For Earth Week 2022, CIRT attended the Green Life Awards and Hoppy Hour. On a beautifully sunny and warm Earth Day, businesses and organizations in Athens active in the sustainability space gathered on the lawn of Terrapin Brewing Company in Athens, GA. The “Hoppy Hour” gave potential customers/volunteers a chance to glean information about the various businesses, and it was a networking opportunity between the organizations themselves. At CIRT, we set up interactive educational activities intended to teach both children and adults about what can be recycled in Athens, GA. Later in the day the Green Life Awards took place. This is an exciting local tradition where citizens are given awards in different categories of sustainable living achievements.
We had two big takeaways from the event: the importance of collaboration between businesses and the power of recognizing peoples’ efforts to live “green.” First, this event truly emphasized why collaboration is critical in advancing global sustainability goals. As we learned in our Sustainability Series, while marketplace competition is healthy and necessary economically, mutual initiatives towards social and environmental goals can hugely accelerate progress. We were able to talk to many other business leaders and discover ways that we could work together to increase visibility for issues of mutual interest (in this case, waste reduction and recycling.) A concrete example is that we needed prizes to give away to people who completed a debris collection activity in their community. We commissioned Abigail West, a local artist who makes functional pieces out of reclaimed materials to make three custom keychains out of old street signs, to give away to our top three debris collectors. This was an awesome collaboration because it increased visibility for her artwork and incentivized people to collect more trash in their communities!
An example that felt like a missed opportunity for collaboration was the presence of the Athens Clarke County Recycling Division. Both ACC Recycling and CIRT are active in encouraging waste reduction and better recycling, but our booths were far across the lawn from each other. Leaders from each booth frequently crossed the quad to chat with each other about recycling trends in the area and nationally, and we even had a lively discussion about the recyclability of different kinds of produce netting! It would have been great to coordinate ahead of the fair that both groups would be there, and set up our tents next to each other. This would have facilitated information sharing and networking opportunities, and created a highly visible recycling-focused section of the event space for interested individuals. Next year, we hope that CIRT is able to partner with ACC Recycling for an even bigger, better event set-up.
Finally, we were so impressed by the power of the Green Life Awards themselves. Many of the organizations tabling at the Hoppy Hour, as well as the Athens Clarke County government, gave out awards to citizens for things like renewable energy use, wastewater management, and native plantings in their yards. While we recognize that these awards cater to a white, middle/upper class section of the Athens community (most of them were predicated on home ownership) they are still a valuable tool for motivating change. Seeing people get their awards, you could tell that they had really worked hard to improve their environmental impact and were very proud of the results. We would love to see more places offer awards like these to citizens as a way to motivate change among those people who have the financial resources to make those investments in our planet’s future.