"Greening the Conventions" - E the Environmental Magazine, July/August 2004

The monthly meeting started precisely at 9:45 am.  The agenda included five minutes on the press conference with the mayor; five minutes for waste management; 10 minutes on outreach.  Was this a meeting for a government agency?  For a community advocacy group?  For a convention planning committee?  Perhaps a company board meeting?

Actually, all of the above.  It was a general meeting for CERC, the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Conventions, a non-partisan collaboration of 60 organizations spanning the non-profit, commercial, and public sectors.  “We are promoting the use of environmental best practices for the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, in order to showcase those practices to the political leaders and the general public,” explains Executive Director Daniel Ruben.  “We want to establish the role model for future conventions, political and otherwise.”

CERC was initially formed by Boston-area environmentalists in the fall of 2002 after their city was chosen as host for the Democrats.  Their efforts eventually grew to include the Republican convention in New York as the coalition’s influence slowly increased.

Perhaps most importantly, they have found sympathetic ears from all the various organizing parties.  “Together, we are looking at ways to tackle trash and food recycling, using solar power, and using community based agriculture,” says NYC Host Committee spokesman Paul Elliott.  In both Boston and New York, CERC will try to get conventioneers to use alternative forms of transportation including public transit, divert food waste to compost, offset greenhouse gas emissions, and employ “smart” construction methods.

Although New York’s planning did start late, much of CERC’s work will benefit both cities - like a five-step guide to greening hotels.  “Suggestions like replacing incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescents are a win-win for both the environment and a hotel’s bottom line,” explains Tedd Saunders, Co-Owner and Executive Vice-President of the Saunders Hotel Group in Boston, who oversaw the guide’s publication.

Both conventions will be powered using renewable energy certificates as well.  These certificates convey the attributes of clean power but not the actual electricity.  Nearby Hull, MA was a logical choice for Boston’s Fleet Center.  CERC has bought $3,000 in wind certificates from the town’s 660 kW turbine, and they will host a Boston Harbor boat cruise to the aptly named Windmill Point during the convention to educate delegates about renewable energy’s potential.

“I’ve been very optimistic since we first started this effort,” says Malcolm Brown, Commissioner of Hull’s Municipal Light Board, as he stands underneath his turbine.  He glances across the harbor, perhaps trying to glimpse the Fleet Center which will ‘operate’ on his power come late July.

For more info on CERC go to www.cerc04.org.