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Dems work to go green in Charlotte

Democrats want their national convention in Charlotte, N.C., to have a big effect on the 2012 election and a small footprint on the planet.

“We are doing a lot, on a number of fronts, to maximize the sustainable elements of everything we are doing,” said Theo LeCompte, chief operating officer of the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC).

“It has been a priority for us from the beginning,” LeCompte said in an interview about environmental efforts at the early September event.

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From beefed-up recycling to low-toxin paints to reusable water bottles, the convention is aimed at ensuring that visitors won’t hit Mother Nature when they’re swinging for Mitt Romney.

Both the DNCC and the Charlotte in 2012 Convention Host Committee provided The Hill with numerous examples of how they’ve built green practices into the contracting and organizing for the event, which will bring an estimated 35,000 people into town.

Among them is the shuttle bus service for delegates, which should help cut down on the amount of driving to and from the event. The fleet includes a number of natural gas-powered vehicles to help curb emissions.

And if low-emissions vehicles aren’t enough, the company Humana is providing 20 bicycle “pedal buses” that can each hold up to eight people, and drivers to go with them. (The company will also have a presence at the GOP convention.)

Elsewhere on the energy front, electric and battery-powered machinery, such as golf carts, will be used where possible.

There are a number of efforts to use less toxic materials in the convention venues. 

Organizers are using paints with low levels of volatile organic compounds — which are chemicals linked to an array of health woes — and non-toxic adhesives.

Carpeting will come from recycled plastic bottles, and other examples abound.

“Where practical, scenery pieces are created from recycled plywood, steel, composite, sheeting, plastics and other materials,” a DNCC summary notes.

The convention isn’t the end of the line for some of the materials. Structures and set pieces like podiums will employ reusable material, and organizers are working with local schools, theaters and other groups to find post-convention uses for the materials.

Caterers, meanwhile, will use locally sourced and organic produce when possible, organizers say.

And there will be tons of recycling, not to mention lots of DNCC “Green Team” volunteers around to answer questions and ensure recyclables and compostable items make it into the right bins.

“Charlotte in 2012 and the DNCC have worked together to develop a comprehensive recycling, composting, and waste minimization system inside of each official convention venue (Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte Convention Center, Bank of America Stadium) that will result in a diversion of as much waste as possible from the landfill,” states a summary of the green efforts.

Given the southern location for the summer convention, organizers want to keep people hydrated without creating lots of trash. To that end, the host committee is providing delegates and volunteers with reusable water bottles, and there will be re-fill stations around the city. 

According to the host committee, the hordes of reporters that invade Charlotte will experience the green commitment from the get-go. The caterer for the main media welcoming event, Something Classic, is working with partners to make the whole event “compostable.”

Elsewhere, organizers have sought to make the logistics of the massive event more Earth-friendly by reducing the amount of packaging in trucked-in materials. And materials that require trucking are being consolidated to reduce the total number of trucks needed. 

Of course, this won’t be the first time that Democrats have sought to make their convention green. 

To some extent they’re taking cues from the 2008 convention in Denver, which included efforts such as donating set pieces to local theater companies and providing Habitat for Humanity with building materials to re-purpose.

LeCompte didn’t provide hard numbers but said the various green-related efforts create “moderate” additional costs. 

But he also noted that the event industry overall is increasingly building sustainability into its normal business practices. 

LeCompte demurred when asked whether it will be the Democrats’ greenest convention ever, but overall he said the environment is a big deal in Charlotte. 

“It is hard to compare apples to apples, but we are out front and making this a priority,” he said. 

But the greening of the convention won’t erase concerns among some activists about the party’s direction on one of the highest-profile environmental issues: climate change.

Some climate advocates have been disappointed that President Obama and the party establishment have not made global warming a bigger part of the 2012 campaign.

“The Obama campaign’s decision to keep silent on the clear and present danger of climate change while America burns is a failure of political will,” said Brad Johnson, campaign manager for the group Forecast the Facts.

Some activists aren’t pleased with the role that Charlotte-based power giant Duke Energy — which has a substantial number of coal-fired power plants — is playing. CEO Jim Rogers is the co-chair of the host committee and is playing a significant fundraising role. 

“They could paint the entire convention center green and it still wouldn’t hide the fact that the DNC’s major sponsor is Duke Energy, a coal company, and that most Democrats aren’t willing to engage in a serious discussion about climate change even when the country is facing the worst drought in decades,” said Jamie Henn, co-founder of the climate advocacy group 350.org.

“Then again,” he adds, “I wouldn’t be surprised if the Republicans end up burning piles of coal outside their convention just for the fun of it.”