Sustainability Check-In: How U.S. Convention Centers are Getting Greener

February 18, 2019

Implementing sustainable practices isn’t just good for the environment, it’s also good for business, as many convention centers have discovered. According to the 2017 Green Venue Report (the 2018 report has not yet been released), event venues are saving millions of dollars each year thanks to sustainability upgrades through energy, waste or water conservation programs.

Energy tracking for events is also improving, with 88 percent of venues surveyed reporting doing so. Yet technology is constantly changing, and what was good (or good enough) a few years ago is likely behind the times now. With that in mind, here’s a look at new sustainability efforts at some of the biggest convention centers around the country.

Javits Center, New York

At the end of 2018, the installation of 15 high-speed roll-up doors on all major loading dock entrances was completed, reducing energy consumption inside the building and allowing better control over airflow and temperatures on the show floor.

green roof

The center’s 6.75-acre green roof has become a sanctuary for area wildlife, including 27 species of birds since it was completed five years ago. In 2018, more than 100 bird nests were identified there and the facility’s kitchen has also harvested more than 125 pounds of honey from rooftop beehives.

Finally, a massive expansion that will include more than 200,000 square feet of new meeting room and pre-function space, among other additions, will also add a 1-acre working farm. Set to be completed in 2021, the rooftop farm will add a true roof-to-table experience for guests and is expected to yield up to 40,000 lbs. of fruits and vegetables annually.

McCormick Place, Chicago

The facility’s rooftop garden, which began as part of the West Building’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification process, continues to grow. It now stretches 2.5 acres and yields 8,000 pounds of produce annually, which is in turn used by the center’s culinary team for meals—and even to make the exclusive MPEA Ale, brewed with hops grown on the roof. Three beehives containing more than 20,000 honey bees also reside on the roof, to pollinate the crops as well as produce 50 pounds of honey per year.

Keeping with the focus on local foods, more than a third of all food purchased at McCormick Place is local, organic or environmentally preferred, according to a facility spokesperson. This includes sustainable seafood and antibiotic-free meats.

Orange County Convention Center, Orlando

In 2018, the Orange County Convention Center recertified its LEED Gold status with the U.S. Green Building Council and also upgraded its ISO 14001 standards from the 2004 to the 2015 standards. This certification places the center among a select group of venues to complete an extensive review of sustainability and conservation practices.

The North-South Building Improvements project, which was announced last fall and will include a 200,000-sq.-ft. multipurpose venue, 60,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and an 80,000-sq.-ft. ballroom will also be designed and built to be at minimum LEED Gold standards.

Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, New Orleans

New Orleans & Company, the city’s CVB, is working closely with the convention center’s sustainability team as well as the energy efficiency program manager with the city to form Green Hospitality Nola. The group’s collective mission is to create a more sustainable hospitality and meetings industry by kick-starting a program that will combine and highlight efforts that are already in place, and work together to find ways to be a greener community.

green practices

The program is beginning with a survey sent to hoteliers in the city by CVB and convention center leadership to gain an understanding of their sustainability goals and current sustainability practices. Then, they will analyze responses to see what can be done to improve efforts citywide.

In August of last year, the Convention Center named Art Shilling its Assistant Director of Sustainability, a newly created position in which he will focus on tracking, compiling and reporting on the facility’s sustainability initiatives with special focus on LEED certification.

Kentucky International Convention Center, Louisville

Partnering with the Louisville Water Company, KICC is encouraging visitors to ditch plastic cups and bottles for reusable bottles through a new “Fill, Drink and Repeat” initiative with the facility’s newly constructed refillable water stations. It also plans to work with LWC to soon create a branded refillable bottle that can be distributed to event attendees.

Other notable improvements in sustainability include a massive reduction in energy use. When KICC underwent a complete renovation (and reopened in 2017), builders utilized recycled content and low-emission materials to reduce pollutants inside the building. These practices alone are expected to result in a 24 percent reduction in utility cost and a 32 percent reduction in water use.

Los Angeles Convention Center

The LACC, managed by AEG Facilities, is home to a 2.21-megawatt solar array on the roof of its South Hall. Unveiled in April 2018, the addition brought the facility’s total solar to 2.58 megawatts, making it the largest solar array on a municipally owned U.S. convention center. The move is expected to reduce the LACC’s carbon footprint by more than 2,500 metric tons per year.

LACC rooftop garden

Early last year, the facility also unveiled a new 9,500-sq.-ft. rooftop garden, which contains citrus trees, herbs, vegetables and seasonal flowers above the South Hall lobby. As of last year, 90 percent of produce used in meals at the LACC was locally sourced, reports in-house caterer Levy Restaurants.

The facility also boasts its award-winning “Next Level Sustainability” program, established to reduce the LACC’s carbon footprint and elevate and expand the venue’s sustainable practices across five areas: waste/recycling, energy/climate, water, purchasing and education/communication.

Late last year, the convention center banned the use of plastic straws, a progressive move that will cease the use of 250,000 straws annually.

International Exposition Center, Cleveland

After first implementing an energy reduction plan three years ago, I-X Center became a certified energy efficiency customer with the Illuminating Company – A FirstEnergy Company in April 2018. This year, it implemented energy-efficient LED fixtures on the 40-foot light poles surrounding the building exterior. In total, 60 fixtures were changed, and the center will continue adding energy reduction processes throughout 2019 and beyond, according to I-X Center officials.

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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.