Viewpoint: Greening the Inauguration

March 1, 2009

The inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20, 2009, ushered in a president with a vision to create a new green economy that will advance clean and efficient energy, create new jobs, reduce global warming, and restore and protect America’s natural heritage. The Green Inaugural Ball was planned to celebrate the new administration’s vision and to demonstrate solidarity on this issue. The host committee included more than 75 environmental, labor, civil justice, youth, and business groups. Al Gore, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former vice president, served as the event’s honorary chair.

From the beginning, the organizers of the 2009 Green Inaugural Ball were committed to making this the greenest inaugural ball possible. A “Greening Committee” was formed to look holistically at all of the diverse elements that go into producing an event of this size. The Greening Committee looked at big items and small items alike for ways to make the biggest impact on emissions and reduce the impact of the event on the environment.

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The Greening Committee discussed a variety of possible greening strategies, but ultimately focused on 15 key goals because of their impact on reducing event emissions and waste:

  • Carbon Offsets—100% of the carbon emissions from the event were offset with high-quality carbon offsets from Native Energy. The offsets purchased support a portfolio of renewable energy technologies, including solar, landfill gas, wind, and an animal methane project, demonstrating support for advancing diverse renewable energy technologies.
  • Local, Organic Cuisine—The ball’s menu included organic and seasonal food, locally sourced. The menu featured such local farm favorites as pears, apples, cheeses, and mushrooms, showcasing the diverse flavors of this region. The menu was developed by Chef Bradley Nairne of Grand Cuisine Caterers in consultation with renowned organic Chef Nora Pouillon.
  • Source Separation, Recycling, and Composting—Waste from the event was recycled, reused, and composted locally by the Waste Neutral Group. No plastic bottles were used at the event. Bilingual training was conducted to educate kitchen staff and servers on the composting and recycling process.
  • Biodegradable Trash Bags—Waste items were source-separated and packaged into biodegradable trash bags.
  • Efficient Lighting—Lighting incorporated the latest LED technology. Over 80% of the event lighting used this technology.
  • Reduced Event Materials—There was limited use of paper and signage to produce and publicize the ball. Most of the outreach and advertising about the ball and ball ticket sales was conducted online.
  • Recycled Paper—All printed materials, such as tickets and press credentials, were printed on recycled paper, using soy-based ink, and printed by a local FSC-certified printer.
  • Earth-Friendlier Bathrooms—All bathrooms used biodegradable soap and energy-efficient air dryers.
  • Green Cleaning Process—All linens were cleaned without the use of chemicals and in a manner that uses less water and drying time.
  • Minimal Floral Decorations—Floral decorations were purchased locally from an organic greenhouse. The arrangements were composted at the end of the evening.
  • Sustainable Transportation—To minimize emissions from transportation, attendees were encouraged to use the metro or to walk, roll, or drive a hybrid to the event.
  • No Idling—Trucks were not permitted to idle while loading or unloading materials or while waiting in the building’s loading bays.
  • Green Carpet—The ball rolled out a “green” carpet for guests. Provided by Bentley Prince Street, this carpet was made with 100% renewable energy and consisted of 10% consumer waste. The carpet was completely reclaimed after the event and will be recycled into new carpet.
  • Reusable Coat Check Numbers—The coat check featured reusable numbers instead of paper tags.
  • Personal Responsibility—Guests were encouraged to reduce their carbon footprint by purchasing carbon offsets from the Green Ball’s partner, Native Energy.

There were a number of additional greening aspects that the committee wanted to pursue but that were not feasible due to security, infrastructure, and availability. Because of security and roadblocks, for example, we were unable to donate the remaining food to local homeless shelters. Issues like these were unique to this event and will not be likely issues for future events.

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The goal of the 2009 Green Inaugural Ball was to showcase green vendors, services, and materials and to demonstrate that these elements exist, often locally. In doing so, the Greening Committee hopes to raise the bar on greening efforts for events that want to follow a green path. With over 2,500 people in attendance, including the musical acts Will.I.Am, John Legend, Melissa Etheridge, and Maroon 5, we are confident that our success will inspire others to incorporate greening into their events.
About the Author

Shelley Cohen

Shelley Cohen, chair of the Greening Committee for the 2009 Green Inaugural Ball, is senior project developer for Ameresco in Washington DC.

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