Going for the Green

It was all about the gold, silver, and bronze in Beijing last month during the Olympics but there was also an emphasis on the green. Lost among the avalanche of news coverage that focused on the smog surrounding the city was that the Chinese government invested heavily in new facilities for the games, many including eco-friendly elements.

The National Aquatics Center, the focal point for the swimming events at the Beijing Games known as the "Water Cube" as the building is inspired by the natural formation of soap bubbles, has a transparent "skin" that acts as a greenhouse, allowing high levels of natural daylight into the building and harnessing energy directly from the sun to heat the pools and the building. It is estimated that this sustainable concept will reduce energy consumption in the building by 30 percent.

Then there is the Beijing Olympic Green Convention Center, host to the Olympics' fencing and pentathlon events, and site of the international broadcasting and main press center. Next year, it will reopen as the National Convention Center of China with the capacity to hold 6,000 people. It was designed with a rainwater collection system on the roof for flushing systems and irrigation of the surrounding landscape, and a "free air cooling" ventilation system in the public foyers of the convention center.

These facilities have been the beneficiaries of a building trend underway for the last few years that is turning convention centers into more environmentally friendly facilities. Historically, convention centers have used incredible amounts of energy, often leaving lights and air conditioners running twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. In these cavernous spaces, when there is an effort to "go green," there is a tremendous amount of energy that is saved. Here are just a few of the convention centers that have implemented eco-friendly practices.


Green is as intrinsic to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center as is its world-class aesthetics and engineering. It is the only center to be awarded the Gold LEED by the U.S. Green Building Council. The center is equipped and staff is trained to handle any and all materials entering the building from recycling plastics and glass to composting food waste and wooden pallets. Some of the systems in place include a water reclamation system that reduces potable water use by over 50 percent; a natural ventilation system that eliminates the need for artificial heating and cooling of the space; energy use that is optimized through a temperature monitoring system; and daylight sensors that reduce the need for artificial light—75 percent of the exhibition space lit by natural daylight.

Other LEED certified centers include: McCormick Place West in Chicago; Kansas City Convention Center's Grand Ballroom; Madison, WI's Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center; and the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, according to Ashley Katz of the U.S. Green Building Council.


The 500,000-square-foot Atlantic City Convention Center is taking its green initiative to a whole new level by installing the largest single roof-mounted solar array in the United States, set to be complete by the end of December. Nearly $4.4 million in electricity costs will be saved as a result of this project, according to the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority (ACVA) and the system will provide approximately 26 percent of the center's electricity.

The generation of renewable energy from this project will avoid the release of 2,349 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the ACVA reports. That is equivalent to removing 390 passenger vehicles from the road or reducing oil consumption by 4,956 barrels per year.


The Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC) has an enormous 300,000-square-foot green roof, a partnership with Second Harvest for food leftovers, and is part of Enwave Energy's Deep Lake Water Cooling system, that provides the Centre's cooling by using cold water extracted from Lake Ontario.

Recently, MTCC announced it is offering green electricity to clients and event planners to help them reduce the environmental footprint of their events. To achieve this, the MTCC is partnering with Bullfrog Power, a leading Canadian provider of 100 percent green electricity, and the expected electricity usage of participating events will be calculated. Bullfrog will then inject the equivalent amount of clean, renewable power onto the provincial electricity system on behalf of the event. In other words, the event's electricity usage will be matched with green power, helping to reduce the event's environmental footprint.


Chairs made from recycled car batteries and seatbelts? That's what you'll find at the Phoenix Convention Center—14,000 of them to be exact. Other features at the center include Huntair Fanwell Units that incorporate an energy recovery system to reduce overall energy consumption; carpeting that contains approximately 20 percent post-consumer recycled content; environmentally sound paints and materials; a facility-wide recycling program; and water-saving restroom fixtures.

The center is in the midst of a $600 million expansion that began in 2004 and is set to be complete in December. When the fully expanded Phoenix Convention Center welcomes its first meeting groups in January 2009, it will feature nearly 900,000 square feet of exhibition and meeting space, three ballrooms with cutting-edge audio and video technology, and $3.2 million worth of public art.


Located in center city Charlotte, the tri-level Charlotte Convention Center featuring 280,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space has a "green team" in place. Its task: to cut environmental costs. Its catering staff buys local food for events and uses the process of bundling, which limits the number of suppliers for specialized projects thereby limiting the number of vehicles going to and from the facility. Also, new disposable biodegradable cups are used during events that are made from corn products and only take 50 days to biodegrade as opposed to the 50 years it takes for a Styrofoam cup.

Recently, the facility joined the Convene Green Alliance, a grassroots organization initiated by the association and meetings community as a response to concerns and needs surrounding this issue. The Alliance offers a means where like-minded organizations across the meetings industry can work together. More information on the Alliance can be accessed at www.convenegreen.com.


The 770,000-square-foot Los Angeles Convention Center has dual signature glass towers that include patterned glass inlays. These inlays are thicker where solar exposure is the greatest, providing passive solar heat attenuation without the need for additional air conditioning.

Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency honored the Los Angeles Convention Center for its commitment to environmental and sustainable practices. A partner of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's WasteWise program, the center recycled and composted over 1,500 tons of material for a total diversion rate of 55 percent over last year. The center plans to increase its diversion rates to 60 percent, a savings of over $67,000 in avoided disposal fees annually. The center has coined the slogan, "Earth Aware, Doing Our Share," to illustrate its commitment to environmental stewardship. It recycles aluminum, steel, paper, carpet, concrete, gravel, and plastic, while composting its landscaping waste, and food waste. The center also uses 100 percent biodegradable food service ware, and is committed to attaining LEED certification.

Another California venue, the Long Beach Convention Center has 5,800 solar panels atop its 400,000 square feet of meeting and event space. Other green highlights include all disposable plates and silverware made of biodegradable products. The Long Beach Convention Center recycles on average 180 bales of cardboard, 1,200 pallets, nine yards of white office paper, six yards of plastic, 50 shopping carts, and 20 yards of scrap steel every year.


Jackson, Mississippi, will soon boast the Jackson Convention Complex consisting of the Capital City Convention Center that is under construction and is set to open in January of 2009 and the Mississippi TelCom Center that opened in January of 2006. Throughout the construction phase, there has been a concentrated effort to meet green standards. From light bulbs to operational supplies and from the front office to the back of the house, the goal has been to have enough green features by the end of construction to be considered an eco-friendly facility.


The Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati was recently awarded a grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to implement a building-wide recycling program. In place are bathroom products that are made from recycled products; implementation of biodegradable cleaning chemicals throughout the building; the donation of leftover food to local food banks; and electronic signage.

Originally published Sept. 1, 2008

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