Five Reasons for Groaning Over Greening at the DNC

August 26 2008, 2:35 PM

The title of "greenest convention" has an illustrious history dating back to...well, this year. The DNC and the city have launched some significant initiatives that deserve some credit. But claiming enlightened sustainability also begs a bright, CFL-lit spotlight on some of the spin.

1. Wooden, hotel key-cards

Boulder-based Sustainable Cards, a Boulder-based venture, donated 70,000 wooden hotel key-cards to Denver hotels to use during the convention.

Plus: The move is supposed to save tons of plastic that goes into the landfill each year because hotel guests are too lazy or busy to return plastic key-cards when checking out. The initiative includes 90 hotels throughout the city, and the wood comes from sustainably harvested birch.

Minus: Early reports indicate that the wooden cards aren't working so sharply at the downtown Sheraton, meaning the hotel was going through wood and plastic. But the bigger issue might be that the shift doesn't really do a thing to minimize our consumption. What about going back to metal keys and room deposits?

(Update, 8/26: Stephanie Jones with Sheraton called 5280 to say that reports about malfunctioning wooden key cards are incorrect. The hotel is using the birch keys and they're working fine, she says.)

2. Green delegate challenge

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the national committee introduced the challenge to encourage delegates to purchase carbon offsets that would pay for projects to capture the carbon produced by their trips to and stays in Denver.

Plus: After a slow start, every delegation is participating in the challenge at some level, proving that people are willing to buy into programs to slow climate change.

Minus: A wind farm in Wray is supposed to be one of the main offset sources for the challenge, but the turbines still haven't started turning out on the plains. Other projects undertaken by the convention's green team, led by a Hollywood actress with an environmental science degree, have received major ridicule, including color-coded meal servings and an outright ban on fried goods.

3. Eco-driving

A campaign launched, with the blessing of Governor Ritter and Arnold Schwarzenegger, just before the convention started is supposed to teach motorists tips for reducing gas consumption and emissions pollution.

Plus: Fundamental auto care like engine tune-ups, proper tire inflation and no speeding are all good ideas for the environment and general highway safety, and we're not going to be able to ditch our vehicles in the immediate future, regardless of new technologies.

Minus: The Eco-driving campaign is sponsored by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which has every reason for keeping the foot on the brake when it comes to getting people out of their cars. Eco-driving threatens to green-wash driving, and telling people not to speed shouldn't count as conscious, new-fangled environmentalism.

4. Denver Carbon Calculator

The city's visitor's bureau has gotten in on the act by creating its own carbon calculator that measures visitors' and locals' carbon emissions and then allows them to purchase offset credits.

Plus: The calculator offers users options to assess carbon footprints of events and travel, down to energy use and waste produced by activities.

Minus: By not including food costs and emissions, among other aspects, carbon calculators downplay the full impacts our consumption levels have on the planet.

5. Greenest. Convention. Ever?

Consider for a moment that the first official Democratic National Convention occurred in 1832 in Baltimore. About 300 delegates showed up from 23 states (Missouri was the only no-show), none further west than Louisiana. (The convention's only meaningful action was a vote on a new vice president, Martin Van Buren, for President Andrew Jackson. Even if those delegates traveled by private coal trains, the event still probably had a smaller carbon footprint than this year's hullabaloo.)

Plus: Attention and efforts toward environmentally sound practices are certainly a step forward, especially with the amount of general consumption and waste associated with events like the national party conventions.

Minus: So many "green" measures are aimed at making the inconvenient truth as convenient as possible. That obscures some of the major steps that individuals--and political institutions--still need to take. Besides, couldn't the parties pull off this nominating biz via v-cast?

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