Convention Centers That Don't Make an Impact

Environmental stewardship is giving some convention centers a competitive advantage.

Andrea Doyle

Today's conventions are held to make an impact on employees, shareholders, and investors, while at the same time incorporating tactics to make less of an impact on the planet. Environmentally responsible conventions are all the rage, and convention centers are responding with green roofs, solar panels, and sustainable meal functions.

But the first question that must be addressed is, "What makes a convention center green?" The main attributes of green convention centers are similar to those of green hotels: energy efficiency, waste management, responsible water use, greener transportation alternatives, and the use of environmentally friendly products.

Unfortunately, unlike hotels, there are no popular green- certification programs for convention centers, so you must be your own advocate. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) pertains to how the center is built, but is just one piece of the puzzle. How the facility is operated is just as important; planners should contact the center's operations manager to find out how it's minimizing its environmental impact.

Pittsburgh's Turnaround

The steel mills that brought great wealth to Pittsburgh came with a heavy price—rivers that ran black with industrial waste and air choked with smog. But in recent years, the city has made great strides in cleaning up its environment. Pittsburgh leaders credit the David L. Lawrence Convention Center (DLLCC) as being the most significant milestone in the city's environmental transformation. Located on a former brownfield site, DLLCC is the first and largest certified green convention center in the world awarded the Gold LEED certification.

President Barack Obama gave the center the ultimate kudos when he picked Pittsburgh to host G-20, a gathering of world leaders, last September. Also known as the Pittsburgh Summit 2009, 22 countries and 11 international organizations were invited and participated. Also in attendance were 25 heads of state and approximately 4,000 national and international members of the press. According to the U.S. Department of State, it was the largest summit ever held in the United States.

The focus of the gathering was to lay the foundation for balanced and sustainable growth going forward. Looking to set a good example, summit organizers minimized its carbon footprint when possible. Total trash came to 21.15 tons, of which 74 percent was diverted from landfills and recycled, including 10.5 tons sent to compost farms. About 2,127 pounds of food were donated to local food banks.

The DLLCC, among other green initiatives, sanitizes waste water from sinks, water fountains, and faucets and redirects it to bathroom toilets. It also recycles approximately 124,000 pounds of paper and cardboard and 6,000 pounds of cans and bottles every year.

North of the border, all events at the Quebec City Convention Centre are eco-conscious, but for groups that want to take it up a notch, a certified eco-advisor is available. Since its inception, 45 events have taken advantage of this program.

"This proves that not only are convention centers greening their act but clients are also ready to work and pay a bit more to reduce their event's environmental footprint," explains Emilie Belisle, a spokesperson for the center.

Corporate social responsibility is very important to the Quebec City Convention Centre. Every year, 20,000 excess meals are donated to local shelters. Other eco-friendly initiatives include water that is served in pitchers, food served on porcelain dishware for dinner, compostable paper napkins, and biodegradable or recyclable dishware and flatware for lunch service.

Every Step Counts

Convention centers find that even small changes can make a significant impact. Take the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. Some initiatives that have been implemented over the past year and a half include improving all lighting in meeting rooms, ballrooms, and pre-function hallways. Occupancy motion sensors that turn on and off lights in the meeting rooms, ballrooms, and bathrooms have also been installed.

"By making these minor changes it has been estimated that our facility stands to save 70 percent in lighting costs," says Brian Monroe, director of sales and marketing at the center. "We also make sure our trade show give-aways are eco-friendly and that we buy locally to erase carbon footprints."

The Colorado Convention Center takes its commitment to being environmentally friendly one step further by having a sustainability program manager on site. Lindsay Smith is available as a resource to clients if they have questions about anything relating to sustainability.

Phoenix's New Green Space

The Phoenix Convention Center (PCC) received accolades for its design when the USGBC awarded the facility's new West Building LEED Silver certification.

One of the amenities that helped the center achieve LEED certification is the Habitat Water Harvesting Garden, which features a living wall of native flora and fauna that are watered by condensation from the building's air-conditioning system.

PCC served as an appropriate setting for Greenbuild, the world's largest showcase for green building innovation and ideas, hosted by the USGBC, in November. The event was carbon neutral thanks to donated carbon credits and renewable energy certificates, one of several efforts aimed at offsetting the conference's hefty environmental footprint.

"Greenbuild didn't come to Arizona by accident," said Beth Vershure, executive director of the Greenbuild '09 Arizona Host Committee, in the Official Greenbuild 2009 Blog. "The Valley's new light rail system, Phoenix's LEED-Silver convention center addition, and USGBC's recognition of Arizona's growing commitment to sustainability all factored into this decision."

Certainly these are not the only facilities that have made strides toward being environmentally friendly. For more information and assistance on researching the environmental initiatives of a particular convention center, "Best Places to MeetGreen" can help.

Originally published Jan. 1, 2010

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