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It’s Easy Being Green: How Green Was My Inauguration

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President-elect Barack Obama begins his presidential journey down a green path next week with his inauguration in Washington, D.C. The inaugural committee plans to make the event as earth-friendly as possible, employing several strategies ranging from printing invitations on recycled paper to encouraging guests to carpool and take public transit. And to top it off, two green inaugural balls are planned (one hosted by Al Gore), which will feature recycled floats, organic and local food and wine, and composting of biomass waste.

Linda Douglass, the chief spokeswoman for Obama’s inaugural committee, said that, “not only are we committed to holding an inauguration that is the most open and accessible in history … but we are also committed to making sure that it is as environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible.”

Guests traveling to the event are encouraged to use carbon offsets, and events and receptions held in the House of Representatives will feature biodegradable containers, plates, and utensils. All plastics and Styrofoam are banned, and caterers will put food scraps, containers, and utensils into a “composting stream” that will go to a facility in Maryland. These measures reflect the efforts begun in 2007 by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to reduce energy use and recycle waste.

The inaugural ball planners are trying to reduce environmental impact in every aspect of their events. “The Green Inaugural Ball,” to be held on January 17, will serve 100 percent organic food and beverages. The food waste from the event and the floral arrangements will be composted, and all bottles will be recycled. Energy usage will be offset through credits to buy wind power, while lighting for the event will feature LED Color Blasts that use a fraction of the electricity and generate less heat than conventional lighting sources.

Al Gore, who met with President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden last month about energy policy, will host another green inaugural ball the night before the inauguration. The event will bring together more than two dozen environmental organizations with a focus on raising awareness about solutions for climate change.

Daniel J. Weiss, Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress, sees these events as a hint of things to come from the Obama administration and 111th Congress.

“A clean energy inauguration symbolizes the changes that President Obama and the 111th Congress will bring to speed the transformation to a low-carbon economy, reduce oil dependence, and take world leadership on global warming,” Weiss said. “The inauguration will be a clean energy pep rally before the big match begins on Capitol Hill—the people vs. big energy companies.”

In fact, Obama’s inauguration speech is expected to highlight new national policies to transition to a low-carbon economy through improved renewable energy transmission, near-term targets to reduce oil dependence, and a policy mandating electric utilities to purchase a percentage of their electricity from renewable sources.

Obama can start right away by taking a number of actions on environmental issues as soon as he moves into the White House, through executive orders, White House actions, and agency decisions—without waiting for legislative approval.

If you’re braving the crowds and the frigid weather expected for next week’s historic event, the Washington-area Metro public transit system is operating rush hour service (read: non-stop trains) for 17 consecutive hours from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Inauguration Day. Roads into D.C. from Virginia will be closed, but that won’t stop residents from biking into the city. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association has put up a handy map of bike routes here, and they’re also offering free bike parking for the inaugural event at the Jefferson Memorial and NW 16th Street.

Photo by Flickr user Steve Wilhelm

Read more articles from the "It’s Easy Being Green" series