San Diego Convention Center: Committed to Green Events

convention_centerThe trade show industry is second only to the construction industry in the amount of waste it generates. If you have ever attended or exhibited at a trade show, you have seen the amount of waste and energy consumed first hand…it is everywhere. Very little about the trade show industry seems efficient. Though companies need to make their products and services known in the green arena, participating in trade shows that don’t include eco-friendly practices seems counter intuitive. Trade shows represent what is good for business but what is bad for the planet. The waste produced from a typical show includes excessive paper handouts that aren’t recycled, countless plastic bottles thrown in the trash, unsustainable promotional items, garbage from packing materials and unregulated energy usage, not to mention the carbon emissions associated with travel to and from the show.

Many trade show organizers simply don’t have enough eco-friendly options when it comes to venues. Hopefully, convention centers and other trade show venues will take a cue from San Diego and realize that a commitment to sustainable practices is good for the planet and very good for business. Their sustainable efforts include waste minimization, energy efficiency, water conservation, food composting, environmental purchasing, donating reusable goods and all-around environmental leadership.

The San Diego Convention Center Corporation began their greening efforts in 1990 with a waste minimization effort and their recycling program has diverted 37.2 percent of total waste in the first half of 2009 alone. Used batteries, light bulbs, tires, cardboard and copper wire are recycled after every show, averaging five tons annually. The food and beverage department collects cooking oil which is recycled into bio-diesel fuel. The Center’s energy management system and energy efficient lighting saves 734,000 kWh annually and renewable integration is next on the list with the installation of solar panels to be operational by the end of 2010.

As far as water conservation is concerned, low flow automatic sinks and toilets are a staple in all restrooms. Outdoor landscaping uses drip irrigation and drought resistant plants to reduce the need for watering, saving over 81,000 gallons of water each year. Energy efficient dishwashers in the kitchen save another 8,000 gallons of water annually and since water restrictions have become a normal way of life in Southern California, every little bit of conservation truly helps.

A food composting program began in June 2007 at the convention center and nearly 100 tons of food waste is diverted annually, with the ultimate goal of eliminating the use of garbage disposals. When it comes to supplies, the San Diego Convention Center’s green procurement process involves purchasing biodegradable, recycled materials including copy paper, toilet paper, facial tissue and paper towels. Environmentally friendly cleaning products are also purchased for carpets, floors, kitchens and bathrooms. Even the food and beverage department purchases meats through a network of local, family owned farms committed to sustainable practices. All of the in-house contractors require adherence to “green” practices.

The San Diego Convention Center also works with clients to ensure that excess food is donated to local charities following events. In the first half of 2009, 23 tons of food was donated. Leftover convention items and surplus furniture and computers are donated to local schools and social service organizations.

The Center’s “Green Team” proactively develops and implements sustainable practices for events and as a result of their efforts, the Convention Center has been recognized with San Diego Gas and Electric Company’s 2009 Large Champion Honoree Award for Excellence in Energy Savings as well as the City of San Diego’s 2008 Recycler of the Year and the State’s 2008 Waste Reduction Award Program.

In this highly competitive business events market, cities around the world are vying to attract global attention and a larger slice of the conferences market. The San Diego Convention Center has found a way to get noticed and is helping to set the standard for sustainable trade show venues.

Cory Vanderpool joined EnOcean Alliance as the Business Development Director for North America. Prior to this role, she was Executive Director of GreenLink Alliance, a non profit organization dedicated to promoting energy conservation in buildings and tax incentives for building owners. Before establishing GreenLink, Cory worked in business development supporting a government contracting firm focused on civilian and defense markets. In addition to her work at EnOcean, Cory is also pursuing her PhD in Environmental Policy at George Mason University and is a part-time contributing writer at Triple Pundit.