Greening the Conventions
By Bill Moore
American politics have always been characterized as a "dirty" business, one where lots of "mud" is thrown by the various competing factions; and this year's presidential election cycle appears no different. Such campaigns not only generate more than their share of "hot air" they also tend to create mountains of environmental waste and pollution, especially when it comes to their national conventions.
That's why the efforts of the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Conventions (CERC) is such a breath of "fresh air." From its "green power" to its hybrid-electric buses and taxis to its VIP-led walking tours, the Democratic National Convention is expected to set the standard for all future American conventions, though the RNC, which is also utilizing CERC's services, will surely dispute this claim.
Tod Hynes, with Citizen's Energy, is the co-chair of CERC's energy committee, along with renown solar energy author and architect Steve Strong. Despite hectic final preparations for the Boston convention, Hynes took time to talk to EV World about the "greening" of the two upcoming political conventions.
The process began in Boston when Mayor Menino announced that the Democratic party leadership had chosen his city as the site of the 2004 National Convention. That set in motion a number of local environmental groups under the leadership of Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) to form a separate entity (CERC) to help the Democratic Party "green" their convention.
Starting in 2002, CERC began contacting other interested organizations, businesses and individuals, eventually bringing together some sixty groups ranging from the Appalachian Mountain Club to WalkBoston. The effort took nearly nine months just to bring everyone into the process.
The organizers also realized that their efforts needed to be bi-partisan, so they also contacted the Republican National Committee (RNC), who also agreed to utilize CERC's services for their convention, which is slated to be held in September in New York City.
Greening both parties' national conventions is divided into six separate categories: energy, transportation, waste, hotels, event planning and construction. While EV World's interest is primarily on the first two areas, we did ask Hynes to briefly elaborate on the other categories, as well.
"We look at energy, which is one of the main areas we tend to focus on", he explained, " but also transportation, green building aspects, recycling, waste management, things like that. There's a whole range of activities that we try and reduce the impact of each one of those activities."
One of the more interesting revelations in the process of "greening" the local hotels was the pleasant discovery that a number of them were already pro-actively practicing their own "green" business procedures. CERC was able to act as a central clearing house for co-ordinating these efforts, and in the process, actually inspired healthy "green" competition between the convention hotels.
The central clearing house model would eventually be extended to all phases of convention planning and preparation. One of CERC's major roles is to provide both the DNC and RNC with access to experts in sustainable business practices. The Coalition has also organized a number of convention events including the "New Energy for America" forum, a Boston "Green Buildings" tour with transportation provided by eight GM Allison diesel-electric hybrid transit buses, and a tour of Boston Harbor, which includes a visit to the East Coast's only municipal-owned wind turbine at Hull.
One of the Energy Committee's primary tasks was to find ways to power both conventions with "green" energy. Hynes explained that the group he co-chairs raised enough funds to buy 500 mega watt hours of renewable energy certificates from Mass Energy, as well as from similar programs in California and Colorado. Another 300 MWH of renewable energy were donated.
He explained to EV World that when a renewable energy source like the Hull wind turbine produces electrical power for the community, it also earns a number of energy credits, which can be traded and sold on a small, but growing market. This market enables communities, utilities and businesses with renewable energy portfolio requirements to meet some of their obligations without actually having to build and operate their own wind farms or solar installations. The funds from the sale of the certificates are used to help underwrite future expansion of renewable energy systems such as the addition of a second turbine at the tip of the spit of Hull in Boston Harbor.
It's a great concept, though one I still have some difficulty grasping, because it sounds to me that the energy is being sold twice. In essence, though what I think is happening is that while the electricity is being sold into the open grid -- electrons don't care whether they generated from wind or coal -- savvy marketers are also selling the benefits that come from creating little or no pollution with all its negative economic impacts from acid rain to mercury-laden fish to asthma and heart disease.
The green credits CERC bought for both conventions came from all those "green" electrons generated by low-head hydroelectric plants in North East and by wind farms as near as Hull and as far away as the West Coast.
The Energy Committee has also arranged to have Fuelcell Energy provide the convention with a 250kW fuel cell generator to feed the power-hungry media center outside the Fleet Center. According to Hynes, the various media organizations that will be covering the conventions will consume more energy than the convention centers, themselves. The fuel cell will be fed with natural gas that is converted to hydrogen inside the unit. Hynes doesn't believe the unit's heat energy will be co-utilized, however.
One interesting aspect of the recycling program will be the reuse of the materials used to construct the giant stage on which the Democratic party nominees for president and vice president -- likely Senator John Kerry and his running mate, Senator John Edwards -- will be announced. After the convention, the lumber in the stage will be use for various low-cost housing projects around Boston.
CERC is also planning to "green" the movement of people to and from the convention, along with its own events, including the Green Buildings tour. A CERC member, PlanetTran will be using its small fleet of Toyota Priuses to transport VIPs and conference delegates. As mentioned earlier, GM will be supplying some of its hybrid buses.
But organizers are hoping to encourage as many convention goers as possible to walk instead of taking cars. Hynes explained that most the convention hotels are within an easy walk of the Fleet Center, which is situated between Boston Commons and the waterfront. Many of the delegates will find themselves not only walking down some of Boston's most historic streets, but also through the city's public gardens. He pointed out that Boston is a very walkable city -- to which I concur having been there and walked to many of the city's attractions, myself.
To set the example, CERC has enlisted the help of former Massachusetts governor and one-time presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis and Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar who will lead walking tours from the Commons to the Fleet Center on both Monday and Tuesday, during the convention.
Sadly, the portion of Boston's subway system that passes under the Fleet Center will be shut down for security reasons. Officials don't want a repeat of the terrorist bombings of commuter trains in Madrid this past Spring. While the rest of the system will continue to operate, conventioneers will have to use other means to reach the Center.
"There will be public transit on the rest of the system", Hynes assured EV World, "so we will be promoting that wherever appropriate. But as far as getting to the Fleet Center you won't be able to take public transit."
One other innovate concept CERC has incorporated into its convention planning is the donation of greenhouse gas "offsets" to cover the emissions generated by delegates attending the conference. Hynes explained that the Coalition calculated the number of people flying, driving and taking mass transit to and from the convention, as well as during the convention and then arranged to buy offsets equal to the greenhouse gases the convention will generate.
"We were able to secure greenhouse gas offsets donations from a number of companies to offset the travel of all the delegates and attendees across the country. We calculated how far people would be flying, how much people would be driving, taking buses, things like that."
These offsets are similar to renewable energy credits, but can come from wider and sometimes less easily defined sources. So, to make sure CERC picked the right ones, it made use of the services of Trexler and Associates to help identify offset projects that met CERC's "green" criteria. Hynes pointed out that while switching from heating oil to natural gas would fit the program's definition, it could be argued that nuclear power -- which creates no carbon dioxide -- would also fit.
The "Greening" of the Big Apple
Many of the initiatives first launched in Boston this week will be transported down to New York City in September for the Republican National Convention, including more "green" energy certificates and GM's diesel-electric hybrid buses.
While Hynes was tactfully polite when asked who was easier to work with, the Democrats or Republicans, a colleague of his -- who shall remain nameless -- told me in Chicago earlier this year that it was, in fact, the Republicans who were far better organized and initially, at least, easier to work with. That would be in keeping with two decades of discipline the party has exercised over its members since the days of Ronald Reagan.
To be fair, Hynes told me that he has been focused almost exclusively on the Boston event and has had very little contact with the organizers in New York.
National Exposure for "Green" Convention Movement?
Given the fact that CERC is taking an active roll in helping "green" both conventions, Hynes is hopeful that the organization's efforts will receive wide national recognition. He is encouraged by the amount of interest already being expressed by various media outlets, several of whom had contacted him the day of our interview.
He also acknowledged, "it's hard to tell what happens when the spotlights on delegates and the convention itself; how we'll be able to come through. But we hope that the attention we've received so far will continue."
Clearly, much is riding on what happens in Boston this week and in New York in September. CERC members like Hynes are hoping that what it learns from both events can be adapted to other conventions outside the political arena.
"What CERC has done is develop a tremendous network and act as a central point for a lot of different environmental organizations that are active in different areas; and also for a number of different companies and industries that are interested in getting involved just as the hotel industry and travel", Hynes concluded. "So, we hope to continue to learn from this and share it and keep it moving to other... conventions."