THE BLOG

What Makes the Democratic Convention Sustainable?

09/20/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Last time the Democrats came to Denver, the powerbrokers drove electric-gasoline hybrid cars. Thousands of trees were given away. Snow was trucked in by horse and carriage to cool the convention center. And the candidate - the candidate stayed home to harvest his alfalfa crop.

Sound like the eco-conscious convention to beat? Not quite.

The year was 1908. America was recovering from a financial crisis, while immigration, race and women's rights were all at the fore of the American political dialogue. William Jennings Bryan was the candidate, and the Model T had just been introduced. For Denver, this was the opportunity to reshape its legacy - to move, in essence, out of the Wild West and into modern life.

Fast forward a hundred years, to 2008, and Denver's Democratic mayor, John Hickenlooper, wants to leave a similar legacy by making the Democratic convention "the greenest convention in the history of the planet." To accomplish that goal, the DNCC nominated Andrea Robinson, the green supervisor for Al Gore's Live Earth concert, as the DNC's first queen of green.

The challenge was immense. As Robinson admits, her reaction to the mayor's challenge was, "That terrifies me!"

To her credit, she has set as ambitious a goal as possible. For instance, if Robinson had her way, every delegate would fully offset their carbon emissions, while water bottles would be banned from the convention hall. As a result, Robinson has faced both praise and ridicule. Many states remain partially committed, while she lost the fight over water bottles.

But what shortcomings Robinson has faced have largely resulted from the scope of her ambition -- not content merely to reduce the carbon footprint of the convention, Robertson wants to strengthen the ties between politics and an environmental consciousness, and to leave behind a more sustainable Denver. Whether this happens is impossible to say.

For those of us who are heading to the Democratic Convention next week, the question is quite simple: What exactly does a green convention involve?

In short, it means nearly everything visible, from floor to ceiling, has been considered. I'll start with a synopsis today, and fill you in tomorrow with recs on how to make this DNC a green event for you.

Lean N' Mean: Robinson has tackled food. She insists there will be no fried food. Meanwhile, each meal should include "at least three of the following colors: red, green, yellow, blue/purple, and white." At least 70% of ingredients should be organic or grown locally.

Recycling: In an effort to reduce the waste it send to landfills to a meager 15 percent, the DNCC is planning to implement a comprehensive composting and recycling program. They have enlisted 900 volunteers to man each waste-center, to make sure delegates place trash into the proper bins, and plan to compost as much of the waste as possible.

Energy: The Pepsi Center, where the convention is to be held, has committed to offsetting its energy use with wind power. This is the first arena in the country to do so. It also plans to replace all incandescent bulbs with high-efficiency bulbs.

Freewheelin' Bikes:
Close to 1,000 bikes will be available for people to use free of charge during the convention. Located at Freewheelin' bike racks around the city, clustered around the convention center and the hotels, bikes will be available to those who receive a Freewheelin' card by registering online.

Carbon Offsets: The DNC will be comprehensively calculating the carbon footprint of the Convention, with the hope of reducing emissions. They have, in turn, made carbon offsetting programs available through the Live Earth carbon calculator. Carbon offsets are available through a partnership with Native Energy.

Green Workshops: The DNC has hosted a series of workshops with Denver businesses to teach them how to go green. They specifically targeted restaurants and caterers, in hopes that these workshops might held the DNC achieve their goals, while leaving a lasting impression on the Denver food industry.

Legacy: This is where I become uncertain. Robinson, and the DNCC, hope these efforts will leave a legacy in Denver and in future conventions. But if politics is, as the saying goes, the entertainment side of industry, than merely putting on a show will do little more than entertain.

What the world needs, and the Democrats have started to promise, is a serious assessment of our national and international environmental condition. More than a flash in the pan, we need a broad cultural shift. We can only hope that this will be one show that is carried off the Denver stage, and into the halls of Washington.

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