Political Conventions And Their Green Track Records

green-dnc.jpgGreenbiz writer Dana Sanchez reported this week about the risks associated with claiming “green-ness” at national political conventions, a claim made by both Democrats and Republicans.
The first blunders have already been measured out in the media. The tone has been biting but issues raised have up to now been relatively harmless. For instance, initially the Democrat Convention drew only a lackluster response from delegates to their carbon offsetting challenge. But the negative press worked out positively in the end because the number of delegates participating in the challenge appear to have been rather impressive. Just over half of all the attendees offset their carbon footprint 100% or more and all the attendees reportedly were participating to some degree. They purchased renewable energy from a portfolio of U.S. projects run by NativeEnergy ofsetting costs for flights at $24 for 2,500 miles (to the convention and back). The $24 also included staying for five nights in a Denver hotel.

The Democrats’ food color program received outright ridicule. This program required food to be dished out on different colored plates according to whether they were produced locally. Plates of five specific colors were used.
Other eye catching features of both the Democrat and Republican events were the massive recycling efforts and their green energy usage. The Denver participants make use of some 1,000 bicycles to ride from hotels to the convention site. The upcoming Republican convention is taking recycling also very seriously. Their Minneapolis-St. Paul event which takes place 1-4 September is facilitated with recycled furnishings and office supplies, as well as with energy efficient lighting.
The media scorn notwithstanding, the general public appears to be impressed with the greening efforts of the policitians. Greenbiz cites a recent Pew Center for the People and the Press poll which shows that 65 percent of the respondents thought the Democrats would do a better job at protecting the environment and 21 percent had more trust in the Republicans. If anything, it shows that green politics definitely features on the public’s agenda.
Conventions tend to be three to six times more wasteful than normal day to day activity at home, and if the conventions managers manage to leave their premises better off than at the start, this is going to impress the voting public.
Professional green business people confirm this Patty Griffin, president of the Houston-based Green Hotels Association told Greenbiz that “Regardless of what the [politicians] say they’re going to do, the only real way to measure the green-ness of a national convention is to measure what’s left behind”.
The conventions might also have an impact beyond the immediate evidence of good behavior though says Sanchez. She believes that the politicians’ day to day conduct might be up for closer scrutiny. People will check out whether the politicians are going to live up to the high standards that the official convention guidelines are setting.
Sanchez has a point, because for the time being adoption of green lifestyles across the US is vastly lower to what you’re see is taking place in Denver now and what the Republican circus will bring across.
Take recycling for instance. The latest statistics of the US General Accounting Office show that in 2005 only 32% of all city garbage was recycled. This number is hardly encouraging given the fact that since 1980, municipal solid waste (the official term for city garbage) has grown by 60% in the same time span.
Also, waste that goes into landfills still is mostly organic material. According to GreenHq.net, around 35% of the landfill garbage is paper and cardboard. Yard trimmings and food scraps make up about 25%.
But it also has to be said however that it’s relatively easy to get the average person to start recycling. Perhaps we all won’t be able to afford a hybrid car or spend huge amounts of money on weatherizing our homes, but everyone can place that plastic bag or paper item in the recycling bin. The feelgood factor of that should not be underestimated.
It will prove harder to motivate the average American to take their bicycle to work. In New York City some 22,000 people, less than half a percent, cycled to work in 2006, according to information from the League of American Bicyclists. The figures are similar to the national picture. The U.S. Census Bureau says that in 2000, 488,497 Americans, 0.38%, cycled to work. That number was higher 1990, when 0.41% or 466,856 people went to work by bike. Federal governments don’t appear too hot on the issue. Funds spent on improving cycling conditions are very limited. In 2002, the latest available data, just over $416 million was spent under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), the program that aims to improve road safety.
In summary, it’s definitely beyond doubt that the practical issues of both conventions have never been this inspiring. Some of the greening is adding a new kind of validity to the awareness that eco thinking generally raises. Yet the challenges need to be picked up further down the road for them to reach maturity.

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