Green Lights

A lot has changed since the LEED Green Building Rating System was first released in 1998. Consider the following statistics:

Since its inception, LEED has grown to encompass more than 14,000 projects in all 50 states and 30 countries covering 1,062 billion square feet of development area.

The value of green building construction starts will exceed $12 billion in 2008 and is projected to increase to $60 billion by 2010 according to the McGraw-Hill Construction Analytics' SmartMarket Trends Report for 2008. In 2007, that same report predicted that by 2009, 80 percent of U.S. corporations are expected to be engaged in green activities at least 16 percent of the time and 20 percent will be engaged 60 percent of the time.

If your organization is a part of those statistics, here are two close-up looks at interesting new meeting venues, one in Long Beach, CA, the second in Liverpool, England, that you should consider.

Agent of Change
The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach is on track to receive top ranking for green design

Sustainable solutions set the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA, apart from other event venues around the country. "Our Watersheds: Pathway to the Pacific," a new exhibition, classroom, and native garden that teaches visitors to be more environmentally conscious when it comes to water use, which opened last November, has raised hopes the Aquarium will receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum rating—the highest level of certification given by the U.S. Green Building Council.

"We are expecting to be a LEED platinum building," says Barbara Long, vice president of strategic planning and government relations for the Aquarium of the Pacific. "We have a green roof complete with native landscaping, and a system to minimize water runoff, which complements the story we are telling about how our behaviors impact the ocean and what we can do to minimize the impact on marine animals."

The Aquarium has already shown a strong commitment to combating climate change. Last year, it became the first museum in the U.S. to earn the status of Climate Action Leader, when it successfully certified its greenhouse gas emissions inventory with the California Climate Action Registry. Other impressive eco-friendly measures taken by the Aquarium include the use of dual-flush toilets, natural light, and solar energy throughout the five-acre site.

Fishing for Meetings
By day, priority booking of the new Aquarium green space will be given to school children visiting on field trips. During this time, educators will guide students in structured lessons that explore the water shed and the water cycle, says Long. By night, the space will open up for cocktail parties, community meetings, and other group gatherings for up to 90 people standing, or 50 to 60 people in a classroom-style setting. In addition, the Aquarium of the Pacific is designed to accommodate larger functions with existing spaces that range from its Great Hall—ideal for formal sit-down galas for 300 guests or 800 standing—to galleries and an outdoor terrace.

Hosting meetings and events in a green building ultimately benefits businesses. "If you are looking to have an event with an environmental focus, or the organization is environmentally focused, it is important to have it in a LEED certified building, because they are a lot healthier, and they reduce the environmental impact and footprint," says Ashley Katz, spokesperson for the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington, DC.

"A LEED building saves money for an event because there is less energy [used], water [used], and operational costs [associated] with operating the facility. In fact, green buildings save 30 to 50 percent of energy, and 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. Green buildings also experience 40 percent water savings and 70 percent solid waste savings. These facilities are healthier places to be, and the air quality is better. The bottom line is, you increase energy savings and employee productivity, and those are great benefits," Katz says.

Long Beach locals are certainly taking notice of the expansive environmental efforts by the Aquarium of the Pacific. "If the Aquarium gains the highest LEED recognition, it will help to showcase how our city is at the forefront of many green initiatives," says Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Like the Aquarium of the Pacific, others in Long Beach are taking steps to lower their environmental impact, from convention center caterer SMG Food Service introducing green-friendly food practices and serving 10,000 biodegradable lunches at the last Governor's Conference on Women to comprehensive water conservation practices at the Port of Long Beach and much more.

"As a community, we understand greening. We also understand how to execute green events and conventions," says Goodling.

—Jeanie Casison

Europe's Capital of Culture—and Green Initiatives
Liverpool's Arena Convention Centre has a no tolerance policy when it comes to waste

The opening last January of Liverpool's Arena Convention Centre (ACC) was not just an early highlight of the city becoming European Capital of Culture 2008; it also marked a major step in the greening of major venues in Europe.

The entire $300 million structure is described as Europe's most environmentally friendly facility, producing only half the CO2 emissions of traditional buildings. It has its own turbine-driven wind farm, providing about 10 percent of its electricity needs. Its toilets are flushed with rainwater harvested from the roof. And motion detection technology switches lights off when a room is not occupied.

But the facility, which comprises a 1,350-seat BT Convention Centre with over 75,347 square feet of exhibition space linked by a Galleria to the 10,600 seat state-of-the-art Echo Arena, certainly had its green pedigree tested right out of the gate.

The arena's first public presentations included the European MTV Awards and concerts by Diana Ross and by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, with Elton John, Bryan Adams, Cirque du Soleil, and Playhouse Disney to come.

"Audiences for those events present a huge garbage disposal challenge because British youngsters are not yet particularly good recyclers," says Jacquie Rogers, the BT Convention Centre's general manager. "We've got advanced waste management systems, tough environmental conditions for franchisees, including permitting only recyclable plastic bottles, plates, and such, along with educational 'take your rubbish home' posters and prominent bins. Despite all that, visitors continue to dump wrappings under seats and chuck sandwiches into recycling bins so you are constantly dealing with food contamination issues. Thirty-five percent of our garbage still goes to landfill, but we're determined to get the green message across more widely. We have to. Our target's nil to landfill."

To get closer to that, ACC is producing dedicated pages on their website to encourage delegates and clients to make their visits to Liverpool greener.

Harvesting Awards
ACC has already been showered with green awards, among them a 'Very Good' accreditation by BREEAM, (similar to LEED in the U.S.) for the positive environmental impact of the design and build of new buildings. It received the Apple Award for the environmental measures implemented during the construction. And at last February's International Convex, Europe's largest convention for event organizers, it won the Best UK Venue 2008 award. At presstime, it was waiting to hear if its coveted Stirling Prize architectural award nomination would bear fruit.

"The center is a landmark addition to Liverpool's waterfront that will transform the city's position as a conference destination of choice," says Rogers.

But to what extent do ACC's green credentials add to its attraction to clients and delegates?

"We all know it boils down to price," Rogers declares, "but that's changing fast. How green you are increasingly sways competitive booking decisions. It was a major reason why the Liberal Democrats (the UK's third biggest political party) convention was one of our first bookings."

Rogers consolidates the center's green credentials by drawing up service contracts that commit suppliers to environmentally friendly practices. Its caterers buy only regional food and products so as to cut food miles. To minimize commuting, ACC employs mainly local workers. And to encourage delegates and visitors to use the local transport network, the vehicle parking ratio is just one to 100 delegates.

"But you must be practical and use your business sense," Rogers continued. "We can't be green in isolation. So we continually encourage our clients, partners, and visitors to do their part. It's not just people like me who are twitchy about the environment. Our industry has taken it on board. In a few years, green credentials will be non-negotiable."

—David Block

Originally published May 01, 2008

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