Democrats Eye Green Convention

The Democratic convention in Denver is aiming to reuse, recycle or compost at least 85 percent of all waste generated. Andrea Robinson, director of sustainability and greening for the Democratic National Convention, talks about the challenges.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Political conventions are usually swamped in lots of red, white and blue. This year, both parties are adding a new color - green. Democrats and Republicans are both pledging to create the greenest convention ever at their respective gatherings in Denver and the Twin Cities. A story this week in the Wall Street Journal called attention to the Democrats' particularly ambitious agenda. Among other things, it includes lean and green catering guidelines that nix fried food and encourage organic or local ingredients.

We asked Andrea Robinson, director of sustainability and greening for the Democratic National Convention, to tell us some of the other things they're doing.

NORRIS: We're asking our delegates to offset their greenhouse gas emissions in relationship to the convention. We're powering our venues with 100 percent Colorado-generated wind power. We're using sustainable production materials, and whatever that we can't reuse will be donated to the community and/or recycled.

Our transportation fleet will be hybrid biodiesel or high-efficiency flex-fuel cars. And we're also doing green service events around the community of Denver. And the biggest part is creating a legacy of sustainability in the community of Denver and how we do Democratic conventions forward.

NORRIS: Now, I understand that you're planning to recycle or reuse or compost at least 85 percent of all the waste that is generated during the convention. That's - you're talking about a lot of waste, and 85 percent of it?

NORRIS: Eighty-five percent is an ambitious goal but one, I think, we can reach with the help of 900 green volunteers that'll be assisting us in our resource recovery effort.

NORRIS: What exactly will these volunteers be doing?

NORRIS: Well, basically, they'll be standing by waste stations, or we like to call them resource recovery stations, that'll include composting, recycling, and a minimal amount of landfill. All of these waste streams will make their way outside of our venues into a centralized sorting station, where our volunteers will literally dig through each bag of waste that comes through, sort out any of the impurities, and then put them in their proper streams, whether it will be composted, recycled, and minimal amounts will end up in landfill.

NORRIS: What about air-conditioning?

NORRIS: Yeah, air-conditioning. It will be August...

NORRIS: Well, a lot of people are talking about this, will there be air-conditioning at the Pepsi Center?

NORRIS: I never use air-conditioning personally, so if it were my people, you know...

NORRIS: Well, there will be a lot of people in that building.

NORRIS: I know. So, inevitably, yes, there will be air-conditioning. The good news is that our venues will be 100 percent powered by Colorado-generated wind, so that will help offset some of the emissions for the air-conditioning. And we're also looking if there are generators used to use biodiesel in them.

NORRIS: Yeah, there are a lot of people who'll send us a lot of wind at the convention anyway.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NORRIS: I couldn't help it, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NORRIS: Now what would the convention be without all those balloons that rain down from the ceiling at the appointed moment? And I understand that it's your job to make sure that all those balloons are actually biodegradable. You buried some of these balloons in a compost heap?

NORRIS: We actually took not only balloons but confetti. Bioware - some of the food will be served in bioware. And then also our paper goods, our signage, we did an experiment to see, of all these materials we're thinking of using, really, how do they act in a compost heap, and most of them degraded. The balloons, even though they're marketed as bio-degradable and they are 100 percent latex did not. They were perfectly intact. So, we're trying again.

NORRIS: But if the balloons don't disappear in that compost heap along with the coffee grinds and the potato peels, whatever else you have in there, are you still going to be able to use balloons at the convention?

NORRIS: Balloons are part of a convention. It's just part of a historical nature of it. So, there will still be balloons.

NORRIS: Now, are you worried or at all concerned that everyone won't necessarily buy into this?

NORRIS: I'm not particularly worried. I mean, I know that this is a shift that we've got to make as a culture, so this is not something that happens overnight. But we have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of changes to make. And they're shifts, and they're shifts in consciousness and it's something that I deal with every single day, and I'm happy to. Because we've got a serious climate crisis on our hands and we have serious environmental issues that we have to address now.

So, as far as I'm concerned, I'll take the challenges on every minute of every day because it's important. This is what we've really got to do; we've got to change this behavior.

NORRIS: Andrea Robinson, thanks so much for talking to us.

NORRIS: Thank you. I really enjoyed it.

NORRIS: Andrea Robinson is the director of sustainability and greening for the Democratic National Convention later this summer in Denver, Colorado.

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