Democrats Aim for 'Greenest' Convention in History

Counting down to next week's convention, Democrats are hoping to leave a big mark on history and a small footprint on the environment.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised the "greenest, most sustainable, most successful political convention in history." From an eco-friendly convention stage complete with biodegradable balloons and signage, plans for 900-plus Democratic volunteers stationed at every Pepsi Center trash can to sort recyclable refuse, and a fleet of delegate cars powered by clean fuel converted from Coors beer -- the Democrat's green will be trying to get your attention in technicolor.

The Pepsi Center, the main hub of the convention's events, underwent a green makeover earlier this year to become the country's first sports arena to commit to going totally green. The facility, which seats 19,000 people and is home to Denver's hockey and soccer teams, has plans to operate on solar and wind energy, relying on generators only as a last resort.

Xcel Energy, an alternative electrical utility, will be coordinating wind and solar power to both the Democrats convention in Denver and the Republicans convention the following week in Minnesota.

By comparison, the Republican convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul during the first week of September will incorporate many of the same principles regarding energy conservation, hybrid vehicles and recycling programs but with more subdued advance fanfare on the topic.

Awareness, Implementation and Cost

Kimberly Lewis, vice president of Conferences and Events for the U.S. Green Building Council, says the awareness and visibility that come with bringing green solutions to the national stage is well worth the cost.

The ultimate goal of citywide green implementation, Lewis says, is creating an infrastructure "that can stay in place" long after the event has passed.

Her organization held its 2006 annual sustainability conference in Denver; Lewis gave the city high marks, saying "Denver has taken a huge step in trying to make changes that will help organizations in their [sustainability] efforts."

Mile High City Wants Low Carbon Footprint

"Green has become the new gold," says Rich Grant, spokesman for Denver's visitors bureau.

Earlier this week, his department debuted a travel carbon calculator on its home page. According to a logarithm that takes into account modes of transportation, distances traveled and length of stay, visitors can view their personal carbon footprint and offset their carbon cost with a donation to the Colorado Carbon Fund.

Grant says for Denver "this is an opportunity to have a meeting that is historically important and to show what can be done to reduce your carbon footprint and your water usage at a major meeting,"

Area hotels are also turning shades of green, one 3-inch plastic card at a time. This week, a Colorado-based commercial card producer donated 70,000 wooden key cards to replace their plastic counterparts.

While the biodegradable cards have been a European staple for the last decade, the Democratic convention marks their U.S. debut. Sustainable Cards, which manufactured the eco-friendly hotel keys, estimates that each year the American hospitality industry contributes 1,300 tons of plastic waste from key cards alone, the visual equivalent of eight 777 airplanes.

Greg Hartman, the company's president and CEO, said, "Our mission is to reduce nonbiodegradable waste to zero during the convention and throughout the year by encouraging the use of our eco-friendly wood cards in every hotel in America."

Bikes as Bipartisan Effort

A bicycle fleet, sponsored by health care firm Humana and bicycle advocacy group Bikes Belong, is also using 2008's political greening to take to the streets at both the Democratic and Republican conventions.

Nate Kvamme, a director of consumer experience for Humana, says, "Both cities and both committees ... really identified the value" of implementing the bike program during the conventions.

Alongside reducing carbon emissions by providing an alternative to driving, Kvamme says the 1,000 bikes, which will be available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with various pickup and drop-off points throughout each convention site, are "an incredible solution to transit".

Organizers estimate that if all 1,000 bikes are used in full at both conventions, the national carbon footprint could be reduced by more than 4 tons

Despite the green push at the Pepsi Arena in Denver to include a specially designated hybrid vehicle-only parking area with a "no idling zone" outside the arena, one small environmental hiccup includes a bicycle ban within the perimeter of the convention site, a restriction issued by the Secret Service and Denver Police.