by Lan Chi
HA NOI (VNS) — Looking for a"green" drink in Ha Noi? A network of restaurants and cafes has been set up to offer small gifts or discounts to customers riding any kind of bicycle.
Just hop on your bicycle and pedal straight to your favorite "green destination" right away.
Working to promote a return to cycling in the city - Green Destination - a Ha Noi-based group of environmental campaigners is promoting the healthy mode of transport by linking up a chain of cafes and restaurants in hopes of encouraging a greener city.
"Our goal is to develop the habit of riding bicycles and to encourage people to give up on motorbikes", said Le Kim Huong, leader of the group.
All for a healthy city like it used to be in days - not so far - gone by.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Transport in 2012, 70 per cent of air pollution in Ha Noi came from transportation, especially motorbikes.
Viet Nam currently holds the dubious title of having one of the worst levels of air quality in the world, and the capital, Ha Noi, is ranked the most polluted city in Southeast Asia.
Huong, a new graduate from Ha Noi University, came up with the idea of the food chain from an environmental contest as part of a programme in Japan called Denso Youth for Earth Action. Her idea turned out to be brilliant enough to win her the first prize.
"I realised traditional media was not good enough. If we could pull together businesses to work together with the community, the effects would be much stronger," Huong said.
The Green Destination network is the realisation of her savvy ecological business and marketing idea.
From just three members at the beginning, the group now has about 50 volunteers, mostly university students working part-time, and 10 active members.
"It was very hard at first. We knocked on as many doors as we could, day after day, but all we got back was a "No". Most owners feared joining the campaign would drag down their revenue, others thought we were just doing a marketing job."
"Many of our original volunteers became discouraged and disappointed, then quit." Huong said.
Fortunately, they were not alone in their passion to improve the city's air quality. Guim Valls Teruel, a Spanish man cycling around the world, and many other young Asian environment activists lent them a helping hand to bring it all together.
The Spanish traveller found out about the campaign and contacted Huong to offer support.
"He enthusiastically shared his experiences in media activities and organising press conferences with us," Huong said.
"There was also a Filipino designer who created the logo for the group, which helped a lot when we were introducing our campaign."
Three months later, it was a success story. Huong and her partners had set up a network of nearly 60 restaurants and cafes - and counting - who are committed to the campaign.
Her campaign was so well received that some stores now even call her up to ask if they could be a part of the network.
"Our customers, mostly foreigners, are very happy when they are offered 10 per cent off the bill," Tran Ngoc Linh, a staffer at Joma Bakery Cafe in To Ngoc Van Street, said.
She also revealed that there were times when the total number of bicycles climbed up to 150 in a day.
"I was quite surprised when first hearing the offer. I think this idea is brilliant. It encourages people that already travel by bike, and inspires other people to go green as well", said Franziska Lessmann, a German customer at the cafe.
Following the success, Green Destination laid out another three-month campaign in August named "Non-emitting vehicle" in which they reached out as far as the central coastal city of Da Nang.
"We aimed at connecting 300 restaurants and cafes in Ha Noi and another 50 in Da Nang".
Electric bicycles, which have become popular among youth in big cities, are also a part of the campaign.
"I was amazed when I found out that riding electric bike could get me a discount. Maybe I should go home and throw my motorbike out right away," enthused Pham Hong Anh, a customer at Porevol cafe in Tran Hung Dao Street.
At the moment, Green Destination is preparing for another campaign scheduled for the first months of 2014.
Apart from expanding their trademarked network, Huong and her members plan to promote media activities by recruiting volunteers and establishing a presence at universities around Ha Noi.
A full list of cafes and discounts can be found on the group's website: greendestination.org. — VNS