As a small city with a big reputation for sustainability, Boulder attracted another big figure in environmentalism Wednesday with an even bigger last name.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was in Boulder to take part in the Boulder Earth Conference, a daylong event "dedicated to the sharing of knowledge, bold ideas and technologies to advance sustainable business practices regionally, nationally and globally."

The activist, radio host and attorney specializing in environmental law was the clear guest of honor, delivering the morning keynote address and sharing a VIP luncheon with local business leaders.

In his morning speech, organizers said Kennedy addressed the importance of environmentalism in business, also calling Boulder a showpiece community for sustainability. Kennedy said being an environmentalist does not mean you're anti-capitalist; rather, environmentalism and capitalism should be intimately related for an effective solution to the economy, national security and global climate issues alike.

In an interview with the Camera afterward, Kennedy said, "The best solution to environmental issues is true free-market capitalism because most pollution comes from subsidies and a true free marketplace has to pay the true cost of (what it produces)."

When asked what made Boulder a leader in sustainability, Kennedy said the city has a history of idealism, citing the anti-war and civil rights movements of the '60s, and that today's Boulder has an "idealistic and progressive view of our country."

"If you look at a lot of the green technology and the systems we're implementing," Kennedy said, "they're coming from Boulder."

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. listens to a reporter’s questions before a session at the Boulder Earth Conference on Wednesday, June 12, 2013.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. listens to a reporter's questions before a session at the Boulder Earth Conference on Wednesday, June 12, 2013. ( CLIFF GRASSMICK )

Kennedy also said that the Obama administration has not done enough to combat climate change and that the national priorities should include regulating carbon, enforcing carbon-based utilities and eliminating subsidies that allow polluters to produce carbon without paying for the damage it causes.

'Hitting it out of the park'

Organizers said they felt the Boulder Earth Conference was a successful event.

"We're really hitting it out of the park today," said Michelle Barnes, executive director of the Center for ReSource Conservation, a Boulder-based nonprofit and beneficiary of the conference's net profits.

In Barnes' mind, the strength of the conference is the applicability of its ideas.

"These talks are not just inspiring people," Barnes said, "they are giving practical solutions with real life case studies."

Kennedy was the feather in the hat for organizers, who said they were lucky enough to have a family connection

"Mr. Kennedy is a sought-after figure and we're very excited to have him" said Alison Layman, spokeswoman for the Center for ReSource Conservation. Despite the connection, Barnes said Kennedy really felt the conference was worthwhile and wanted to support it.

'Really motivated them'

On top of his two appearances at the conference, Kennedy also took time to shake hands with students representing elementary, middle and high schools from the St. Vrain Valley School District in Longmont.

Three schools won a district-wide competition to reduce energy consumption at school and at home, and propose ways their buildings could further improve efficiency. Each winning school received $25,000 to make energy efficient changes to their school.

"The students were thrilled to see a political figure interested in what they did to reduce energy consumption," said Dara Ward, energy and sustainability manager for the school district. "It really motivated them to witness how meaningful their efforts were."