Environmentalist Etiquette: 4 Tips for How Not to be a Buzzkill at Your Next Cocktail Party

Recently, I walked into my
friends' house for a drinks-and-barbecue get-together, and before
I could even hug the hostess hello, she greeted me with an apology.  

"I'm so sorry I didn't
have time to go to Whole Foods to buy organic meat. I hope regular hamburgers
and hot dogs are OK."  

It's become a familiar refrain
since I've become known among my friends and family as the go-to resource
for all things environmental--my mom confessing to throwing out old
condiment jars instead of rinsing and recycling them, another friend
begging pardon for still buying water in plastic bottles--and I assured
the hostess that despite my passion for everything green, I was not
keeping tally of her household's environmental missteps.  

OK, maybe I was, secretly.
But there's a fine line between engagement and annoyance, and I've
found that by sticking to the following code of etiquette, I've been
successful in sparking people's interest in environmental issues without
driving them nuts.  

1. Recognize that none of us
is perfect.

You've switched to CFLs,
you only buy organic, and you just constructed a compost bin on the
balcony of your eco loft--but unless you live far from the reaches
of modern society in a thatched hut where you grow your own food (and
if you do, good for you, though you're probably not reading this article),
there's probably some room for eco improvement. Maybe you're vegan
and you've also swapped your car for a bicycle, but consider that
your furry friend (the one you rescued from the pound) is contributing
to the more than 10
million tons of waterway-polluting pet waste that's generated in the
US each year
. Or
perhaps you ferry your three children around the suburbs in the family
Prius and only use phthalate-free cosmetics, but guess what? Your carbon
footprint is probably a lot larger than that of your single friend who
lives in the city and uses public transportation, yet washes her hair
with Pantene. 

2. Know your audience.

There's a lot of doom and
gloom out there--fish disappearing from our oceans, melting ice caps,
the emergence of global influenza pandemics--and I'm all for serious
conversation and debate if the occasion warrants it. But it's important
to know your audience; your nephew's first birthday party is probably
not the occasion to be prattling on about environmental toxins and rising
autism rates. This tenet extends to mass emailing as well: You may think
everyone wants to read your daily updates about the survival of the
Patagonian toothfish, but if you keep bombarding people with unsolicited
information, they'll just stop listening.  

 

3. Lead by example.

"Be the change you want to
see in the world," said Gandhi, and this universal truth has become
my mantra as an environmentalist. No one likes being lectured to; the
best way to inspire change is by serving as a model for others. The
Obamas, for example, have led the way for eating locally grown, fresh
foods by planting the first White House vegetable garden since Eleanor
Roosevelt's World War II victory garden. And it helps if you set an
example with style: I'm always approached about where to purchase
the Sigg I started using a few months back.  

4. Most importantly, make green
fun.

Some people may be inspired
to change their ways by hearing tales of rising sea levels and worldwide
drought, but I've found that all but the most ardent environmentalist
will adopt a "screw it, we're all screwed" mentality unless adopting
environmental changes seems doable, and even more importantly,
fun. Tired of your girlfriends' wasteful shopping habits? Show them
how much fun thrift shopping can be by taking them with you to the local
flea market. Want to inspire your friends to adopt Meatless Monday? Cook up a big pot of veggie chili
and a pile of cornbread and invite them over for Meatless Monday Night
Football. (Just don't forget to stock the fridge with plenty of meat-free
beer!)