Hotel Online  Special Report

Trade Shows, Convention Centers Going Green; Recycling Stations, 
Organic Food, Hemp Drapes, Natural Light 
By Sandi Cain, Orange County Business Journal Staff and  Darlene Gudea (Excerpted with permission from Trade Show Executive magazine. Gudea is publisher and editor of Trade Show Executive)

August 2006 - Trade shows, convention centers and service providers have taken a shine to the green movement. 

Facilities that once emptied piles of trash in the nearest dumpster are now competing for the coveted Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED ratings, the standard for measuring and verifying environmental programs. 

Designers say the rush to green buildings is driven by cost concerns, customer demand and a desire for environmentally friendly facilities. 

“Environmental and conservation issues were not a priority for local governments for a while, but now that’s coming back,” said Thom Connors, senior regional vice president for convention centers at Philadelphia-based Spectacor Management Group, which manages more than 50 convention centers in North America and the Caribbean.

Participation in green programs can range from the simple to the complex. 

Many show organizers are providing exhibitor information on CDs and online, saving thousands of sheets of paper per year. Promotional brochures are being printed on recycled paper. Some convention centers are incorporating design features that allow more natural light and better ventilation. Others are adding programmable control systems for heating, ventilation, air conditioning and lighting to reduce use—an increasingly important goal for cities amid rising energy costs and this summer’s heat wave. 

Recycling also is a big part of the green movement. It’s easy to implement and can have a major impact on the quality of life for local residents as well as visitors. “Recycling is one of the simplest things you can do to be conscious of ecology,” said Greg Smith, executive director of Anaheim’s Convention, Sports & Entertainment Division, which includes the Anaheim Convention Center. 

Initiatives Begin to Mushroom 

Once a show organization launches a green initiative, it picks up momentum inside and outside the organization. In July, the San Juan Capistrano arm of VNU Sports Group announced a commitment to the Green Steps program through a partnership with convention service contractor General Exhibition Services, which has an office in Anaheim. 

The program will provide recycled carpet and carpet tiles for trade show floors as well as booth displays and panels made of fiber rather than petroleum-based materials. In addition, VNU Sports Group partnered with 3 Phases Energy to buy renewable energy credits for use at its shows. VNU produces the Action Sports Retailer trade expos in Long Beach and San Diego as well as a host of outdoor and sports events.

Trade shows such as the Natural Products Expo West, produced by New Hope Natural Media in Colorado, have reduced the environmental impact of trade shows by using recycled paper and working with the Anaheim Convention Center to place recycling stations throughout the facility. 

It all adds up when you have one of Anaheim’s largest trade shows featuring 2,700 exhibit booths and 43,000 attendees. 

Sandy Voss, trade show and conference director for Natural Products Expo, said many of the show’s exhibitors and attendees also bought renewable energy certificates to offset their travel to and from the show, rented environmentally friendly exhibit packages and participated in green educational seminars at the event.

Early Adopters Blaze Trails

The Natural Products Expo’s green effort began about five years ago, said Darrell Denny, president of Penton Media Inc.’s Lifestyle and IT Media Divisions. Penton produces the Natural Products Expo.

“We serve a marketplace that is very interested in environmental issues and energy conservation,” Denny said. 

In 2005, the show staff upped the ante by asking more questions about green initiatives when soliciting quotes from service contractors. 

Denny said Dallas-based Freeman Cos. came up with ideas that were aggressive, innovative and workable. Some of the green features used at the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim last March:

  • Hemp and organic muslin was used for booth draping. 
  • Recyclable Plyboo panels were used for booth walls. 
  • The show’s carpeting contained 25% recycled materials that will be recycled again. 
  • Banners and signs were printed on Jet 220 fabric made from water-based raw materials that contained no carcinogenic or allergenic materials. 
  • Wind energy sponsored by Silk, Horizon and Bonneville Environmental Foundation was used to power the show. 
  • Staff members wore organic cotton shirts.
  • Attendees were offered the opportunity to tour organic food stores or an organic farm. There also was organic wine and beer tasting for attendees. 
“Initially, we looked at the added expense and asked, ‘Do we really need to spend more?’” Denny said.  The company decided the positive impact on the industry and the environment was worth the extra cost. 

Higher Volume to Cut Costs 

Denny said costs will go down eventually as more show organizers follow the lead of Penton and VNU.  As manufacturers produce larger quantities of recyclable materials, the cost disparity between “green” and “not green” will shrink.  In the interim, the costs for the recyclable exhibit materials can still be amortized over three years, mitigating the higher costs, he said. 

“I can see a day—and that day is coming soon—when shows that are not green will come under fire from exhibitors and attendees,” Denny said.

That time can’t come soon enough for Amy Spatrisano, a meeting planner with Portland, Ore.-based Meeting Strategies Worldwide. Spatrisano’s company has been touting green meetings since before the 2001 terrorist attacks. During the slump that followed, the company started talking about the economic benefit of environmental programs.

“Companies were more budget-conscious and more open to look at (these efforts) as a way to save money,” she said. A majority of Spatrisano’s clients ask about energy efficiency, water conservation, recycling and cleaning chemicals used at convention centers and hotels. They also ask about the relationship with the caterer.

“Food and beverage is a huge part of meetings with a huge potential for waste,” she said. 

A Green ‘Cafeteria’ 

The Natural Products Expo West worked with the Anaheim Convention Center and its catering partner Aramark Corp. to introduce a sustainable cuisine and regionalism program. 

Menus under the program offer foods grown and harvested in ways that are more healthy to consumers and less harmful to the environment, such as produce grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. 

Only seafood that’s not under threat of extinction due to over-fishing is served. Aramark buys local wines whose grapes are organically grown. Only shade-grown coffee is served. 

To verify claims from farms that raise free-range chicken, Jim Tripp, Aramark general manager of convention and cultural attractions, said he personally visits those farms with his chef or assistant. 

Tripp said the presentation of Aramark’s new food program at pre-convention meetings has been well received, particularly with Natural Products Expo West. 

“They gave us a standing ovation,” he said. “The program could be a major selling point down the road with other shows.”

Ecobuild America of Schwenksville, Pa., chose Anaheim for its 2007 conference and exhibition in part because of the sustainable and energy-conscious features.

“California is a leader in sustainable design and building initiatives,” said George S. Borkovich, principal of Ecobuild. 

The Anaheim Convention center also is centrally located in the market the conference wants to reach.

Anaheim Convention Center, Aramark Enviro Efforts 
  • Use humanely raised poultry and other products—inspects the supplier facilities
  • Use Seafood WATCH list as basis for menus
  • Member of Rainforest Alliance using certified shade-grown coffee
  • Use cage-free eggs
  • Use biodegradable, recyclable utensils, cups and serving plates
  • Use organic items in catering and concessions operations
  • Have a recycle program on the show floor and in offices. Recycle bins available to place throughout an exhibit hall
  • Use local and regional farms for produce, cheese, wines
  • Eliminated most portion-controlled condiment packaging
  • Partner with the Environmental Protection Agency, The Organic Center, WorldCentric, Hearst Ranch, World Watch Institute, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the Rainforest Alliance

Health food producer Sunrider International spokesman Bob Sencer also said the program could be an important factor in choosing a location for future events. “Sunrider believes that being a good corporate citizen requires companies to adopt measures to minimize the impact of business operations on the environment,” Sencer said. The company held its annual convention in Anaheim in July, bringing 5,000 people to town.

Aramark sends a letter outlining the program to every group that is planning a food and beverage function at the Anaheim Convention Center to help show managers and meeting planners understand its goals. 

If a group requests a fish on the endangered list, Aramark explains why it does not serve that fish and offers alternatives. 

Staff members also present the program to potential clients at all site visits and to anyone who requests sample menus.

Carlsbad-based International Music Products Association, which stages Anaheim’s largest trade show of more than 80,000, reported that the sustainability program was well received by attendees. 

And RiteAid Corp. asked if Tripp and Smith would explain the program to other venues where the Harrisburg, Pa.-based company meets. 

“Out of 100 site visits, 25% of planners said it was a big factor in their choice (of facility),” Tripp said. “Only one person said it wouldn’t be a factor at all in the choice of location.”

Smith presented a proposal to the city in June for a comprehensive sustainable program that aims for LEED-certification. Smith said the city council was receptive to the idea.

The Green Standard 

LEED, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System, was developed in 1998 by the U.S. Green Building Council. The rating system provides a common standard of measurement for what constitutes a “green” building and offers a third party validation of a building’s green features. 

To participate in the voluntary program, buildings must submit an application that documents compliance with the organization’s requirements.

LEED measures buildings according to sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere-related initiatives, materials and resources used, and indoor environmental quality.

Bonus points are given for innovation that goes beyond the checklist requirements. There are four progressive levels of certification: certified, silver, gold and platinum. 

While critics complain that the system does not take geographic factors into account, it is the current gold standard by which green buildings are measured. 

Convention Centers ‘LEED’ Way

Convention centers in Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Dallas, Toronto and other cities have placed a priority on green initiatives. 

The David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh was the world’s first convention center in the nation to receive the LEED certification for its numerous green features that include energy savings and gray water recycling. 

“Vancouver will be the greenest building in North America when it opens,” said Chris Eseman, partner at LMN Architects in Seattle. The company’s work includes centers in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, Las Vegas, Denver and Phoenix, among others. 

Unique features in Vancouver include a 5.5-acre “living roof” that features natural grasses and other plants native to coastal British Columbia. It will be the largest non-industrial living roof in North America. During the summer, all 400,000 plugs of vegetation will be irrigated with treated black water from the building.

The San Diego Convention Center employs a stretch fabric roof over its upper level that Connors thinks might catch on.

The newly opened expansion to the Phoenix Convention Center is LEED-rated and includes an Energy Star-compliant roof, water-efficient landscaping and an energy management system to reduce energy demands.

Its air conditioning equipment reduces ozone depletion and provides healthy indoor air quality. The center also is using adhesives, sealants, carpeting and paint with low emissions of volatile organic compounds.

In Dallas, the city has declared that new public buildings of more than 10,000 square feet must be LEED projects. Existing buildings there, including the Dallas Convention Center, are working toward a related certificate with the Green Building Council. 

That building certification addresses cleaning and maintenance issues, indoor air quality, reduction in electrical and water usage and recycling programs. 

Smith said cleaning and maintenance are the next issues Anaheim plans to address.

Connors said more organizers are requesting green initiatives at the buildings Spectacor Management Group manages, including the Long Beach Convention Center, the Ontario Convention Center, the Palm Springs Convention Center and the Moscone Center in San Francisco. 

Spatrisano said she has clients who have chosen hotels and even destination cities based on environmental issues. And the company offers a MeetGreen Certification Program that helps organizations and planners identify environmental practices in its meetings and conventions. 

Survey Says …

A survey of participants at the Natural Products Expo West showed that Penton’s efforts are paying off. 

Some 66% of the overall audience thought it was “extremely” or “very” important for Expo West to be a green show. 

Of those, nearly 60% thought the show was “extremely” or “very” green. In addition, 57% of the overall audience was “extremely” or “very” interested in content concerning environmental, ecological and sustainability issues.

Sandi Cain is a freelance writer and contributor to the Orange County Business Journal and meetings industry publications. She specializes in hospitality, tourism and travel. Cain holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Kent State University in Ohio, where she majored in social studies. A former high school teacher, she has written for niche-market sports publications in the U.S., England and Australia and formerly worked in both the printing and high-tech industries. A Cleveland, Ohio native, Cain hasbeen a resident of Laguna Beach since the late ’70s. She enjoys travel, gardening, reading and spoiling her three cats.

Sandi Cain
Laguna Beach CA

Also See: ARAMARK Chefs Compete to Increase New Sustainable Menu Items / April 2004
Environmental Protection Agency Recognizes Xanterra as a Top Environmental Performer for Voluntarily Going Beyond Compliance with Environmental Regulations / May 2006

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