Not only is the World Conservation Congress tackling environmental issues, it’s striving to be environmental itself.
Jeju’s government spent nearly U.S. $11 million transforming the convention center into a green giant, for instance by installing a photovoltaic power system on the roof and installing energy-saving elevators, heaters, and coolers.
Jeju’s convention center is a green building. Photographs by Christine Dell’Amore
On my “ecotour” through the Green Congress, I first stopped at one of the conference’s ubiquitous big yellow boxes, which look like a combination of a dumpster and an ATM.
Called EcoSave, the machine compresses your plastic bottles or cans with a satisfying crunch, and then prints out a receipt telling you how much carbon dioxide you save by recycling—I’m guessing because landfills produce greenhouse gases. Putting in one plastic bottle saved 250 grams of carbon dioxide.
EcoSave offers an unusual recycling experience
But instead of giving out thousands bottles of water and Coke, even if they are 30 percent biodegradable, it seems the Congress should have encouraged people to fill reusable bottles at drinking fountains.
After all, we’d all been given a bottle in our gift bag, which admittedly I’ve been using for the strong NESPRESSO coffee in the media center. (By the way, a NESPRESSO rep told Jeju Daily that they’re recycling all the cups, aluminum capsules, and coffee grounds inside those capsules.)
Next I stopped by the Carbon Offset Fund desk, part of an initiative to reduce the carbon footprint of conference goers. A helpful staffer asked me to input my details—ie. how many nights I’m staying in Jeju, how I’m getting around, etc.—which told me I’d have to spend more than 56,000 won (about $49 dollars) to offset my carbon.
That was high to me, but you’re encouraged to donate whatever you like—and you even get a prize: a folding fan. The money, the staffer said, goes toward planting trees in Mauritania.
The Carbon Offset desk, where you can offset emissions
The Carbon Offset Fund will also donate one Swiss franc for every ten kilometers (about six miles) you cycle on one of the convention center’s free bicycles. Even though it was rainy, I checked out a bike and headed for a path I’d seen through the convention windows.
Before long I stumbled onto an oceanside park, which I later discovered has the insanely long name of Daepohaeanjusangjeollidae. I walked out on an observation desk to see jagged volcanic cliffs lining the shore, until the rain eventually drove me back to my bike and to the ICC.
Biking break to pose with a traditional Jeju symbol, Dol Hareubang
Other elements of the Green Congress include reducing paper by relying more on the Web and digital displays for announcements and encouraging people to stay in eco-friendly accommodation.
Lastly, on Thursday the Congress will offer free ecotours of Jeju Island, which boasts a slew of titles, including Biosphere Reserve, World Natural Heritage site, and Global Geopark.
Sadly I’m leaving the afternoon of the ecotour, but tomorrow I’ll get my nature fix at one of the island’s treasures: Sunrise Peak.
Christine Dell’Amore, environment writer-editor for National Geographic News, is reporting from the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Jeju Island, South Korea.