The State of the Art in Sustainable Venues

Sustainable initiatives are expanding in a growing network of global convention centers, according to the 2016 Green Venue Report.

When the Green Venue Report debuted in 2014, it used survey information from 16 convention centers around the world to outline best practices in event-venue sustainability. Last year, 30 centers participated. And for the 2016 Green Venue Report, which the Greenview sustainability consulting group released last month, the number hit 44.

What are the big reveals from this year’s report? What’s different from the previous two reports? How green exactly is the meetings and conventions industry? To find out, Convene talked to Amanda Simons, program manager with Greenview.

Were there any findings this year that really surprised you?

Most surprising to me was the finding that 57 percent of centers have an active, ongoing back-of-house manual waste-sorting program in place. These may vary in terms of what they are separating, but the fact that centers are doing this on a regular basis means they are taking waste management and their impacts very seriously and undoubtedly trying to find homes for items that can be reused or recycled as much as possible.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see that 67 percent of responding centers have a budget to implement sustainability initiatives and programs — this was a significant increase overall from last year. This supports the notion that more centers are taking sustainability seriously and funding sustainability programs.

Music City Center in Nashville

Overall, we are seeing industry trends only rise slightly, stay the same, or even decline. Initially this seemed surprising; however, we realized as the number of centers participating grows, this is exactly the trend we would expect to see. We know the majority of centers across the world aren’t as advanced in sustainability like the subset we are reporting on. However, as more centers see the value in tracking data, managing resources, and realizing the benefits that being a sustainable venue provide, they will seek outlets to understand what industry peers are doing and how they too can improve. Each year we have a larger subset of venues just starting out on their sustainability journey, willing to participate, and this is exciting to see.

Did the methodology for this year’s report differ from the 2015 Green Venue Report?

Every year we adjust the questions to reflect changes in innovation and adoption of best practices that constantly evolve. This year, we trimmed down some of the basic questions and added a few more in the areas of energy management and use of renewables, as well as food-procurement practices and food-waste management. To reflect the increased international participation, we did add indicators and data in the metric system. New in the 2016 report, there is a specific section for event organizers, focusing on how they can implement sustainability into their events and the places where they can make the most impact. Venues provided great feedback on innovative sustainability programs they had seen organizers implement in-house, so we wanted to make sure to share experiences with a wider event organizer audience.

What to you is the most significant finding from this year’s report?

It’s impossible to pick just one. The fact that renewable-energy technologies are finding a home at convention centers is really exciting. Almost half of all reporting centers utilize on-site renewable-energy technology such as solar (photovoltaic) panels or wind turbines. The venues that have heavily invested in the technology are able to produce a formidable amount of energy — up to 25 percent of their total electricity needs in some cases — by reducing their energy needs from the grid.

Another significant finding is that communication between event organizers and venues around event sustainability continues to improve year over year. This year, venue participants indicated that on average 34 percent of event organizers are discussing sustainability or “greening” when they engage with the venue for event planning. This is up from roughly 27 percent in 2014 and just 20 percent in 2012.

Are you encouraged by the report’s findings?

Yes! From a purely data-driven stand-point, more and more centers are track-ing their footprint around waste, water, and energy, and trying to report accurately on event impacts. Venues continue to improve their water and energy management, through retro-fitting faucets to updating lighting throughout the facilities to reduce energy use. Every center that participated this year had some type of sustainability certification or participated in a sustainability program or initiative led by the city, regional government, or local grass-roots organization.

Additionally, sections of the survey dive into how venues support their communities, from organizing donations to sup-porting local farmers to volunteering. The amazing community work supported by venues is so inspiring. Seventy-seven percent of centers help event organizers donate leftover conference materials, and almost 60 percent of centers regularly donate food from events to local charities in need. Venues really are taking an active role in shaping the sustainable development of their destinations and being responsible community members.

The green roof at the Javits Center in New York City.

How would you like the meetings and conventions industry to make use of the report?

The vision of the Green Venue Report is to work as an industry catalyst for improvement. By participating in the survey, venues can identify opportunities for improvement and benchmark their survey results against their industry peers each year. Venues can use the public report to learn about specific industry best practices, technology, and innovations. They have a platform to share their best practices, success stories, and find information on the business case for sustainability improvements at the facility.

Event organizers can utilize results to plan more sustainable events. By understanding the practices and pro-grams being benchmarked, they can request these type of programs to be implemented for their event partners, which not only makes the event more sustainable but helps to push the indus-try forward. Data can help event organizers make more informed decisions on whether a venue or destination is in a position to help support or hinder sustainable event production. Additionally, event organizers can request that venues, destinations, or hotels participate in programs found in the report or even participate in the survey and report i.nan effort to improve performance. 



Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.