Monday, November 5, 2007

Washington in Shades of Green

Mayor Bloomberg addresses the crowd at the annual Washington dinner of Conservation International.
By Carol Joynt

Though we’re not known for often being ahead of the curve,
Washington can actually claim to have gone politically green almost 40 years ago, long before it was fashionable, when President Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. Though some would argue it hasn’t always stayed tight with its mandate to “safeguard the natural environment” the EPA does still get done a challenging job despite being caught in a vortex that blows hard both down from Capitol Hill and up from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Literally, its geographic location puts it between the two.

When it comes to most trends, particularly the du jour, Washington is at least 5 years behind what’s already moldy in New York and near dust in California. But with being green, we’re in step with the other major buzz markets. Its power resonated here especially when everyone noticed that green got Al Gore not only a Nobel Peace Prize and an Oscar, but also entrée to Graydon Carter’s Vanity Fair after party at Morton’s. Each is a potential Washington aphrodisiac, and Gore’s hat trick makes some pols envy the silver lining in not winning the White House.

In Washington, green is good because green is good for politics, which therefore makes it good for the that other green elected officials like to harvest and lobbyists like to put in their bank accounts.

I got to see two sides and sizes of the Washington green sensibility over the past couple weeks – one view through a small breakfast and the other through a large dinner.
An intimate morning buffet at the home of Al and Claire Dwoskin. (clockwise from above): The scene by the pool; Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope talks issues; Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine talks environment.
The smaller side was the intimate morning buffet at the impressive McLean, Va., home of developer and major league democratic fundraisers Al and Claire Dwoskin. We sat outside by the pool, five tables of eight, near a bluff overlooking the Potomac River. The group included quiet northern Virginia political money and the conservation savvy. The guests of honor were Virginia governor Tim Kaine – who, by the way, is the only governor in the U.S. who may be addressed as “your excellency” – and the Sierra Club’s executive director, Carl Pope, who was in from Califorinia with a team of staff and executives. Kaine, who by law can serve only one term, was happy to hear Pope say he considers Virginia more key than California in forecasting national trends on energy issues, which both men said would be upfront in the ’08 elections. Pope said, “Global warming is the call of our generation.”

If you are skeptical whether people in Washington authentically talk the talk, the Q&A that followed their remarks included questions about getting cellulose and fiber from switchgrass, whether switchgrass would overtake the Virginia tobacco crop; retro-fitting existing state buildings, and the percentage of greenhouse gasses coming from those buildings; carbon capture, and whether it’s wise to turn to France or Japan for free market environmentalism.

Yeah, that’s how we sometimes start our day in Washington.

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman
And then sometimes we end our day in a big way. Try on for size the daunting, glorious cavern that is the restored East Hall of Union Station, where Thursday night big money environmentals paid anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 for a table of ten at the annual Washington dinner of Conservation International, this year starring that coy will-he/won’t-he possible third-party presidential contender, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman introduced him with a flourish, praising Bloomberg as “taking the lead on green.”

After applause, Friedman added, “It’s more important to change your leaders than to change your lightbulbs,” and then called Bloomberg to the stage with, “The only thing others of us would like to change is his job title, but I won’t go there.” Bloomberg was greeted with a standing ovation. When the room settled he gave a vaguely campaigny and upbeat speech that noted New York’s conservation challenges and solutions are a model for the nation. He promised that eventually New York would be “the cleanest city” in America.

While the dinner was in Washington, a number of the guests, including a kick line of corporate elite, jetted in from other parts of the world, as far flung as Nepal, Brazil, and Argentina, but also Jackson Hole, Palm Springs, Seattle and Los Angeles.  Friedman said, “I came the farthest. I just got off a plane from New Delhi.” While Friedman is a Washington star, the biggest star star was Harrison Ford, who arrived quietly after the lights were down. Still, the locals went ga-ga for him, as Washington tends to do for anyone from “Hollywood.”
The cocktail party before dinner, just outside the doors of Union Station's East Hall.
He looked good, very much the tweedier side of his “Indiana Jones” character, not his usual spiky-haired, earring wearing self. Ford is a dedicated and long-time board member of Conservation International, which got started in classic grass roots fashion in the home of founder Peter Seligmann. It’s now 20 years old, with more than 800 employees, and an impressive board, which includes, in addition to Ford, InterActive Corp chairman Barry Diller, Queen Noor, former Starbucks CEO Orin Smith, Meredith Brokaw, Hyatt Corporation’s Nicholas Pritzker, Gap chairman Robert Fisher, and H. Fisk Johnson, chairman and CEO of SC Johnson & Sons, among others.

A centerpiece of fruit and flowers & the noodle appetizer served in a cut of bamboo.
For all that wattage, the most compelling talk of the evening highlighted CI’s global efforts. CI Vice President Bruce Beehler gave a brief field report about an expedition into deepest Indonesia, the remote Foja Mountains, where he and his team made sensational discoveries of “lost” species of frogs, birds, and giant flowers. It’s probably the only time the word “herpetoligical” has been invoked at a Washington dinner. A virtual reality add-on was that his talk was backed by recorded jungle sounds.

There were about 40 tables of ten, each with a centerpiece that combined fruit and flowers. The Washington contingent included the Aspen Institute’s Walter Isaacson, journalist Margaret Carlson, Massachusetts democratic congressman Ed Markey and wife, Dr. Susan Blumenthal, Tennessee democratic congressman John Tanner and wife, Betty; board member Ann Friedman, Marriott communications chief Kathleen Matthews, Sydney Ferguson, hops mogul, Count Henry von Eichel, and Finn Longinotto, a former JP Morgan banker turned environmental traveler, blogger and activist with Global Green. From here and there: former U.S. ambassador to Britain and and USIA director Henry Catto, and wife Jessica, both in from Texas; Howard Gould of New York, Phurba Sherpa of Nepal, Leila Yael in from Argentina.

As his flock of admirers and supporters cut into roasted chicken served with sweet potato croquettes and Asian vegetables, Peter Seligmann admonished them, “You are all green. Become greener.” 

The way the stock market’s bucking about, that may be a challenge on both fronts of the green movement. We left with an eco-friendly cloth swag bag that gets a “C+” for including an assortment of lovely natural soaps, lotions and gels from Save Your Skin, plus a very nice t-shirt that would keep one comfortable while not turning the heat up too high or the A/C down too low.
The entree of roasted chicken, sweet potato croquettes, and Asian vegetables
Henry and Jessica Catto, Ann Friedman, and Sydney Ferguson
Washington social varsity: Tandy and Wyatt Dickerson
The Wild Salmon Center's Rachel Uris, and Count Henry von Eichel, CEO of hops producer John I. Haas, Inc.
Howard Gould and Deborah Gray
Starbucks former CEO, Orin Smith, and Janet Thornton, of Seattle
GAP COB Robert Fisher with H. Fisk Johnson, COB of SC Johnson & Son, Inc.
Marty Talbot and Karen Neale of Washington, and Phurba Sherpa of Nepal
Henry von Eichel and Conservation International CEO Peter A. Seligmann
Democratic Tennessee Congressman John Tanner and wife, Betty
Henry H. Arnhold, COB of Arnold & Bleichroeder Holdings of NY
Cristina Mittermeier
CI board member Story Clark Resor of Jackson Hole, WY
Mayor Bloomberg and Kathleen Matthews listen to Pat Coady
Finn Longinotto of Washington DC with Leila Yael of Argentina

Photographs by Carol Joynt
Click here for NYSD Contents