The State of Convention & Exhibition Center Sustainability

By Johanna R. Walsh, CMP, and Amanda Simons

When it comes to sustainability within the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) industry, convention centers play a pivotal role as a central event venue and host. The venue provides event organizers with a foundation that either helps or hinders sustainability. As we like to say, green meetings happen in green venues. Convention centers embracing sustainability can lead to benefits including increased efficiencies (and potentially associated cost savings), more engaged staff, more satisfied customers and competitive distinction within the market.

These are the fundamental questions the Green Venue Survey and Report have been designed to help answer. By collecting performance data and practices information from convention centers around the world, participating venues can see how they perform against their peers and the industry can better understand its aggregate impact, progress, best practices and innovations.

The Green Venue Report and Survey, begun in 2012, is done in partnership between Washington DC-based sustainability consulting firm Greenview and Oakland-based event planning company Twirl Management. The project is sponsored by Bandwagon Rideshare, Covanta, and United Service Companies.

This article highlights the key findings from the spring 2015 survey and is based on 2014 operational information. A complete copy of the report can be downloaded here.

Centers see the value in a dedicated staff position to manage the sustainable operations of the venue. Increasingly, the people in these positions hold specific sustainability-related professional designations. Seventy percent (70%) of centers have a dedicated Sustainability Coordinator or Sustainability Manager on staff. These professionals need to use a dynamic skill set combining technical knowledge with a holistic, cross-departmental view of the facility and its operations. Of those centers with a dedicated sustainability position, 76% held the professional designations of LEED AP or LEED Green Associate. Many sustainability managers also held additional professional certificates or advanced academic degrees that included designations such as Certified Facility Manger (CFM) and Master of Science in Sustainability and Environmental Science.

Green teams are critical for green venues. Seventy-seven percent (77%) of responding centers have an employee green team, with an average of 11 staff members from almost all departments within the facility. Although challenges with keeping staff engaged in sustainability programs were commonly reported, centers are coming up with creative ways to help employees better understand why sustainability is important and reward their improvement efforts. Convention centers are taking an active role supporting city and regional sustainability goals. Eighty-five percent (85%) of responding centers participate in sustainability programs or initiatives lead by their city, regional government or local grassroots organizations, taking an active role in shaping the sustainable development of their community.

Convention centers are helping local communities through donations. 80% of reporting centers donate excess food to local charities on an ongoing basis. In 2014, just under 630 Metric Tons of food was donated by Green Venue Survey participants. Items and materials donation is becoming a best practice, but leaves room for improvement. Fifty-five percent (55%) of responding centers regularly help event organizers donate conference materials with additional 17% supporting donation programs when asked at no additional charge to the event organizer.

Centers and event organizers are talking more about sustainability, but great communication challenges still exist. Responding centers indicated that on average 27% of event organizers discussed sustainability or greening when engaging with the venue. Additionally, 86% of responding centers reported that sales staff are versed in the venue’s sustainability practices and or green meeting options and discuss these options during pre-event planning process. While planners are discussing greening with venues more often (up from roughly 20% in 2012), and the majority of convention sales teams are prepared to address sustainability requests, significant opportunities remain to increase the amount of communication and improve the rhetoric around “sustainability.”

Convention centers are supporting local sustainable infrastructure. Nearly two-thirds of venues have electric car charging stations for employees and attendees and 87% have secure bike parking onsite.

Convention centers are greening their roofs. One-third (33%) of centers reported having a green roof installed on the building, representing more than 826,000 square feet of space. Two responding centers are practicing beekeeping on their roof, with 3 additional centers planning on installing beehives in the next year. Venues are creatively utilizing other spaces as well. Thirty percent (30%) of responding centers produce food onsite for catering purposes.

Centers are still aggressively seeking certifications. Ninety percent (90%) of centers have either achieved or are actively seeking a sustainability-related certification. In 2014, 83% of responding centers had achieved a sustainability-related certification, an 8% increase over 2012. The most common certifications include LEED, ISO 14001, APEX/ASTM3 and BOMA BESt.

Reported waste diversion performance is average. The average reported waste diversion rate at centers is 52%. Some of the largest, heaviest items such as carpet and construction debris have the lowest recycling rates across the centers, which may be a factor in this average rate of diversion.

Centers are committed to green cleaning. Responding centers are using 76% (by spend) third-party certified cleaning products.

Renewable energy is an important aspect of center energy portfolios. Fifty-nine percent (59%) of responding centers procure offsite renewable energy, and 42% produce renewable energy onsite. The most popular source of offsite renewable energy is wind. Solar is the most common source of onsite renewable energy.

Tracking event impacts is improving. Almost all of the responding centers were able to provide annual impact data related to energy, water and waste. Ninety-three percent (93%) of centers provided annual waste data, 86% provided annual energy data, and 90% of centers provided annual water consumption data. When it comes to event-specific reporting, waste is the most commonly tracked metric (72% of respondents), followed by energy (48%) and water (34%).

MICE needs standard metrics and calculation methods. There is currently no standardization around simple metrics, like number of annual attendees, or more complex metrics like event-specific energy consumption. This lack of standardization makes apples to apples comparisons very difficult.

The Green Venue Survey and Report provides an opportunity to continuously monitor progress and maintain an up-to-date reference on industry best practices and innovations for the benefit of all venues and their event organizer partners. Associations who are required to conduct green meetings should consider how the facilities they choose measure up to the data provided.

Johanna R. Walsh, CMP, is a Principal with Twirl Management. She can be reached at, 415-636-7936, or online at

Amanda Simons is Sustainable Events Program Manager at Greenview. She can be reached at or online at