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David Holloway, November 2009

Green Drinks NYC Blogger

David Holloway is a freelance writer and a media consultant based in New York City. A native Australian, David is passionate about a range of environmental causes, in particular the ocean, climate change and endangered wildlife, and about developing and deepening the environmentally-conscious community.

You know it’s November when you walk into a bar and there’s a fire in the fireplace. You know you’re at Park, the fabulous 10th Avenue restaurant in Manhattan, when you find yourself in that amazing atrium, sequestered from the cold air outside, surrounded by trees covered in fairy lights. You know it’s Green Drinks when the first person you meet tells you that her clothing was manufactured using eco-friendly renewable fibers, colored and finished using managed toxins, and sold in a retail environment featuring recycled fixtures.

You know your mouth is moving faster than your brain when your reply is. “Well, my clothes are sustainable too. They’ve been with me through the 1980s, 1990s and – so far so good – the noughties too.”

More about sustainable clothing in a moment. But first, Copenhagen. Denmark’s capital city, but more significantly, the location for a very important meeting soon about the planet’s future: The United Nations Climate Change Conference (December 7-18) or COP 15, as it’s called. (http://en.cop15.dk).

The good news is that since the Kyoto Protocol, which came into force in 2005, the level of global awareness about environmental issues has risen dramatically. Fortunately, so too has the level of understanding about things with Kyoto that need to be fixed. The bad news is that the challenges in replacing Kyoto with something meaningful from Copenhagen remain enormous. Really, really enormous.

So what do people at Green Drinks, an environmental networking group, know about the approaching meeting? I ask several people during the evening about Copenhagen. Everyone knows about it and knows that it’s significant. But there isn’t a high level of real understanding about the issues.

Lisa Flattery of Ogilvy and Mather is seeing the same thing. O&M, the global advertising agency, has been retained by the United Nations to help increase grass-roots awareness of the issues surrounding the Copenhagen meeting. They’ve developed the Hopenhagen website (http://hopenhagen.org) in support of this effort. Lisa made a presentation during the evening, and spoke to me in more detail afterwards.

“A lot of people aren’t very clear on what’s going on, so there is not much public pressure for the leaders to act and to make something happen in Copenhagen,” Lisa says. Her agency has therefore set about creating a process through which people can make their national leaders aware of their views. The process has “low barriers to entry,” Lisa says; it takes very little effort to become involved and voice an opinion. The Hopenhagen site has several suggestions for how to do this. The main call to action is an online petition, which is available via a link from the front page. Under the “Spread Hope” tab, there are also other suggestions, including how to write a letter to the heads of state of more than X countries about the importance of Copenhagen.

But what is at stake? What is critical about Copenhagen? After asking a lot of people these questions, I get some good answers from Carter Ingram. Carter works at the Wildlife Conservation Society, but is attending Green Drinks for fun, of her own accord. We share an organic Belgian beer and listen to the music of Mikey Wax while speaking.

“In the worst case scenario, the delegates in Copenhagen will not be able to come to an agreement because of politics and competing motives that don’t reconcile well,” Carter says. “And any kind of mediocre agreement in Copenhagen will be pretty dangerous. If we don’t stop emissions at the trajectory on which they’re now going, we could face really dangerous climate change”.

Nau (pronounced “now”) (http://www.nau.com/) is a sustainable clothing company based in Portland, Oregon. I interview a lot of people at Green Drinks, most of them from companies who strive hard to operate in an environmentally-conscious way. But Nau would have to be one of the most sophisticated and thoroughly-dedicated companies I’ve encountered there.

Mark Galbraith, who presented at November’s function, explained the many ways in which Nau operates in a sustainable, progressive and responsible way. The CEO’s salary, for example, is limited to 12 times that of the lowest-paid employee and the company pays at least 1.5 times the minimum wage for all US employees. Nau also donates 2% of its sale price to a not-for-profit organization selected by the purchaser from a list. Every single sale it makes, whether to a wholesaler or to a consumer.

And they understand the business of sustainable clothing very well too. Nau employs a set of “Ideal Product Criteria” which trace the origin of all clothing fibers and evaluate related issues such as land use, animal treatment and the emissions generated by the distribution and sale process. This yields some disturbing details. I was shocked to hear, for example, that cotton is responsible for one-third of all pesticides used in the US, and that the average cotton t-shirt uses one-third of a pound of chemical input – pesticides, herbs, synthetic fertilizers, defoliants etc.

Yes, take a look. What are you wearing right now?

You can buy all Nau’s clothing from their website at http://www.nau.com/, through one of 60 dealers nationwide (listed on their website) or through their pop up store at 69 Mercer Street in New York City (until December 31). But what else can you do to improve your normal clothes-buying practices? Mark has a typically well-considered answer:

1. Search online for “organic” or “sustainable” clothing options and choose these. There are more available than you think.

2. Read labels. Insist on clothes made from certified organic cotton.

3. How do I put this…? Buy less stuff! Ignore momentary fashion vanities. Buy clothes that have broader, less seasonal uses. Buy second hand, recycled and recyclable clothes.

Every ad I see on the side of a bus these days seems to say something like: “It’s all about you”. You. You, you, you. Annoying at one level, but true at another. Whether you shop at Macys, Barneys, Ricky’s or Babeland, you can move the needle. Pay more attention to what clothes you are buying. And after you’ve taken your purchases home and tried it all on again, while the post-shopping glow still envelops you, go to http://hopenhagen.org and spread that glow further.

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