Study Shows Newport How to Go Green

By KYLE HENCE/ecoRI News contributor

NEWPORT, R.I. — The Newport Energy & Environment Commission met in late October to unveil findings its study (pdf) on sustainable events had revealed. The commission is hoping this study helps move the city one step closer to becoming the first Rhode Island community to establish sustainability or “green” protocols for public events.

If adopted by the City Council, the City-by-the-Sea would join a list of environmentally friendly cities that includes London, San Francisco and Austin, Texas. Ideas for creating sustainable events were first incorporated into the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

The seven-member Newport Energy & Environment Commission, whose mission is to advise the City Council and educate the public on energy-efficiency and renewable-energy measures and the environment, first formally approached the council in January.  At that time, commission member Lauren Carson wrote to then Mayor Stephen Waluk:

“We think that with the highly visible events planned for 2012, and their own emphasis on sustainability protocols, that this is a unique opportunity for Newport to begin to excel in these practices,” Carson wrote.

After the City Council approved a vision statement in February, the commission moved ahead with its study of sustainable green practices and protocols. Producers from seven events held in the city this past summer participated. Those events included the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, The Atlantic Cup, The America’s Cup, Rhode Island Surfrider Foundation Luau, the Folk Festival, the Jazz Festival, the Newport Yachting Center Summer Concert Series and Champlin Place Block Party.

The goal of sustainability protocols, according to the commission, is to improve the “triple bottom line” by simultaneously boosting Newport’s social, environmental and economic well-being. The proposed protocols would recommend a set of “best practices” in the areas of eco-procurement, water distribution, waste minimization and managements, emissions reduction, biodiversity conservation and public outreach.

These would amount to green performance standards, commission member Beth Milham said.

As Milham explained, the model for the proposed sustainable events protocol is the Green Certification program developed by the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) for Rhode Island’s hospitality industry. The Green Hospitality Program, modeled after one in Maine, was developed by the DEM’s Ron Gagnon and Beverly Migliore, who gave a brief presentation at the recent unveiling of the commission’s new study.

As of this past April, the state had certified 54 businesses, including 11 in Newport, according to Migliore. The first certifications were in April 2008.

“It’s about not leaving a big footprint. The goal is a positive impact and a lasting legacy,” Milham said.

Annie Brett of Sailors for the Sea described her organization’s Clean Regattas program, and said that the America’s Cup in Newport had earned a Gold Certification by implementing a range of energy-saving and conservation practices. America’s Cup organizers created a rain garden at Fort Adams with the help of Cup sailors. The established rain garden planted in July reduces the volume of toxic runoff into the nearby harbor and contributes to efforts to improve water quality at local beaches.

Greening up events will create jobs and save money for municipal governments and local businesses, according to the commission.

Rich Travis is an event producer at Newport Waterfront Events. He joined Brett to discuss individual sustainable practices already being implemented at local events.

“They want to know if this is right decision in 10 years,” said Travis, speaking of his company’s owner-executives and concerns they share that investments in green practices pays on economically.

“Now it’s becoming a corporately driven thing,” said Carson, who insisted this was an emerging trend because it served the triple bottom line. “We are finding that the costs are not more in implementing green events.”

The commission plans to formally present its study and recommendations to the City Council later this fall or winter, with a proposal to the council to adopt a voluntary sustainable events protocol that would increase the quality and number of green events.