How eco-friendly are political conventions?
The Republican convention will rely on efficient venues and voluntary conservation measures, while the Democratic convention will tap into electric vehicles, composting and other green solutions.
Fri, Aug 24 2012 at 1:00 PM
Confetti and balloons drop during the 2008 Republican National Convention. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Political convention season is upon us. Thousands of visitors are now descending upon Tampa for the Republican National Convention, which runs from Aug. 27-30. Soon, others will make their way to Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention, taking place Sept. 4-6. Over the course of these two massive events, enormous amounts of electricity will be used, countless custom banners will be festooned, and hundreds of thousands of meals will be consumed.
While all of this adds up to a potentially enormous environmental impact, there is good news: Both parties are taking steps — some small, some big — to make their conventions more eco-friendly.
Republican National Convention
The Republican National Convention bills itself as one of the largest media events in the world, second only to the Olympic Games. As many as 15,000 members of the press will be in attendance, on top of the 2,286 delegates and other party members from around the country. The Tampa Bay Host Committee, which helps organize and run the convention, has booked 15,000 hotel rooms around the city and has hired out 400 charter buses and more than 500 additional private vehicles to transport everyone during the week of the convention. According to information provided by James Davis, communications director and chief spokesman for the convention, this will help reduce fuel consumption and limit carbon emissions as guests and the media travel between hotels, the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the Tampa Convention Center and the 75 entertainment venues contracted around the city.
Any convention of this size requires a great deal of communication. The RNC is doing most of its communicating online, reducing its paper consumption. When paper copies are required, materials will be printed on recycled, chlorine-free paper using soy- and vegetable-based inks. Unused documents are expected to be collected and recycled.
Further recycling efforts will be shepherded by the Committee on Arrangements for the 2012 Republican National Convention, which says it "actively pursues a program of Reduce, Reuse & Recycle." Other environmental initiatives are less structured and are billed as "voluntary conservation measures," according to materials provided by Davis.
According to the Tampa Bay Host Committee's website, the convention will consume a vast amount of energy: "The amount of electricity, cabling and fiber connectively will likely be the most ever utilized for any event in the state of Florida." But the two main sites for the convention will play a major role in reducing energy use and the total environmental impact of the Republican convention. The 670,000-square-foot Tampa Bay Times Forum recently underwent a $45 million reconstruction, including adding a new, more energy-efficient ventilation system. The 40-day construction effort to prepare the site for the convention included expanding the power capacity of the venue by two additional megawatts. The RNC also installed a permanent new subpanel to make electrical distribution through the facility more efficient.
The Tampa Convention Center, meanwhile, uses sustainable materials in its construction, is a member of the Green Building Council, generates its own electricity during peak demand periods, has a "smart roof" that reduces heating costs by up to 15 percent and uses sensor-activated light fixtures to reduce total energy demand.
Democratic National Convention
The 2012 Democratic National Convention will follow up on its 2008 event in Denver, which was billed at the time as the "greenest convention in history."
Like their Republican counterparts, the Democratic National Convention Committee will employ a fleet of shuttles — including an undisclosed number of natural-gas-powered vehicles — for its delegates, party members and the press. They won't always be necessary: According to materials provided by the committee, all of the major destinations for the convention week are within walking distance.
The greening of their fleet also carries over into the vehicles that will supply the convention, where they are making efforts to minimize the number of trucks required by minimizing packaging and consolidating shipments. Meanwhile, much of the machinery and golf carts used on-site at the convention will be electric-powered.
The Charlotte in 2012 Host Committee has several efforts in place to reduce waste. All delegates and volunteers will be given BPA-free reusable water bottles and refill stations have been placed throughout the city. New recycling bins have been placed in the uptown area, which will be "left behind as a legacy to the city," according to materials provided by the Democratic National Convention Committee, which is using hundreds of Green Team volunteers to enhance recycling, composting and waste reduction programs throughout the city. Green Team volunteers will also be on hand to answer questions about recycling during the convention and will be on watch to make sure the proper bins are used for recycling and composting. Plates using during catered events, for example, will be compostable.
The host committee also plans tours of the nearby Little Sugar Creek Greenway, a recently transformed "green space" within the city that is part of the recovery of Little Sugar Creek itself. The committee says it hopes to encourage use of this new space by the local community.
Recycling appears to be a cornerstone of the Democratic convention. The convention is employing materials that have already been recycled — carpets made from recycled water bottles and walkie-talkies that are repurposed, decommissioned police radios, for example — and will recycle many of the materials used for the convention by donating them to local schools and other facilities. Many other materials won't need to be recycled at all, as they are being rented rather than purchased.
As for the venue, the Time Warner Cable Arena also has energy- and water-efficiency measures in place, uses at least at least 85 percent green cleaning chemicals, and serves free-range organic chicken and grass-fed beef during the regular sports season.
It seems unlikely that any conventions the size of these two events could be totally impact-free, but both parties have made steps to be aware of their environmental footprints and taken steps to minimize them.
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