Friday, March 27, 2009

POW! You’ve Been Greened

Brooklyn Green Team Proves That Everyone Can Do It

In late summer of 2007, a group of friends went to see Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary on the climate crisis, The 11th Hour. They weren’t environmentalists, and they didn’t have backgrounds in environmental science, but, inspired by the film, they decided to take action. Thus, the Brooklyn Green Team was born.

Now, a year and a half later, the team — sisters Amanda and Noelle Gentile, Melissa Browning, Jennifer Bartels, Johanna Voutounou and Robert Weinstein — is still going strong. Through a series of “eco-challenges” posted on their blog (, they’ve inspired many people — including each other — to green their lives.

“We were thinking about making small steps, asking people to do little things to change their daily habits,” said Amanda. “The first [challenge] that we did was the ‘No New Clothing Challenge.’” They didn’t buy new clothes for six months, instead visiting vintage and thrift stores, and sharing clothes with friends.

Subsequent challenges were the ‘No Water Bottle Challenge,’ the ‘No Plastic Bag Challenge,’ the ‘Five-Minute Shower Challenge,’ and the ‘Bring Your Own Mug Challenge,’ all lasting three months, because “six months was a little long,” Amanda noted.

Once they come up with an idea for a challenge, “we put it on our blog and send an email blast to all of our readers,” said Amanda. “Once people sign up and pledge we send one-month progress reports that talk about how we’re doing, giving tips, silly videos online, statistics, to kind of remind people that they committed to doing this.”

At the end of each challenge the team invites everyone who participated to a party, where they have had presentations, discussions and launch the next challenge.

Currently, the team is holding the ‘YES WE CAN Volunteer Challenge,’ in which participants commit to three hours of volunteer service over the course of three months.

“We rarely bring in politics, we really try to focus on good green things that are happening,” Amanda explained. “The more you hammer in negativity, the more people want to just throw their hands in the air. We keep it light, humorous and easy.” They’ve adopted the slogan, ‘Pow! You’ve Been Greened,’ and playfully don green capes at times.

They’ve only encouraged people to change one small aspect of their daily life, to make change more manageable. “It’s an idea that collectively small actions make a huge difference,” Noelle said. “I think that’s the message that we’re trying to get out to people. There’s nothing we’re doing that’s incredible, or amazing or a unique idea.”

But what does make the Brooklyn Green Team unique is that its members are learning as much as its followers. “When we start a new challenge its something new for us too,” said Noelle. “When you feel a sense of community and people doing it together, it feels good.”

They’ve seen the effects of their efforts. Family members, coworkers and friends passing on the street will tell them about their progress with the challenges. And what they’ve noticed is that even though the challenges go on for only three months, participants keep up their efforts after.

“I haven’t gotten a plastic bag since,” Melissa said.

Even Something Simple Can Make a Difference

Along with the challenges, the green team posts often on its blog about city-wide green events, statistics, news and helpful tips, to help raise awareness and spread the word.

“We have to remind people of doing things on their own,” Melissa said. With recent budget cuts throughout the city, “environmental programs are going to be the first ones to be slashed. It’s even more important now that we remind people.”

The group wants people to know that every little bit helps. “As far as big companies go, consumers don’t feel like they have sway,” said Robert. “But when you do write letters and you do make phone calls there are actually people who listen.”

“This is a consumer’s time,” said Noelle. “Businesses are very open to hearing feedback because it’s a scary time for a business.”

But for the Brooklyn Green Team, a group so grassroots that it’s practically devoid of a budget, they’re “totally resilient to this economic crisis,” said Amanda.

It’s just a group of friends inspiring others as well as themselves to take action. “I’m glad and surprised that we’ve been doing this for a year and a half,” Jennifer said. “We really stuck with it and I’m proud of us.”

Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Green Team

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