The Dems Go Green in Denver

When the Democratic brass and political junkies head to Denver next week, they might be wearing the requisite red, white, and blue, but they’ll be seeing green. In an effort to make this year’s convention, in the words of Denver mayor John Hickenlooper, “the greenest convention in the history of the planet,” leading Democrats, the city of Denver, the Democratic National Convention Committee, and community members are all working to promote sustainable practices.

Even before setting foot inside the Pepsi Center, delegates are being asked to think about their ecological footprints. Earlier this year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the Green Delegate Challenge, which encourages delegates to offset the carbon produced in their travels to the Mile High City. Delegations with the highest participation will be recognized on the convention floor, and individual delegates, super delegates and alternates who participate will receive a “unique wearable ‘green item’” to sport for the cameras. DNC officials say they’re pleased with the participation in the program, which has 31 delegations offsetting 100 percent of their carbon output and a total of 2,895 individual delegates choosing to take part. According to DNCC spokesperson Damon Jones, the challenge represents a way to include delegates in an effort for sustainability that has been a priority for this DNCC all along.

“We’ve said from the beginning we want this to be America’s convention, and sustainability is something Americans are concerned about. We really wanted a way to get the delegates involved,” Jones says.

Inside the Pepsi Center, delegates might find it hard not to be green. The DNCC Green Team, headed by well-known environmental activist and first-ever “Director of Greening” Andrea Robinson (who managed sustainability at three of Al Gore’s Live Earth concerts), has been working for almost a year to create a sustainable event for an expected 50,000 or more attendees. As the Chicago Tribune reports, Robinson has established (non-mandatory) menu guidelines for caterers (fried foods are out, colorful, organic and locally produced foods are in), hired an “Official Carbon Adviser” to monitor the greenhouse-gas emissions of every tossed paper cup and plane trip, and assembled a trash brigade of 900 volunteers to ensure proper sorting of trash and recyclables. She’s buried balloons touted as biodegradable to ensure they really did degrade (they didn’t) and scoured the country (unsuccessfully) for union-produced, organic fanny packs for volunteers. Perhaps most ambitious of all, she’s set a goal of recycling or composting 85 percent of convention waste.

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Around town, the Denverite-driven 2008 Host Committee

(not to be confused with the 2008 DNCC, which handles all events in the Pepsi Center and INVESCO Field) has developed initiatives to promote sustainability citywide. They’re developing an online a Green Vendor Directory, placing recycling bins at locations around the city, organizing ride sharing for volunteers, providing reusable water bottles and a “water wagon” to reduce use of disposable water bottles, and developing a carbon-free map to help guests find walking or biking routes around the city. And area hotels will be using 70,000 wooden key-cards thanks to the efforts of Boulder-based Sustainable Cards. The cards are made from sustainably harvested wood, and will boast the convention logo, making them more of a souvenir than just a simple hotel key, and lessening the environmental impact created by plastic cards.

To cut down on road congestion and exhaust emissions (not to mention high prices at the pump), Freewheelin, a partnership between the city, the host committee, Boulder-based non-profit Bikes Belong and a health benefits company Humana is placing almost 1,000 bikes on the streets for free public use. Visitors can register online or at kiosks throughout the city, where volunteers will be on hand to help with registration and to distribute helmets to riders. And as part of the effort to leave a legacy of sustainability behind in Denver (which already ranks in the top ten eco-friendly U.S. cities in National Geographic’s Green Guide), 70 of the bikes will be donated to the city to serve as the base for a permanent bike-sharing system.

“A lot of things we put in place for the convention will live on after people stop thinking about the delegates,” says Jones from the DNCC, including recently installed solar panels and xeriscaping

at the Pepsi Center and the Colorado Convention Center, and amped-up recycling programs citywide. “We’re happy to be a catalyst to make these things happen,” Jones says, but he adds that the city of Denver has been instrumental in initiating and supporting recent and ongoing efforts toward sustainability. 

“We definitely can’t take all the credit,” Jones says.

For more on what to do in Denver’s check out our Denver City guide.

Photo: The floor at the 2004 DNC, by JulieBabs; Wooden key-card, via Sustainable Cards.