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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Greening the DNC

Air Date: Week of

Delegations that offset their carbon emissions getting to the convention got a green Obama tag at the top of their state sign. (Photo: Bobby Bascomb)

From ethanol-powered cars to compostable food containers, the Democratic National Committee set an ambitious goal to make this the greenest convention in American history. Living on Earth's Bobby Bascomb reports from Denver, Colorado.


CURWOOD: Perhaps it's a sign of the times that both the Democratic and Republican National conventions this year are being powered by wind, and not just from the podium. Both parties said they would make theirs the greenest convention they've ever held.

Living on Earth's Bobby Bascomb went to Denver to bring us this story of how the Democrats went green—with help from a prominent Colorado Republican.


BASCOMB: A green convention requires green transportation. So the DNC in Denver provided flex fuel vehicles that run on ethanol made from beer.

PAINE: When you make beer, you make ethanol.

BASCOMB: Roger Paine is Coproducts manager for Coors brewery in Golden Colorado. Ethanol, another name for ethyl alcohol, is what gives all alcoholic drinks their kick. Coors has been in business making beer and ethanol, since 1873. On a tour of the brewery Paine explains that brewing beer generates a great deal of ethanol.


PAINE: When you go through the first process it's called fermentation. For every pound of yeast you put in, you're going to get three pounds back. So, we have begun many years ago to start to process that yeast and dry it. And in the course of drying you pull out an awful lot of ethanol.

BASCOMB: All that extra yeast is mixed with waste beer to produce a slurry that looks like soaked bread. After filtering and heating inside a tower of metal tubes. What remains is steam and food grade 200 proof ethanol.

Rick Paine is co-products manager at the Coors brewery. In his right hand is waste yeast and in his left pure 200 proof ethanol. (Courtesy of Colin Wheeler)

PAINE: It's the same ethanol that's in beer, only it's a heck of a lot more concentrated form. We've always said people need to use our products responsibly. We don't want you to drink our beers and products and drive. It's ok for your car to take this product and drive though.

BASCOMB: At the bottom of the distillation tower is a spigot with a stack of cups next to it.

PAINE: Did you taste? Come on.

BASCOMB: (on tape) So, you're literally just pouring it out of the tap and into a glass.

PAINE: I just poured it out of that tap

BASCOMB: (on tape) It's warm.

PAINE: Oh, sure because it's processing, I mean it's just finished coming through the still. Just a little taste. It's very astringent.

BASCOMB: Whew! It's kind of got a beer essence to it though.

PAINE: Well, yeah! That's good. And that's a wonderful observation because it all comes out of beer.

BASCOMB: Ethanol that isn't sampled at the spigot gets mixed with a little bit of gasoline, to avoid a revenue tax, and gets sold locally. Coors stockpiled 40,000 gallons of ethanol, about 20 percent of their annual production, to donate to the Colorado host committee for the Democratic National Convention.

Trash at the DNC was separated into bins marked recycle, compost, and landfill. The DNC hopes to have just 10 percent of the trash end up in a landfill. (Photo: Bobby Bascomb)

TIMOTHY: Our fuel grade ethanol will go right into the 400 or so flex fuel vehicles that are used to try to help make this the greenest convention ever.

BASCOMB: Al Timothy is vice president of public affairs for Coors. Pete Coors, chairman of the Coors Brewing Company has always been active in politics. In 2004 he ran for the Colorado senate...as a Republican. But Al Timothy says providing the free ethanol isn't a partisan issue.

TIMOTHY: Well, our donation of the fuel grade ethanol was really an effort to try to assist the Denver Host Committee and the Democratic National Committee to showcase Denver as a great tourist destination venue.

BASCOMB: In the past Denver had problems with particulate matter in the air and the city is currently not compliant with EPA standards for ground level ozone. The recycling rate is just 12 percent, about 1/3 the rate of other big cities. But Mayor John Hickenlooper sees the DNC coming to town as a catalyst for change. He plans on keeping the 1,000 free bikes brought in for the Convention – even expanding the program for Denver residents.

Denver provided 1,000 bikes for delegates to commute around the city. (Photo: Bobby Bascomb)

HICKENLOOPER: When the convention was, when it was announced it was going to come to Denver, we said ok "Let's make this the greenest convention in history.” The idea was that this would be an investment, it would take a lot of time and energy, but it would be a legacy. So long after the convention left we would still have a green tourism industry.


BASCOMB: In keeping with the green goals, hot dogs and nachos inside the convention center were served in compostable cardboard containers and corn-based plastic boxes. Every 200 feet or so was a trash area with green bins marked recycle, compost and landfill. Just in case you were tempted to mix rubbish the area was guarded by volunteers in green T-shirts.

WOMAN: You bought this here, correct?

BASCOMB: (on tape) I did.

WOMAN: Alright then this is completely compostable.

WOMAN 2: It's made of corn.

BASCOMB: A non-corn based coffee cup ends up in the receptacle marked landfill. And after the convention ended, another group of volunteers sorted all the trash produced to make sure it was properly segregated.


BASCOMB: In yet another bid to be green, the DNC challenged its 4400 delegates to offset the carbon produced by their travel. Most delegates chose to donate $7.50 per person to green energy projects. But Jennie Davidson of Kansas says her delegation chose to donate instead to Greensburg, the Kansas town destroyed by a tornado this year.

DAVIDSON: They have made a strong goal to rebuild that community completely green. So we went ahead and offset our footprint in Kansas too, by donating to Greening Greensburg.

Delegations that offset their carbon emissions getting to the convention got a green Obama tag at the top of their state sign. (Photo: Bobby Bascomb)

BASCOMB: Each delegation that met the challenge got a green Obama tag on the sign carrying the name of their state. Delegates seemed to like the green tinge to the convention, and Mayor Hickenlooper thinks Denver and the DNC could offer some lessons to the GOP convention in Minneapolis.

HICKENLOOPER: You know if Minneapolis wants to compete to be the greenest convention, come at us. You know we'll do everything we can to help you and the we'll do everything we can to beat you.

BASCOMB: For Living on Earth I'm Bobby Bascomb in Denver, Colorado.



Democratic National Convention website

Coors Website on the Environment

Check out Living on Earth’s previous election coverage here


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