Environmental Concern? There’s a Group For That!


Great article in the Winnipeg Free Press this week by Lindsay Wiebe on the environmental groups in and around Winnipeg:

It ain’t easy being green — and it can be even more challenging if, like that famous Muppet amphibian, you’re the only one.

Whether you’re a solo crusader against office printer excess or the lone staff member dedicated to environmental issues in an otherwise oblivious workforce, the green-minded can sometimes find themselves a little socially isolated.

Well, there’s a group for that. A lot of them, actually.

From cycling advocacy to river cleanups to species at risk, Manitoba has a group for most every environmental cause on the radar. And for those seeking strength in numbers, joining an organization can provide some support environmentally focused folks might not find elsewhere.

Your eco-values might not always be shared by your flesh-and-blood family, but a green group can fill that void, said Beth McKechnie, who works on workplace commuting at the Green Action Centre and is one of the founders of the Peg City Car Co-op.

“It’s almost like this other family, where you do have that same sort of environmental ethic,” she said.

If you are struck by a whim or New Year’s resolve to give more of your time to the environment, be sure you have a good sense of what you’d really like to be doing, said McKechnie. “One of the things, especially for environmental groups, is that we tend to be small and under-resourced,” she said.

Volunteering could mean anything from joining a board or staffing a booth at a fair to cleaning up a shoreline, but be sure the activity you’re volunteering for is something you’ll enjoy, particularly if you’re getting training in a particular area.

“If you’re clear about the skills that you bring, what it is that interests you most in contributing to that organization, that’s really critical,” said McKechnie, pointing out that for those without time to spare, the gift of cash can be just as helpful.

If you’re hoping to start a group from the ground up, McKechnie said it’s essential to do your homework first. She recalls speaking with people who were ready to embark on environmental projects before figuring out that other groups were already tackling the same challenges.

Starting from scratch can be a long slog: McKechnie said at the time the Peg City Car Co-op was founded, the group knew it would be at least a three- to five-year commitment. The group launched in 2011.

“Sometimes, there are those volunteer commitments that you get into in a big way, and you know it’s going to take some time,” she said.

And with all the emotional energy you’re likely to invest, “it’s just as important that you enjoy who you’re working and volunteering with,” she said.

Like most non-profit or advocacy groups, environmental organizations in the province tend to be supported by both a core of green devotees and a more fluctuating roster of volunteers.

And that core of staff members and volunteers has a group of its own: Green Drinks, a monthly meet-up that’s more about letting loose than discussing eco-advocacy.

“I think it’s about staying connected with other people in the environmental community,” said Liz Dykman, who got the monthly gathering started about five years ago.

The group usually meets on the first Friday of the month at the Lo Pub on Ellice Avenue, though the venue has varied over the years. Dykman — programs co-ordinator for the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, and Green Drinks organizer in her off time — got the idea from Green Drinks series happening in other cities.

“I feel like we’re pretty isolated in the environmental community,” said Josh Brandon, who works in communications with the Green Action Centre.

“It reminds us that we aren’t working alone in our little silos, but part of a broader movement.”

Groups in other locales often have scheduled speakers, but this is a largely casual affair and open to everyone — a chance to catch up with friends and colleagues over a beer or veggie burger. There’s a bit of hashing over environmental issues, or sharing updates on current campaigns, but for the most part, it’s just for fun.

At the January gathering, a group of about 25 people including NGO workers, dedicated volunteers and government environmental staff filled up three tables, a cluster of couches and a corner by the bar.

Shoni Litinsky, who sits on the board of the Peg City Car Co-op, says she meets great people working on various projects, but “you never get a chance to let loose and hang out with them,” outside of Green Drinks.

“I feel like this is the way you build a community,” she said.