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Heroines for the Planet: Green Drinks NYC Founder Margaret Lydecker

April 12, 2012

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Before Margaret Lydecker founded Green Drinks NYC in 2002, there wasn’t a place for Manhattan’s like-minded, eco-conscious professionals to get their networking on. Margaret changed that, and now many of us wouldn’t know what to do without her monthly events.

Whether you’re a dedicated monthly green drinker or not, you’ve in all likelihood heard of Green Drinks NYC, even if you don’t live or work in the Big Apple. Over the years, Margaret has aided in the launch of 200-plus chapters globally (there are now 800-plus chapters worldwide). She’s helped build the global Green Drinks brand, in the coolest way imaginable: by connecting green businesses and professionals at the local level.

I went to the most recent Green Drinks NYC, and observed Margaret calmly and graciously working the room. She’s the face of Green Drinks– never letting a name or a face slip her, which is highly impressive considering she has literally met thousands of individuals at her events over the past 10 years. But Margaret also runs the show, delegates to her staff and Green Drinks volunteers, and ensures every minor detail goes off without a hitch.

I wanted to get to know the woman behind Green Drinks NYC who has effectively connected so many people. Margaret revealed the challenges she’s faced, how her passion for sustainability began, her thoughts on greenwashers, and how she manages to keep it all together.

Lindsay: You were way ahead of the game back in 2002 when you founded Green Drinks in NYC, and now you’ve expanded internationally. Is there a particular feat you’re most proud of?

Margaret:  I am most proud of having the opportunity to create something of value and meaning to people in the professional green field in New York City.  We have a tremendous community of incredibly diverse people!  Our networking events are lively and friendly and built around being open to new ideas, making introductions, giving people access, beefing up their rolodex of contacts, sharing ideas and being inspired by other people.  In 10 years, I’ve helped Green Drinks expand to 200-plus new cities and now we are in over 840 cities total worldwide.  I have also had the good fortune to travel to several chapters abroad – a real treat to drop into a local community of green comrades anywhere in the world and have them be just as excited to meet you.

ml5Margaret with Sylvia Earle

Lindsay: Has Green Drinks surpassed your wildest imaginations, or did you always believe it would evolve into something so great?

Margaret: I had no idea it would grow into something so big and have such a far-reaching impact on people!  I think the turning point was when we were getting over 300 new subscribers joining our mailing list every month for a couple of years, we knew something was working.  It originally evolved out of my own interest in connecting with other-liked minded people. I felt, if I was this passionate about environmental issues, there must be others out there that feel the same way. … I wanted to surround myself with those people. I heard that voice, “If you build it, they will come”, and they keep coming.

Lindsay: What were some of the challenges you’ve faced since launching the business?

Margaret: The biggest challenge has been finding a balance between Green Drinks being a charitable activity I do in my “free” time vs. taking it on full time. There is so much to do! We are an all-volunteer organization, but because of our size (largest of the 800-plus chapters world wide) and location, we have unique challenges and higher risks and costs than most of the other Green Drink chapters, which present more time-consuming problems. We also want to keep the events relevant, interesting and fun every month, so balancing all of the details of the monthly events along with my consulting work, exercise, and having a personal life, is challenging.

Lindsay: Can you tell me more about your consulting firm, Brite Green Sustainability Advisors? It must be thrilling to help companies evolve into more environmentally and socially conscious businesses.

Margaret: Brite Green grew out of the need for specific research and focus on greening specific things from my clients; whether they are designing a new consumer product and need ideas on green materials or packaging options, chain of custody research or retail challenges, I have been able to guide them to better options. My work also includes greening large scale television productions, award shows and red carpet events.

greendrinksGreen Drinks NYC event at Environment Furniture

Lindsay: What sparked your passion for sustainability? Did you grow up very environmentally conscious?

Margaret:  My spark came from several different points in my life growing up. First as a young child, having a resourceful family as my example who encouraged reusing, recycling, using hand-me-downs, with a strong focus on sports, gardening, nature and being outside. Then later when I was 20, I went on a 97-day NOLS backpacking semester, which influenced me greatly, and changed the course of my life! Hiking outside everyday, taking classes on glaciers, while sitting on a real one, sleeping under the stars every night, you can’t help but develop an intimate relationship with nature. You simply see things differently. I returned from that trip wanting to share what I had learned with everyone I knew. I was fiercely protective about conserving our National Parks, and beautiful places for future generations to enjoy. A few years after that, I rode my bicycle across America for 3 months, biking 4500 miles, biking each day through the changing landscape and colors of the sky, camping on farms, city parks and churches along the way. I really connected with farmers and rural communities. This also had a big impact on my life.

Lindsay: You must be a pretty organized person. How to you keep it all together, and find balance in your life?

Margaret:  I can always be more organized! I didn’t find my balance right away, and was frankly overwhelmed at time with all the people I was meeting on a daily basis in NYC, but over time you realize that no matter how much good you are trying to do for your community or the world, without regular exercise, healthy eating, drinking water, decent sleep and taking time for your friends and family, it won’t be worth it unless you can take care of YOU.  Balance is critical. I love to garden and cook, really helps me relax and be creative. Last summer I enrolled in an artisan cheese-making course at UVM! I volunteered on a farm making cheese, hanging out with cows and getting connected with more “real” things – not just life on the computer.

Lindsay: Over the years, you’ve met thousands of green businesses. Have you noticed an increase in companies “greenwashing,” or purely painting a picture that they’re eco-focused simply for marketing or even networking purposes?

Margaret:  Unfortunately yes. There is a disconnect between the marketing aspect of green products and the actual problem companies introducing these green products are trying to solve. Americans are heavy marketers, and despite the good intentions, they are often, instead, contributing to the problem. It is easy to use language to sell “values.” We need to work closer with our scientific community, non-profits, and other groups to get to the heart of the problem we are trying to solve, and be honest about it.

Lindsay: If you had to choose one motto with which you live by, what would that motto be?

Margaret: Oh so many good ones, but I love this quote: “What we think, or what we know, or what we believe, is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do.”  —John Ruskin

Interview originally published at Eco-Chick.com.

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