How Three Certified Convention Centers Are Enjoying Their Green Status

June 17, 2019

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. Administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, the certification requires a four-step process: registration; a comprehensive certification application; review with Green Business Certification Inc.; and finally, if all checks out, certification (followed by celebration).

While we hear a lot about LEED-certified buildings these days, the certification hasn’t gone fully mainstream in the world of convention centers, at least not yet. According to the USGBC, about 60 convention centers have earned LEED certification worldwide since the program’s inception in 1993, including six within the last two years: Greater Columbus Convention Center, Orange County Convention Center, Oregon Convention Center, Atlantic City Convention Center, Austin Convention Center and King Salman International Convention Center (in Saudi Arabia).

“Event planners are actively looking for venues that have earned LEED certification as part of their overall event sustainability plan,” says Kim Heavner, vice president of conferences and events at USGBC.

She continued, “Sustainability is becoming the norm for large-scale events, whether they are held at convention centers, sports stadiums or hotels, and as we see the steady rise of LEED certifications of these types of buildings, we’re seeing similar spaces following suit — and it’s becoming much easier for planners to find sustainable venues that fit their needs.”

TSNN checked in with a few of the convention centers that have achieved LEED status in the past two years to see how they’re doing, and how their investment in certification has paid off.

Greater Columbus Convention Center

Greater Columbus Convention Center
Greater Columbus Convention Center

Managed by SMG, this convention center received LEED Silver certification in May 2018 following a major renovation and expansion. Among its green practices: a centralized building automation management system that maximizes energy conservation; public safety perimeter patrols conducted via bicycle or battery-powered electric vehicles; single-stream recycling; Green Seal cleaning products used by housekeeping; an indoor Smartfarm, which produces 2.5 tones of herbs and vegetables annually; and a system that dehydrates compostable waste, reducing waste matter by 93 percent, according to GCCC officials.

“When choosing where their events will be held, it is increasingly important for planners to see the variety of sustainability practices already in place at our venue and the willingness of our team to collaborate with our clients to make their green goals attainable,” says Ryan Thorpe, assistant general manager of GCCC. “For example, our South Café & Marketplace merchants making the transition to compostable serviceware demonstrates our venue’s commitment to responsible environmental stewardship while inviting our guest population to participate right along with us."

Atlantic City Convention Center

Atlantic City Convention Center
Atlantic City Convention Center

This Spectra-managed convention center achieved LEED Gold certification in February. Getting certified not only demonstrated the city’s commitment to sustainability, but has also proved to be good for business.

“Achieving LEED certification is a market differentiator that will position the ACCC in a leading group of venues across the country that value sustainability and its positive impact on the visitor experience, environment and financial returns,” said Jim Wood, president and CEO for Meet AC, in a press release. “The certification will be an important talking point when vying for new business at the convention center.”

Only a few months in, they’re already looking ahead to what’s next in the sustainability realm.

“Our next focus is within our food and beverage division: exploring ways to reduce food waste generated at the facility through operational efficiencies, working with local partners to donate unused food and working with local farmers to collect food scraps,” says Jason Resetar, assistant general manager at ACCC.

Orange County Convention Center

Orange County Convention Center
Orange County Convention Center

OCCC in Orlando first earned LEED Gold certification in October 2013, and was recertified in August 2018. With 2.9 million gross square feet, it is the largest convention center in North America to do this, according to OCCC officials. It was also the first convention center in the U.S. to have its environmental management system ISO certified, and the third to receive the APEX/ASTM certification.

“Considering the extraordinary importance to Orange County's economy of attracting meetings and conventions from around the world, achieving LEED for Existing Buildings Gold certified status for our convention center remains one of the most important investments in our future,” says Jessie J. Allen, interim executive director for OCCC.

Corporate responsibility is also a huge component of OCCC, especially for large shows. For example, the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association recently collected 176,315 pounds of food, the equivalent of 18 truckloads, which was donated to a food bank in Central Florida.

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Attaining LEED status is a big undertaking, but convention centers that take the steps to achieve it can reap major benefits — from energy and cost savings to increased business (i.e., attracting a growing number of events that place sustainability high on their priority list).

Is your convention center or meeting venue working toward LEED status? Send all your sustainability updates to to be considered for stories in our regular Green news section.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.