forestry plan that captivated the audience. Asheville Green Drinks is making a concerted effort to be more inclusive in approaching First Nations and people of color. It’s no stretch of the imagination however to realize that some of the most popular green drink events are about “do it yourself” green building, gardening and healthy cooking.
Maggie Leslie, Executive Director of the Western North Carolina Green Building Council mentions, “Our community has a strong interest in learning how to execute sustainable initiatives and empower themselves with the right techniques. The WNCGBC presents a few times a year and we are packed every time. The recession forced people to take-on their own projects and learn how to save even more by going ‘green.’ Self sufficiency, energy conservation and solar power are high on people’s interests.”
With almost prescient foresight, since 2005 Asheville Green Drinks has presented several educational events on the dangers of Duke Power’s coal sludge ponds. On February 14th, 2014 a leak, spewing tons of coal ash into the Dan River – a source of drinking water for Danville, Va., a town 20 miles upstream resulted because of Duke Power’s negligence.
“Asheville Green Drinks has always had a pulse on the ecological safety of our community”, says Sierra Club Political Chair, Ken Brame. “Our job is to make sure that everyone is empowered with the state of our local environment by informing them of the risks and alternatives. I don’t know how many times the Sierra Club and our allies have warned Duke about the ecocidal potential of these sludge ponds. If they had attended our green drinks events – maybe they would have saved the Dan River. Even worse, Duke still has a pond on the South French Broad River. Its a disaster waiting to happen.”
While not all Asheville Green Drink events are doom and gloom, they do serve as a scientific method of democratic communication. Typically after the presenter, the public is invited to ask questions and engage with thoughtful dialogue.
Geri Littlejohn of Transition Asheville adds, “We are open to a wide variety of perspectives around these conversations. Conservatives, liberals, radicals and moderates have an opportunity to come together and listen to an expert’s point of view. Often times we end-up learning as much from the audiences interactions and counter-points as the speakers. Its a perfect circle of learning and community discovery.”
Part of that interaction relies on teaching young volunteers how to coordinate events, conduct media campaigns, use social media and websites.
Mark Hebbard of Just Economics states, “We have relied on wonderful volunteers over the years who have left with some significant skills. We have a 6000 person email list and a growing number of followers on Facebook and Twitter. Our volunteers gain practical skills to help them promote social justice and ecological wisdom as they move on in their careers.”
Malki has reflected on the meaning of this event and pondered its significance from his unusual point of view. “My parents were immigrants into the United States and I was born in Texas. I learned from my family the value and importance of democracy and cherishing our right to assemble and discuss the politics and science of our nation. Being a native Texan, I also have a penchant for boasting and thinking big. So, when I think what Asheville has achieved with this 500th milestone its really remarkable. Asheville is such a leading edge, bold and pioneering community and while we have a lot to boast about we do back it up with innovation and action. I think my parents would be proud of Asheville Green Drinks and the idea of a free education based event series. My father’s heritage is Suryoyo, the Christian ethnic minority of Greater Syria. During the Ottoman genocide against Christians, my ancestors were terribly persecuted for their religion and culture. They were not allowed any of the rights we Americans often take for granted. My fondest wish is for conservatives and liberals in America to really relish just how wonderful it is to be free and to exercise a modicum of civility when confronting each other with logical arguments. I feel that Asheville Green Drinks honors a respectful spirit of public expression, scientific discovery and living dialogue. For me its what makes our democracy a vibrant and even sacred experience.”
At 6pm EST April 23rd, 2014 Green Sage will be hosting the 500th Asheville Green Drinks event in the form of a party celebrating this community accomplishment located at 5 Broadway Asheville, NC (828) 252-4450.
Asheville Vice Mayor Marc Hunt will be presenting a Mayoral Proclamation for the day to be commemorated as Asheville Green Drink day.
Both Malki and Hallock and their associates have a lot to be proud of. Hallock who is studying at Stanford University but beaming in via Skype for the party says, “Its been nine years since we first started. Most people would have dismissed Joseph’s idea for a weekly event series out of hand. But we had great friends and a great community to lean on. The Asheville Green Drinks series is proof that Asheville has what it takes to not just accomplish green initiatives, but to see them through for the duration. To me its the living proof of what sustainability means in practice – a diverse community committed to lifelong learning.”
POINTS OF CONTACT:
email@example.com (828) 258-8737
Edwin Datschefski, Founder & International Coordinator for Asheville Green Drinks firstname.lastname@example.org
Joseph B. Malki, CEO twingravity
email@example.com (828) 216-5769
Julie Mayfield, Co-Director, Western North Carolina Alliance
firstname.lastname@example.org (828) 258-8737
Dr. Keith McDade, Asst Professor of Sustainability Studies
email@example.com (828) 407-4276
Littlejohn, Transition Asheville
firstname.lastname@example.org (828) 712-0277
Ken Brame, Sierra Club – Political Chair
email@example.com (828) 423-8045
Mark Hebbard, Just Economics – Living Wage Certification Coordinator
firstname.lastname@example.org (828) 505-7466
Jim Barton, WNCA United Nations Association of WNC
email@example.com (828) 367-7636
Ty Hallock, CEO Top Floor Studio
Ty.firstname.lastname@example.org (828) 225-8124
Asheville GreenDrinks organizers, Joseph Malki, center