As Washington, D.C., rumbles with pre-inaugural preparations — confirming VIP guest lists, double-checking menus, stocking bars — several party planners find themselves adding another section to their checklists: eco-consciousness.
History will be made on Tuesday as Barack Obama is sworn in as president, but the celebrations will be framed in another first as organic and local food, carbon offsets and energy-efficient lighting debut on the party-planning priority list.
If any presidential inauguration were to feature not one, but two carbon-neutral galas, it would be Obama's. The president-elect has made his hopes for environmental action clear, and when you think about it, there’s no better moment to kick-start the new green economy then at an inaugural fiesta.
Hoping to set a clear eco-example, the planners behind these environmentally conscious events — The Green Inaugural Ball hosted by Al Gore and The Green Inaugural Party hosted by Event Emissary, a D.C.-based event planner — have transformed their conventional parties into paradigms of eco-entertaining.
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“We want to show people that you can do an event at the caliber of an inaugural ball and still have it be green,” says Jenna Mack, a co-producer of The Green Inaugural Party held on Jan. 17. “We have greened every aspect of the event.” She’s not kidding. Any leftover food (organic and local, of course) from the event was composted; the outdoor catering tents were powered with a biodiesel generator; energy-efficient LEDs made up the decorative lighting; VIPs skipped the plastic bottles, hydrating instead with water made from the air (check out ecoloblue.com to learn all about atmospheric water generation); and staff and talent (including headliner Wyclef Jean) were shuttled in chauffeured electric cars — thanks to GEM, a division of Chrysler — among other highly considered eco details.
Meanwhile, the Green Inaugural Ball (Jan. 19) met equally high environmental standards — but with Al Gore as the face of the event, was there ever another option? “We’re really focused,” says Shelley Cohen, chair of the event’s greening committee. “We’re looking at everything holistically, understanding that everything makes an impact.” Lucky attendees walked down Bentley Prince Street’s recycled green carpet; dined on food sourced — when possible — from vendors in the D.C. metropolitan area; washed their hands with biodegradable soap; and rest assured that 100 percent of the energy used to power the event was being offset through a partnership with carbon offset organization Native Energy.
But green-tie events are just the beginning of the eco-awareness that will be sweeping D.C. during inauguration week. Revelers — estimates predict that millions of people will descend on the city — are encouraged to leave their cars at home and seek out alternative and public methods of transportation (there will never be a better opportunity to see ball gowns on the Metro). Bike riders can utilize the Washington Area Bike Association’s two free bike valet stations at the primary inaugural event; friends of the Segway (a two-wheeled, self-balancing electric vehicle) can rent the contraption through Segs in the City. Those who insist on four wheels can make a better choice by renting a hybrid vehicle from a local rental agent or looking for one of the Saturn hybrids that will be used as courtesy vehicles throughout the inauguration.
Are you extraordinarily wealthy and interested in greening your accommodations while in D.C.? For a mere $40,000 you can experience the Fairmont Washington D.C.’s “Eco-Inaugural Package,” which includes four nights in an eco-sumptuous suite made from rapidly renewable materials like bamboo; a party gown designed by famed sustainable designer Linda Loudermilk; a series of organic spa treatments; an all-organic midnight supper; and a Lexus hybrid complete with driver for all of your transportation needs.
Or you can do what I would do and crash on the couch in the house of your best D.C. buddy.
From green balls to green transportation, I can’t help but wonder if all of this inaugural eco-effort has rubbed off on other presidential affairs taking place — including the main event. “My understanding is that [Obama’s inaugural team] has brought in a consultant to help them with green measures,” says Mack. “It’s obviously something this administration cares about. I am confident that they are working to green the event.” And if the inauguration can go green, we can, too. “We are encouraging people to take personal responsibility,” says Cohen. “We’ve demonstrated that this is a very doable thing, that there is an infrastructure for it.”