by Alex Palmer | December 01, 2014
As sustainable design becomes increasingly important for meeting and convention venues, one feature that has been appearing with growing frequency is the "green roof." Covering the roof of a building with grass and other vegetation can yield a number of environmental benefits, such as reduced heating and cooling needs, filtered air, and additional agricultural space.

It's no wonder that a number of convention centers, hotels, and other spaces have adopted this feature (The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte; Four Seasons Hotel Boston; and Chicago's Millennium Park among them).

But the upkeep for these roofs is not just a matter of mowing the lawn. The Vancouver Convention Centre recently completed the annual trimming of its six-acre living roof, giving Successful Meetings a chance to learn what that involves, and what benefits these green roofs can provide to meeting groups.

"A green roof shows a real commitment from our team to make the property sustainable and be mindful of the environment that we are in," says Jinny Wu, communications manager for the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Located in the center of downtown Vancouver, the convention center sits along the waterfront and in view of the area's stunning mountain vistas. The convention center's green roof, which was unveiled in 2009, allows it to blend into the natural cityscape.

"If you look at a bird's-eye view of the center, it blends into the park," says Wu.

But maintaining such a complex mini-ecosystem requires some careful cultivation. A green roof gets trimmed just once a year.

"We want to let it grow naturally throughout the year," explains Wu. "We make sure there are no invasive species and that the plants are healthy, but besides that we don't interfere with how things are growing."

That means that when they do the trimming, it's serious work. It took six landscapers a full week to complete the mowing, trimming, and weed whacking required. It produced 11,000 pounds of grass and trimmings, some of which will be placed back into the soil and used as compost.

The roof boasts more than 400,000 flower bulbs and grasses and 25 separate species of plants -- all indigenous to the Pacific Northwest. Wu notes that the pearly everlastings and aster plants did particularly well this year, with "an aster plant that was taller than me."

The living roof -- the largest in Canada and largest non-industrial green roof in all of North America -- also serves as home to an apiary; its resident bees produced 80 pounds of honey this year.

This is part of the venue's broader sustainability efforts, including a large-scale recycling program, a "scratch kitchen" that uses fresh local ingredients and avoids disposable dishware, and a number of other practices that have earned it Four Star MeetGreen Certification. The 1.2-million-square-foot convention center's participation in these efforts means substantial benefits to the environment.

And that's valuable for meetings groups, according to Craig Lehto, assistant general manager of the Vancouver Convention Centre.

"The meetings industry is continually evolving with meeting professionals making sustainability more of a priority," he says. "The living roof is a very visible demonstration of our commitment to sustainable practices, and we think this gives planners a great deal of confidence when selecting our venue."

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This article appears in the December 2014 issue of Successful Meetings.