Conference Centers Aim for Lighter Footprint

The International Association of Conference Centers (IACC) is pulling together a green task force, and several of the association's member properties, as well as key conference center management companies, have taken steps toward environmental friendliness.

"We hope to raise awareness of environmental responsibility and also hope IACC, its members, and their meeting planner customers will embrace the environmentally friendly initiatives we identify," said Leslie Vanderzwet, co-chair of the task force and general manager of conferences at the Banff Centre, in Banff, AB, Canada.

Added co-chair T.J. Fimmano, general manager of Dolce International at GE Crotonville, in Ossining, NY, "We have three objectives: to educate IACC members and meeting planners, provide a resource for developing green programs, and recognize properties leading the green movement and those becoming green.

"Also, we are considering presenting green criteria to the board of directors for approval to add to IACC's Universal Criteria," he noted.

Many of the conference center management firms and individual properties have boosted their environmental friendliness through programs concerning purchasing, gardening, laundry, and water and energy use.

But most of those entities have gone even further with their efforts. At Aramark Harrison Lodging, for example, the company's many environmental efforts are expanding to all divisions of the firm, ensuring that all 50 of its conference centers participate in those programs, said Dean Crane, VP of environmental affairs.

In fact, in a great show of support for Aramark's green efforts, Crane has hired a vice president of sustainability and environmental education to oversee the rollout of green measures at all properties.

Meanwhile, Marriott International has replaced 4,500 lightbulbs used for outdoor advertising with LED and fiber-optic technology, which the company says has led to a 40-percent reduction in energy use. It recently installed 400,000 new shower heads that reduced hot water usage by 10 percent, and it is now providing guests a free copy of True Green, a book of 100 measures people can use daily to improve the planet.

"Conference centers are where we have tried out many environmental efforts," said Pat Maher, Marriott's senior VP of engineering and program management. "Because guests aren't as transitory as at hotels we can ask if they notice what we're doing, and they provide good feedback."

What's the Reaction?
Meeting customers are receptive to efforts made by conference centers."We realized that there was a great market of customers demanding sustainability," said Doug Brecht, director of marketing at the Doubletree Hotel and Executive Meeting Center-Portland, which is deeply involved in environmental efforts. "I can track $500,000 in convention business we earned in just the six months since we got our Green Seal certification."

The center, in Portland, OR, earned that designation in part because it is subsidizing employee mass-transit passes, which save approximately 7,500 gallons of gasoline and 7,500 pounds of carbon monoxide annually. It eliminated its airport shuttle, encouraging guests to take a light-rail train.

Another Hilton center, the Hilton Baltimore, which is not open yet, will have a "green roof," on which plants will be grown to help cool the building and absorb storm run-off water that would otherwise need to be treated before going into the local water supply. The roof will also trap smog and the like, helping keep the local air cleaner.

Slated to debut in August with 60,000 square feet of meeting space, the 750-room property, along with the Doubletree Portland, acted independently of any Hilton-wide initiative.

The global hotelier does have company-wide programs but did not respond to inquiries from MeetingNews by press time.

Independent properties have stepped ahead of the green curve too. The Lied Lodge and Conference Center, in Nebraska City, NE, is owned and operated by the National Arbor Day Foundation. The 144-room property supports sustainability by heating and cooling with a wood-burning boiler rather than gas; its parking lot is also an arboretum, shading the property from the sun and reducing energy costs. Among other efforts, the center has a green committee — comprised of engineers, housekeepers, and other department representatives — that meets monthly to explore steps toward becoming more green, according to Karen Houser, general manager.

What's more, at the 150-guest-room Airlie Center in Warrenton, VA, every employee is given a green manual explaining the property's environmental efforts, while guests are invited to attend seminars and read collateral about its programs as well as participate in its annual weeklong celebration of Earth Day. The center's website, www.airlie.com, is a robust resource on environmentalism.

These efforts might be costly or time-consuming, but those in the conference center niche remain motivated to do good.

Said Kevin Carter, general manager at Airlie, "The financial benefits are secondary to our belief that this is simply the right thing to do."

Contact Rayna Katz at [email protected]

For ideas, tips, and tools for better meetings and events, get MeetingNews' weekly e-newsletter to your inbox.