Nation & World

Political convention planners going green

WASHINGTON — Democrats claim that their convention in Denver next week will be the greenest ever.

Anyone watching on TV probably won't notice much. But the 50,000 people attending will discover little environmentally conscious changes all around.

They'll eat with dinnerware and cups made of corn-based plastic. Seven hundred volunteers will be standing by, ready to explain to people to dump the leftover french fries in one bin, the compostable tableware in another.

Not to be outdone, the Republicans, too, boast on their Web site that they're "committed to making this year's nominating convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul the 'greenest' in party history." The gathering will feature recycled furnishings and paper products, flex-fuel and hybrid vehicles and other energy-conservation conscious steps.

But the Democrats go first, starting Monday, and they seem to have taken more eco-sensitive steps, judging by the two parties' Web site listings.

For example, Denver has a program to make bikes available to those who want them, though it won't be possible to park very close to the convention's main events. For security reasons, "there are different zones that need to be respected," Democratic convention spokesman Damon Jones said.

While the total of all the green-conscious steps admittedly won't stop global warming in itself, it will set a symbolic example of steps Democrats support toward that goal.

"We recognize that we have a responsibility to do our part, much like anyone at home," Jones said. He said the whole effort was the sum of "very small, very practical, very commonsense solutions that we think are easy to do."

All 250 buses shuttling delegates around will run on biodiesel. The Democrats' own fleet will be made up of hybrids, flex-fuel vehicles that run on a high mix of ethanol and fuel-efficient conventional cars.

The stage at the Pepsi Center is made up of 80 percent reused material, assembled in Las Vegas and trucked to Denver. Jones said that convention organizers would make sure that the wood later was donated to community projects, other materials were reused at other events and that the miles of cable used to connect computers and phones got redistributed around the country for reuse, too.

Wind energy from Colorado will power the Pepsi Center and the Colorado Convention Center, where the meetings will be.

Will there be a balloon drop, remnant latex and all? Unlikely. The crowning event — Barack Obama's acceptance speech Aug. 28 — takes place outdoors at Invesco Field stadium, where the Denver Broncos play.

"It's physically very hard to drop balloons from a ceiling when you don't have a ceiling," Jones said.

To get their message out, Democrats have posted tips for saving energy and avoiding waste on the convention Web site and videos about how they planned a sustainable convention on YouTube. The convention's director of greening, Andrea Robinson, appears as the host and interviewer.

In one spot, Robinson visits A-1 Organics Facility in Platteville, Colo., where she shows how mountains of paper and other compostable waste get shredded, mixed with liquid and dumped in a compost pile, where, after several months, they make a dirtlike compost that can be used for gardens and landscaping. Robinson says the plan is for 85 percent of the convention's waste to end up at A-1, not in landfills.

In another video, Robinson visits the Hyatt Regency Denver, the convention's headquarters hotel, where sleek metal recycling bins are discreetly tucked in the lobby and motion sensors crank up the air conditioning when a guest enters a room.

Delegates also did their bit. Of the 4,440 attending, 2,895 bought credits to support sustainable energy — such as a wind turbine in Colorado — to offset the Earth-warming pollution from their air travel. The 31 delegations with 100 percent offset participation will get special green tags on their state-name placards on the convention floor.

On the sidelines, the Solar Energy Industries Association will host an exhibition of solar technology with entertainment by the Chuck McDermott Band, which is known for performing with Bonnie Raitt.

On the Web:

Greening the 2008 Democratic National Convention

GOP goes green in Minneapolis-St. Paul (.pdf)