How wasteful is the meetings, incentive, convention and exhibition industry? No one knows for sure because the industry largely lacks a way to track how much waste it produces. That may change with the Green Venue Report, which recently published its first review of convention center sustainability efforts.
The report addressed three main questions:
1) What are the individual and collective footprints (positive and negative) of events at convention centers?
2) From what industry best practices can more convention centers and event organizers benefit?
3) What innovative efforts should be recognized and celebrated?
Representatives of 16 convention centers in the United States and Canada answered questions about venue space, sustainability, communication policies, and use of energy, waste and water. Participants included:
- Austin Convention Center, Austin, Texas
- Colorado Convention Center, Denver
- Jacob K. Javits Center, New York
- Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority
- Metro Toronto Convention Centre
- Music City Center, Nashville, Tenn.
- Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, Fla.
- Oregon Convention Center, Portland
- Palmer Events Center, Austin, Texas
- Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake City
- Sands Expo and Convention Center, Las Vegas
- Shaw Conference Centre, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
- Moscone Center, San Francisco
- Vancouver Convention Centre, Vancouver, B.C., Canada
- Virginia Beach Convention Center, Virginia Beach, Va.
- Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C.
“We’ve all heard the saying ‘sustainability is a journey,’” the authors said. “This report is no exception. … Only 16 convention centers were able to complete the survey.” The small sample size, they said, is because most venues lack a staff member who could answer questions about all aspects of a center’s sustainability initiatives. So the study reflects what’s happening at the industry’s most sustainable facilities rather than the industry at large. The survey featured 108 questions that are similar to those asked by sustainable event planners, covering the topics of venue space, events, energy, waste, water and communications.
One of the survey’s most surprising finds was that 20 percent of meeting planners organizing events at these eco-friendly venues ask the staff how to make their events more sustainable. Since this is the easiest way event organizers can green their meetings, survey respondents expressed frustration that centers’ amenities were not being used to their full advantage. In response to this finding, the Green Meetings Industry Council created a series of free RFP addendum that meeting and event planners can download and use to source venues and services. The clauses make it easier for planners to integrate sustainability into the process and ensure that conversations about greening the meeting happen early.
Other Green Venue Report findings:
- 91 percent of survey participants have achieved or are pursuing sustainability-related certificates.
- 88 percent of participating convention centers have or are pursuing LEED certification. (Other sustainability certifications include Iso 14001, APEX/ASTM, BOMA BESt and Energy Star.)
- 81 percent have a dedicated sustainability coordinator or manager on staff.
- 77 percent use third-party-certified sustainable cleaning products.
- 69 percent is the average waste diversion rate among participants. The most efficient venue diverted 88 percent of its event waste into recycling, donation or composting programs. The least efficient diverted nearly half its event waste from landfills.
- 69 percent of respondents could track waste by event, but only 38 percent do so regularly.
- 50 percent track and report energy use by event.
- 44 percent of the convention centers use renewable energy sources generated off-site; 31 percent use energy from on-site solar; and a third use 100 percent renewable energy, with wind as the most popular off-site source.