Leading convention centers across the country are leveraging their sustainability programs to strengthen their brand and improve financial performance. While each sustainability program is unique, they tend to follow a similar playbook. In working with leading convention centers across the country, we have identified the following key components of successful programs:

A holistic strategy is critical
Without an overarching strategy, your sustainability efforts will lack cohesion and may be overlooked and misunderstood by event organizers. Develop a Sustainable Policy to establish goals and the path to achieve them. Develop a Sustainability Event Guide to encourage event organizers to take advantage of your programs. Train your sales staff to communicate the value of your sustainability program to event organizers. You are not only selling the environmental and financial benefits of sustainability, but how your program will enhance the visitor experience.

Setting goals & measuring performance
You can’t manage what you can’t measure! As part of your Sustainability Policy, set annual and event-level goals like waste diversion and energy conservation. Track energy, water, and waste performance in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, LEED Arc, or other online platforms. Closely monitoring performance will allow your organization to immediately identify improvement opportunities and take corrective action to achieve your performance goals.

Third-party certifications
Event organizers are increasingly requesting third-party certifications in their RFPs as a means of vetting the true sustainability performance of facilities. LEED continues to be the most common green certification, followed by APEX/ASTM certification. LEED Performance Score is a streamlined certification pathway that is gaining popularity among convention centers due to its simplicity and focus on readily available performance metrics. Less effort, less costs.

(Re)harvesting the low-hanging fruit
Converting to LED lighting and installing low-flow plumbing fixtures are proven cost-effective strategies to reduce your utility costs. However, be mindful of no/low-cost opportunities to dial-in your operations and wring out the savings from existing equipment. For example, take advantage of free cooling when temperatures are moderate, closely align equipment operations with event schedules, and setback temperatures when spaces are unoccupied. Remove "set it and forget it" from your playbook. These high-return strategies require diligence and close monitoring to keep up with the changing operating conditions of convention centers.

Event-specific reporting
Convention centers are increasingly providing event-specific reporting to event organizers on energy, water, and waste performance. While this may require utility submetering or enhancements to your waste management program, this type of reporting will show organizers your commitment to reducing environmental impacts and operating costs that are ultimately passed on to each event.

Perception is reality
Your hard work behind the scenes to reduce your environmental impact may not be noticed or fully appreciated by event organizers and visitors. Improve the visibility of your sustainability program to enhance the brand of your organization and the events you host. Use informational placards and story boards to highlight your goals and achievements, prominently display certification plaques, install bottle refill stations, recycle lanyards, etc. Sustainability is a part of the visitor experience you are selling.

Donate as much as you can
The most carefully planned events generate tons of waste. It is the nature of the beast. Establish programs to donate as much food, carpet, furniture, etc. as you can to local charities. Provide Donation Reports to event organizers that quantify their positive impact in your local community, and hopefully their host city for years to come.