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
Overview: The award-winning Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) goes the extra mile to make every day extraordinary by offering customer service excellence and industry-leading partnerships. From their dedicated in-house Rigging team to their robust Exhibitor Services, The Center of Hospitality brings your imagination to life by helping you host unforgettable meetings and events. With more than 2 million square feet of exhibit space, world-class services and a dream destination, we are committed to making even the most ambitious conventions a reality. In October 2023, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners voted to approve allocating Tourist Development Tax funding for the $560 million Phase 5A completion of the OCCC. The Convention Way Grand Concourse project will include enhancements to the North-South Building, featuring an additional 60,000 square feet of meeting space, an 80,000- square-foot ballroom and new entry to the North-South Building along Convention Way. “We are thrilled to begin work on completing our North-South Building which will allow us to meet the growing needs of our clients,” said OCCC Executive Director Mark Tester. “As an economic driver for the community, this project will provide the Center with connectivity and meeting space to host more events and continue to infuse the local economy with new money and expanding business opportunities.” Amenities: The Center of Hospitality goes above and beyond by offering world-class customer service and industry-leading partnerships. From the largest convention center Wi-Fi network to custom LAN/WAN design, the Center takes pride in enhancing exhibitor and customer experience.  The OCCC is the exclusive provider of electricity (24-hour power at no additional cost), aerial rigging and lighting, water, natural gas and propane, compressed air, and cable TV services. Convenience The Center is at the epicenter of the destination, with an abundance of hotels, restaurants, and attractions within walking distance. Pedestrian bridges connect both buildings to more than 5,200 rooms and is within a 15-minute drive from the Orlando International Airport. The convenience of the location goes hand-in-hand with top notch service to help meet an event’s every need. Gold Key Members The OCCC’s Gold Key Members represent the best of the best when it comes to exceptional service and exclusive benefits for clients, exhibitors and guests. The Center’s Gold Key memberships with Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando and Walt Disney World greatly enhance meeting planner and attendee experiences offering world-renowned venues, immersive experiences and creative resources for their events. OCCC Events: This fiscal year, the OCCC is projected to host 168 events, 1.7 million attendees, and $2.9 billion in economic impact.  The Center’s top five events during their 2022-2023 fiscal year included:  AAU Jr. National Volleyball Championships 2023 200,000 Attendees $257 Million in Economic Impact MEGACON 2023 160,000 Attendees $205 Million in Economic Impact Open Championship Series 2023 69,500 Attendees $89 Million in Economic Impact Sunshine Classic 2023 42,000 Attendees $54 Million in Economic Impact Premiere Orlando 2023 42,000 Attendees $108 Million in Economic Impact