From a Plastic Ban to More Local Food—The IUCN Goes Green
The largest environmental symposium is underway this week in Honolulu. And the more than 9,000 participants are doing their best to go green. HPR’s Molly Solomon reports on sustainable measures that conservationists hope will become the new normal.
If you find yourself looking for a trash can at the Hawai‘i Convention Center this week, you’re bound to have a couple more options.
“Here you have paper we’re collecting, bottles and cans, and all the composting,” said Alexandra Petersen, the logistics manager for the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It’s being held in Hawai’i this year, the first time the conference has met in the United States. Petersen says around these halls, she sometimes goes by a different name.
“I’m also called the plastic police,” said Petersen. “Because I will go and just ask, ‘what is this plastic bottle? What is it doing here?’”
Petersen isn’t exaggerating. The conference is entirely plastic free. Cups, straws, or bags made from single use plastic are nowhere to be found.
“It was more like having this opportunity, an experimental laboratory,” Petersen explained. “To tell people you have 10 days to not live with plastic.”
Petersen says even paper is scarce at this conference. She walks me over to what she calls the IUCN library. But instead of books or printed reports, it’s simply a wall filled with QR codes. That’s where you use your smartphone to scan a barcode image and the material appears electronically on your device.
“Can you imagine if we were to print and bring for 10,000 participants? This would be a massive amount of publication,” she said. “We are used to printing everything and when I look at this amazing library, I think it served its purpose. People have the knowledge but there’s no paper.”
That sustainable line of thinking extends into the kitchen. This year’s conference has made a concerted effort to include more locally sourced food on the convention menus.
“Locally we have some baby bok choy, Japanese eggplant, and tomatoes from the ‘Ewa side of the island,” said Chef Kevin Nakata. He runs the kitchen at the Hawai‘i Convention Center and has the daunting task of feeding the more than 9,000 registered attendees.
“They’re currently working on a vegan entrée, so they’re prepping the vegetables for that,” said Nakata, who is working on a mushroom stew for Friday. “Right now we’re trying to utilize all the produce that was ordered for the group.”
Nakata says 60 percent of the produce and most of the proteins were sourced from local farmers.
“A few months ago, we reached out to as many farmers as we could, down to even local eggs. Eggs alone we probably went through about 20 cases, 30 dozen per case.”
And while complying with the list of measures for the IUCN hasn’t always been easy...or cheap...it’s something the Convention Center hopes to continue for future events.
“Just the experience of being able to comply with those directions gives us a head start for future groups we might have,” said Gary Matsumoto, the director of the food and beverage department.
The IUCN will continue its conference through September 10th.