Green with envy

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Canadian convention centers are winning top marks and major awards when it comes to adopting environmentally friendly initiatives. Taking the lead from Europe, meeting facilities have been green long before the recent wave of eco-consciousness hit the marketplace.

While green meetings are more popular than ever, the convention centres where the meetings, events and exhibitions are held should be applauded for their dedication to environmental initiatives.

“Convention centres are responding to a lot of forces these days and the business is very competitive. Any centre that falls behind affects business — and sustainability and green initiatives are needed to remain competitive,” says Rod Cameron, Executive Director of Convention Centres of Canada.

Canada remains quite high on the international scale of eco-friendly practices in convention facilities.

“We all recognize that people associate Canada with environmental qualities and we are seen as ‘clean and green’. This creates an expectation with clients that you have to meet so as not to mislead people about your destination. It goes right to the heart of branding an image that we still have spectacular natural surroundings and we need to deliver on that image,” Cameron notes.

No longer a question of encouraging centres to adopt sustainable and energy conserving practices, it is now an expectation to have green policies in place. Exchanging information, learning about programs and policies in centres across Canada and creating a discussion about procedures and equipment is what is needed now.

So much of what a convention centre is able to do depends largely on the community and the municipality in which it is situated. As infrastructure and services such as recycling and composting grow, offering similar programs at centres across Canada will also increase.

Toronto

The award-winning Direct Energy Centre in downtown Toronto is a leader in implementing a long list of sustainable practices. Owned and operated by the City of Toronto, the Direct Energy Centre is part of Exhibition Place.

Committed to being a world leader in energy-efficient systems and technologies by 2010, Direct Energy Centre is well on its way. With the world’s largest system of photovoltaic panels, an onsite wind turbine that creates enough energy for 250 homes and a tri-generation heating and cooling system that takes the centre off the grid during peak periods, Exhibition Place including Direct Energy Centre, plans to be entirely self-reliant and off the city’s power grid by 2010.
 
At one million square feet of exhibition space, the centre is the largest in Canada. A recent retrofit of 1,900 fixtures to high-energy efficient lighting, low flow faucets, procedures to power down escalators, elevators, reducing the building’s temperature when not in use and using a tri-phase lighting system during move in and move out periods are only some of the ways that Direct Energy Centre has emerged as a leader in green initiatives.

“We want to be at the forefront of all things environmental and technological,” says Laura Purdy, Director of Sales and Marketing at Exhibition Place.
 
When it comes to recycling and composting, Direct Energy Centre is the only convention facility in North America that has 100 percent compostable cutlery and dishware available.

In May 2007, Direct Energy Centre, in partnership with food service company, Centerplate, introduced a compostable packaging recycling program which includes compostable hot and cold cups, lids, straws, plates, napkins, cutlery, and sandwich, salad and dressing packaging in all concession stands. The Centre also implemented four-stream recycling bins that accept paper, plastic and cans, compostable food waste and litter.
 
Not only is food packaging recycled and composted, but the centre also has partnerships in place with suppliers of Green Seal certified materials, provides linen-free classroom settings, offers recycled and compostable bathroom hand towels, uses green cleaning products and prints on 100-percent post consumer recycled paper products and stationary with soy vegetable inks.
 
Just recently, as part of the environmental plan implemented by Exhibition Place, the centre has assumed a major project to convert a concrete landscape into an environmentally conscious and inviting green space featuring trees, colorful container plants and statues created during the International Stone Sculpture Symposium.
 
In addition, the streetlights outside the centre have been fitted with LED lights as part of a test project with the City of Toronto and TABIA, the Toronto co-ordinator of all BIAs in the area, to evaluate the potential of use of LED streetlights in other areas of the city.
 
When it opens next year, the future of green convention centres might be reflected in the major renovation of the existing Automotive Building at Exhibition Place in Toronto.

Across from Direct Energy Centre, Allstream Centre embraces the direction of green possibilities in a 160,000-square foot space. Aiming for LEED Silver (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the centre will include rainwater harvesting for the toilets, low VOC flooring and paint materials, natural light in public spaces and meeting rooms and low-energy lighting and environmental HVAC systems throughout.

“From a meeting planner’s point of view, they will be ahead of the game at the Allstream Centre because of the green elements that are already inherent in the building. We see it as a huge advantage,” says Purdy.
 
Earlier this year, Exhibition Place was awarded the first facility to be inducted into the Ontario Environmental Leaders Program for its dedication as a world leader in energy efficient technologies and practices. 
 
Calgary

The Calgary TELUS Convention Centre (CTCC) was the first building in Calgary to receive the Go Green BOMA Environment Award (Building Owners and Managers Association) in 2005. Its environmental mission statement notes, “We will comply with relevant environment, health and safety regulations, guidelines, bylaws and industry standards as they apply to the responsible operation of CTCC. We will strive towards continuous improvements and prevention of pollution. We will actively seek new and better ways to reduce CTCC’s impact on the environment…”

“We can track the number of pounds of waste diverted from the site or the amount of water saved through our on site engineer,” says Heather Lundy, Director of Marketing at CTCC.

“The feedback from clients on our environmental initiatives has been very positive. I was at a conference in Belgium and Europe is so far ahead. We are really starting to see it here now.”

When it comes to conserving energy, some of the initiatives at CTCC include using energy efficient ice machines and chillers that use ozone friendly Freon, escalators and air handling units that have variable frequency drives installed and office equipment that is programmed to turn to sleep mode when not being used.

In terms of water conservation, toilets at the centre have been fitted with water saving flush-o’meters that monitor how much water is used. All employees receive environmental stewardship training and monthly meetings are held to regularly assess their initiatives and identify new ones.

Halifax

On the East Coast, the World Trade and Convention Centre in Halifax has also executed a number of initiatives to reduce their impact on the environment. Eighteen months ago, the centre underwent a major renovation and added a new outdoor air filtering system. Combined with a state-of-the-art digital system which automatically controls ventilation and keeps temperatures at a comfortable level, the improved systems help to reduce energy costs.

Water conserving systems such as low-flow faucets also help to control and conserve once wasted water. Unique room occupancy sensors in meeting areas also help power down rooms that are not being used.

A major green factor that attracts visitors and planners to the World Trade and Convention Centre is its strategic location in the heart of Halifax. Connected to four hotels via a skywalk, commuting costs are reduced as more than 1,000 hotel room occupants have direct walking access to the trade and convention centre.

As with Direct Energy Centre, and with many other centres across the country, the centre’s operational offices adhere to strict environmental policies in the purchasing of products and equipment.

“We have many partnerships with other companies that have green initiatives,” says Nina Kressler, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing.

Cleaning products, for example, are either Eco Logo or Green Seal-certified and all stationary is printed on FSC-certified stock. With a strict solid waste management program in place and promoting water in jugs rather than bottles, “we have had fabulous feedback and any plans for the future will certainly have a green initiative,” notes Kressler.

Montreal

Building on green initiatives is what the Palais des congrès de Montréal has been busy doing for a few years.

The next time you visit Montreal and the Palais des congrès, you might notice new bike racks outside of the convention centre. In the Spring of 2009, a city-wide bike program called Bixi, will be launched. Created out of bicycle and taxi, Bixi is a European-inspired initiative that will hopefully be as popular in Montreal as it is in Paris.

The Palais will support the program by installing a number of bike racks for riders. Although situated close to a number of downtown hotels, on a metro line, and connected by Montreal’s underground concourse, the partnership with Bixi shows one of many green initiatives the centre has undertaken in recent years.

A major expansion of the facility from 2000 to 2002 involved great efforts to conserve energy, water and use sustainable materials.

 “Since 2004, we have had an energy conservation commitment to reduce energy use by 20 percent,” says Amelie Asselin, Advisor, Communications and Public Affairs at the Palais des congrès de Montréal.

By working with industry partners, every aspect of purchasing is done with the environment in mind.

Since 2004, the centre has reduced lighting to 66 percent by using lighting more efficiently and simply turning off lights after regular hours. They have also seen a decrease in their water use through low-flow taps, controlled irrigation, sand filter for water coolers and keeping air conditioning equipment running well.

In September 2005, the Palais also received the Go Green certification from BOMA-Quebec in recognition of its commitment to improving environmental practices in the management of buildings and organizations.

“This discussion about green initiatives has evolved over a short period of time. Although many centres have had policies in place, there was a lack of demand,” Cameron says. “What happened about a year and a half ago is that climate change started to drive the agenda and fortunately centres across Canada already had programs in place. To this day, centres have much more in terms of capability than demand.”

Canadian convention centres are not just walking the walk — they are talking the talk as well — and showing the international marketplace that Canada has a strong green vision.

The level of detail in monitoring and measuring the success of a convention centre’s sustainable efforts — whether it be sorting and weighing recyclables, offering zero to low waste events and embracing renovations and retrofits that dramatically reduces energy output are only a few examples of the commitment centres have made to green practices.

As technology, community infrastructure and consumer demand increases, convention centres from coast to coast will be ready and waiting to do their part to further minimize their carbon footprint on the world stage.