Exclusive interview: Birdie on his job as GreeNYC’s mascot and working with the mayor to promote sustainability

With just two weeks until Mayor Michael Bloomberg leaves office, Birdie, a two-dimensional Quaker Parrot, is nostalgic.

Since joining the Bloomberg administration in 2007 — hired to be the face of GreeNYC — Birdie has travelled across the five boroughs to promote sustainable practices, often modeling for public service campaigns and posing with the mayor.

In an exclusive interview with Metro, Birdie discusses his official duties, his first press conference with Bloomberg, fame and his hopes for the future.

Metro: Tell me a little about yourself.

Birdie: I was born in Brooklyn but these days I have a nest in every borough. I can fly but I can’t touch my toes. I don’t migrate — I’d miss NYC too much. I wasn’t born green, I’ve learned most of what I know about the environment from this job.

Such as?

Over the years it’s become part of my routine to mend things instead of throwing them out, walk and bike more, only use cold water when washing clothes, keep a reusable bag with me, turn lights off when I leave a room and such. I’m not living a completely sustainable life but I’m doing my best. And if every New Yorker did a little something we could achieve really meaningful results.

As GreeNYC’s mascot, what are your official duties?

Posing — lots of posing! I have been the face of major campaigns promoting NYC tap water, switching to energy efficiency lightbulbs, reducing car engine idling, reducing paper waste from unwanted catalogs and other unwanted mail, energy efficient air conditioning in the summer.

Representing GreeNYC at events. I appear at launches and announcements for many of the city’s green initiatives, often with my boss, Mayor Bloomberg. I also like to go out to various smaller events and to visit organizations doing exciting things to help make NYC greener. It’s a lot of fun.

Keeping in touch with initiatives throughout the city that might need my face. City government is bigger than I ever realized. There’s a lot happening at every agency and this includes environmental initiatives. Part of my job is to keep in touch with people across the city to see where I might lend my face and the success of GreeNYC to reach New Yorkers to change behaviors.

Who comes up with all the costumes/accessories?

Roya Kazemi is the Director of GreeNYC. She’s my direct supervisor and my stylist.

(When asked how many people dress up as Birdie, he replied, “Don’t know what you’re talking about here. I ‘dress up’ for Halloween. I’m happy to talk about me experiences as a cat, pirate and dinosaur.”)

Do you ever get “recognized” by other New Yorkers?

I feel like a celebrity! People recognize me from the PSA campaigns and want to pose for photos. At the last Million Trees planting it took me 40 minutes to walk from the planting site to the lunch area because of all the photo requests. My fan base is very devoted. They see me on the street and quote back tweets of mine or describe their favorite Instagram photos I’ve posted. It’s been so wonderful to see how the program has grown over the years. In the early days there was a lot of “What’s with the Penguin?” (penguin – sheeh!), now it’s “Hey look, it’s Birdie!”

When did you first meet Mayor Bloomberg?

The Mayor and I first met in person at an unseasonably warm Earth Day event in Times Square in 2010. It was my first time in front of so many cameras. I was sweating big time. Questions from the press were being directed at me. I was too shy and overwhelmed to answer. He stepped in and took control of the situation. That’s where our future roles at press events really took shape. He’d field the questions and I’d be the bird behind (or to the left of, or to the right of) our sustainability Mayor.

Under Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio, will it be “bye, bye Birdie”?

GreeNYC has established NYC as the global leader in city-level, data-driven, well-designed, and successfully implemented marketing campaigns around sustainability. I hope the next Administration is going to continue our work and I would be honored to continue to serve and help continue to build an even greener and greater city.

(Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for de Blasio said, “We encourage Birdie and other talented mascots to submit their resumes to Transition2013.com.”)

Follow Anna Sanders on Twitter @AnnaESanders




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