Greening the Conventions

The monthly meeting started precisely at 9:45 a.m. The agenda included five minutes on the press conference with the mayor, five minutes for waste management, 10 minutes on outreach. Was this a meeting for a government agency, or a community advocacy group? Perhaps a company board meeting?

Actually, all of the above. It was a general meeting of the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Conventions (CERC), a non-partisan collaboration of 60 organizations spanning the nonprofit, commercial and public sectors. "We are promoting the use of environmental best practices for the Democratic (July 26 to 29) and Republican National Conventions (August 28 to September 2) in order to showcase those practices to the political leaders and the general public," explains Executive Director Daniel Ruben. "We want to establish the role model for future conventions, political and otherwise."

CERC was initially formed by Boston-area environmentalists in the fall of 2002 after their city was chosen as 2004 host for the Democrats. Those efforts eventually grew to include the Republican convention in New York as the coalition’s influence slowly increased.

Perhaps most importantly, CERC has found sympathetic ears from all the party organizers. "Together, we are looking at ways to tackle trash and food recycling, using solar power and using community-based agriculture," says Republican New York host committee spokesperson Paul Elliott. In both Boston and New York, CERC will try to get conventioneers to use alternative forms of transportation including public transit, divert food waste to compost, offset greenhouse gas emissions and employ "smart" construction methods.

Although New York’s planning did start late, much of CERC’s work will benefit both cities—like a five-step guide to greening hotels. "Suggestions such as replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents (CFLs) are a win-win for both the environment and a hotel’s bottom line," explains Tedd Saunders, co-owner and executive vice-president of the Saunders Hotel Group in Boston, which oversaw the guide’s publication.

Both party conventions will be powered using renewable energy certificates, a fast-track approach to reducing emissions. These certificates piggyback on the benefits of clean power without using actual green electricity. The Democratic convention will be held at Boston’s Fleet Center, and CERC has bought $3,000 in wind certificates from a 660-kilowatt turbine in nearby Hull, Massachusetts. CERC will also host a Boston Harbor boat cruise to the aptly named Windmill Point during the convention to educate delegates about renewable energy’s potential.

"I’ve been very optimistic since we first started this effort," says Malcolm Brown, commissioner of Hull’s Municipal Light Board, as he stands underneath his turbine. He glances across the harbor, perhaps trying to get a glimpse of the Fleet Center, which will "operate" on his power come late July.