WHCA Dinner: Friendly Environment, Environmentally Friendly

The First Lady must be pleased to hear that every effort has been made to use locally produced organic food at Saturday night’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. However, it’s highly doubtful she’ll recycle one of her fashionable ensembles to wear to the event.

Diana Taylor, Mayor Bloomberg, Secretary Solis at the 2009 WHCD.

Nevertheless, there will be plenty of recycling going on as the WHCA Dinner goes green for the first time in its 96-year history. All thanks to an effort headed up by Ed Chen, the outgoing President of the WHCA and Senior White House Correspondent for Bloomberg News. Chen reached out to former colleague Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, to see how the ecological footprint of the event could be reduced.

Hershkowitz and the NRDC, a non-partisan environmental organization, have worked with even larger events before: the Academy Awards, the Grammy Awards, and the Major League Baseball World Series championships, to name a few. Yet, with a room full of top political and business decision makers, as well as Hollywood elites, the WHCA Dinner could potentially trump them all as a showcase for practical, ecologically intelligent practices.

“Can you imagine a better place to get the message out about greening?” asks Hershkowitz. “The cultural resonance of this event is substantial.”

Hershkowitz says every detail was reviewed with an eye towards reducing environment impacts, and there was no detail too small. From printing all programs and tickets to the event on 100 percent post-consumer recycled content paper to renting the Red Carpet to distributing uneaten meals to the Washington D.C. Central Kitchen, every decision had a purpose.

“Hopefully this will be seen and nobody will notice anything different. They’ll learn about the initiative in the program, but hopefully people will have as much fun and be as comfortable,” says Hershkowitz.

The NRDC worked closely with the staff at the Washington Hilton Hotel to coordinate the greening efforts.  If you’re parched and are looking for water, don’t expect to reach for a plastic bottle: filtered water will be served in glassware. Should you sneak your own container in, however, there will be recycling bins provided.

And gentlemen, if you’re so inclined, check out the newly installed waterless urinals in the men’s bathrooms. Hershkowitz says he worked with the Staples Center in Los Angeles to install waterless urinals, and they save seven million gallons of water a year.

“Water scarcity is going to rival sea level,” says Hershkowitz, “we should not be flushing drinking water down the toilet.”

Don’t worry ladies, you’ll be doing your part to save the environment: the bathroom tissue contains a minimum of 20 percent post-consumer recycled content.

The WHCA went a step beyond waste reduction and recycling, and took a look at how to offset the carbon generated by travel and the event itself. They worked with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to purchase renewable energy carbon offsets generated by the jet used by host Jay Leno to and from California, as well as, the Presidential motorcade.

Pat Nye, Vice President of the Climate Business Group at the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, says “offsetting the energy use for this dinner and related travel equals about the same impacts as offsetting the electricity for one game of the World Series.”

That’s about 62 metric tons of carbon dioxide; about the amount of power used by six average US homes in one year. The renewable energy purchased on behalf of the WHCA is from the Tatanka Wind Farm on the border of North and South Dakota.

Hershkowitz is hopeful the changes will resonate with the several thousand revelers:

“Everybody has to do something to address the ecological problems that we face. We don’t have to wait for a law in Washington to pass before we take action to address global warming. That’s the message of this dinner. We have to all take responsibility. There’s no action too small to be helpful. Every action is helpful.”

There’s still time to set up that carpool.