Andrea Robinson, the first-ever director of sustainability and greening for the Democratic National Convention Committee, is tasked with ensuring that the 2008 convention, expected to attract up to 50,000 delegates, media, and guests this month, is the greenest ever. If anyone can do it, she can. Robinson managed the greening of the New York, Shanghai, and Johannesburg venues for Vice President Al Gore's Live Earth Concerts for the Climate Crisis.
Corporate Meetings & Incentives: How much priority is the DNC placing on greening?
Robinson: There has been a renewed commitment from Governor [Howard] Dean and our convention CEO, Leah Daughtry, to make this the most environmentally sustainable Democratic National Convention in history. Our commitment to sustainability started the first day we arrived in Denver and impacts all of the decisions we make.
CMI: What does a director of greening do?
Robinson: I work with all of our departments to weave greening principles into every decision — the vendors we choose, the materials we use, how we power our venues, and the efficiency of the office space we rent.
CMI: Do you have specific green targets?
Robinson: One goal is to have at least an 85 percent waste diversion rate from landfill. Official convention sites, including the Pepsi Center, media pavilions, and the Colorado Convention Center, will have “Resource Recovery Stations” in place of normal trash containers, staffed with 900 “Green Team” volunteers. Each station will be equipped with bins for recyclables, compostable items, and landfill. At a back-of-house sorting station, volunteers will dig through trash to make sure the streams are pure. All serviceware inside the Pepsi Center and Colorado Convention Center will be compostable bioware for the four days of the convention. Additionally, all of the vehicles used to transport delegates and other guests will be hybrid or run on alternative fuels.
CMI: Will you leave a green legacy behind?
Robinson: Denver is really trying to use the convention as a launching pad for changing sustainability in the city, and they've been doing tremendous work. Our big goal is to have many of these sustainability plans remain once we're gone, but that's going to be up to the city and the venues. [Sourcing local food is] part of the long-term legacy. We're saying, “If we can do it for this size event, you can do it for sporting events or conventions.”
CMI: Are there additional costs?
Robinson: Sure, but landfill fees aren't cheap. So if we're tipping less at a landfill, that helps. Greening does add costs, but as more people participate, especially at meetings worldwide, those costs will start to drop.
CMI: What lessons have you learned?
Robinson: You have to have a champion at the top. Governor Dean is our champion. He mandated this to be a sustainable convention, and all rivers flow from that place. In any corporation, if you have people at the top who understand what impact meetings are having on the planet and on the way the company is viewed publicly, they'll be the ones to lead the charge.
CMI: What about the confetti and balloons?
Robinson: In our composting facility, the proposed confetti has all composted, which is great. Balloons are often labeled as biodegradable, and they are made of latex, which is a natural substance, but in our tests they have not degraded so far.
CMI: So, you're still sorting out the balloons?
Robinson: We don't want to give away too many secrets before our nominee takes the stage. You'll just have to watch.
CMI: What's your advice to other planners?
Robinson: Ask for local food, ask for sustainably grown or organic food. Ask for bioware. See what's possible. Ask for renewable energy credits. Take responsibility for the power you're using and see where you can reduce it. It's all about conservation and lessening your footprint while still having the same experience.