When it comes to environmental awareness in the broadest sense—social aspects as well as green ones—the San Francisco Bay Area has long been on the cutting edge. For anyone looking to hold a meeting where green practices, sustainable catering fare, eco-oriented venues and CSR (corporate social responsibility) opportunities are high on the agenda, the Bay Area is an ideal locale.
"The Bay Area is a place where people really think about sustainability. It’s important to most hotels and venues here—and they make it easy to do green events," says Janet Rudolph, owner of Berkeley-based TeamBuilding Unlimited. "There’s a real sense of responsibility."
Joe Burgard, vice president of operations for San Francisco’s Red and White Fleet, which offers scheduled bay cruises and charters, agrees.
"Green practices have become a baseline for doing business in San Francisco," he says. "Clients ask us about our recycling and other green practices all the time. It’s what people expect."
Superlative examples of environmentally friendly practices abound in the region, extending from San Francisco’s citywide composting and Green Business certification programs to convention center and even airport terminal operations.
Visitors passing through San Francisco International Airport’s Terminal Two, newly emerged from a $383 million renovation, will experience the nation’s first airport facility to achieve LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Instead of the usual fast-food concessions, the terminal’s culinary choices include Napa Farms Market, featuring seasonal produce from local farms and sustainable items from local purveyors such as Acme Bread and Cowgirl Creamery.
San Francisco’s largest convention facility, Moscone Center, has had a sophisticated, multifaceted recycling program in place since 1998 and also boasts the largest solar installation of any city-owned building in the country.
Out in Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences, a popular spot for events, is the largest public building in the world to achieve LEED certification and boasts a 197,000-square-foot Living Roof.
On the waterfront, AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, recently became the first Major League Baseball park to use solar panels.
Innovative sustainable practices extend south to San Mateo County, where the San Mateo County/Silicon Valley CVB, in partnership with the San Mateo County Farm Bureau, created the "As Fresh as it Gets" program to recognize and encourage local hotels, caterers and restaurants to feature foods, wines and flowers produced in the county.
"We encourage groups to make farm visits on the coast, experience our natural beauty and enjoy the fresh cuisine that we’re known for," says Anne LeClaire, president of the San Mateo County/Silicon Valley CVB. "Those are the kind of unique travel experiences that keep people coming back."
Meanwhile, from farmers markets in San Francisco and Oakland to wineries in the Tri-Valley and oyster farms in Tomales Bay, fresh, local and sustainable continue to be the focus.
Recognizing that large events at convention centers have an enormous impact on the environment, Moscone Center is gearing up to further green its operations, according to Kathleen Hennesy, recycling manager for the facility.
"Once you walk in the door of a convention center, everything has the potential to use excessive amounts of energy or to waste materials," Hennesy says. "Although we have been a leader in environmental practices, most of our programs have been back-of-the-house. We want to make things more visible to people, to really green the experience for them."
With a facility-wide renovation under way, Moscone is aiming for LEED Silver certification for its three buildings. Other measures include recyclable dining utensils and food packaging, and trash bins on the trade show floor for compost, recycling and landfill.
Making sure that unspoiled food and reusable items from trade shows and other events do not go to waste is also a priority for Moscone, which, along with nearby hotels such as the Hilton San Francisco, Hotel Nikko, Parc 55 Wyndham and San Francisco Marriott, is part of the San Francisco Hotel Nonprofit Collaborative. At the 2011 Winter Fancy Food Show, the center partnered with the show’s organizer, the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, to donate leftover products that amounted to 130,000 pounds of food for more than 5,000 needy families.
Jo Licata, who founded the San Francisco Hotel Nonprofit Collaborative over 10 years ago, is community projects manager for the Hilton San Francisco, a position created in 1994 to encourage service activities between hotel employees and the nearby Tenderloin, a low-income neighborhood of immigrant families, small businesses and well-known philanthropic institutions such as Glide Memorial Church.
Licata also works with with planners who want to incorporate CSR elements into meetings based at the Hilton. She is currently working with an association to develop a literacy program enabling attendees to assist local schoolchildren with reading skills and donate books to classrooms and school libraries.
"We talk with the planners to find something that is particularly meaningful to their group—it’s important that it be a good fit," Licata says. "A literacy program works well for education groups, while women’s organizations tend to want to help women and children in many capacities. Working in a food bank is a great activity for many attendees, including those who have family along."
According to Rudolph of TeamBuilding Unlimited (www.teambuilding-unlimited.com), the Bay Area provides an abundance of settings and opportunities for team-building programs with a CSR and/or green focus. Among them is Project Green Thumb, an activity that combines green practices with community service, in which participants engage in tree planting and other activities at parks, community gardens and schoolyards.
"Tilden Park in Berkeley and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco are great locations for this, as are community pocket parks," she says.
The Bay Area brims with opportunities to learn about and experience nature.
One option is a scavenger hunt organized by TeamBuilding Unlimited on Angel Island, home to an array of flora and fauna.
"People have to locate and identify plants and birds. At the same time they are enjoying incomparable vistas of the Bay Area," Rudolph says.
Getting out onto the water is another way to appreciate the remarkable environment.
Showcasing both history and marine life, the Red and White Fleet (www.redandwhite.com) offers a variety of cruises in vessels powered by low-emission, partially biodiesel fuel.
San Francisco Bay Whale Watching (www.sfbaywhalewatching.com) offers chartered and scheduled excursions with naturalist guides 27 miles offshore to one of the world’s richest marine ecosystems, the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Along with whales during the migratory season, passengers have the chance to observe elephant seals, leatherback sea turtles, tufted puffins and other rare species.
Other unique excursion options include Tomales Bay in Marin County, where kayaking trips spotlight the area’s ecological diversity and oyster farms dish out fresh local shellfish.
Naturally Inspiring Venues
Outstanding off-site venues dedicated to the natural environment are a highlight of the Bay Area.
San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences (www.calacademy.org) holds top-ranking LEED Platinum status and offers a natural history museum, planetarium, aquarium and a multistory rainforest filled with tropical birds, butterflies, geckos and other creatures. The academy provides a multitude of event settings and options, including the chance to stargaze from the deck adjoining the massive Living Roof and its carpet of wildflowers and grasses. Events can include docents and biologists to speak about the exhibits, including those featuring a rare albino alligator named Claude and a flock of African penguins.
In downtown Oakland, the Oakland Museum of California (www.museumca.org) will unveil the Gallery of California Natural Sciences wing in 2012 as part of a $58 million redesign. The new wing will showcase the diverse ecosystems of California.
According to Douglas Long, chief curator of natural sciences at the museum, the gallery is being designed to "inspire visitors about California’s incredible natural resources, raise their awareness of the state’s pressing environmental challenges and strengthen their sense of place and responsibility about the natural landscape."
At the Coyote Point Recreation Area in Redwood City, the waterfront CuriOdyssey (www.curiodyssey.org) offers science exhibits and wildlife habitats for native animals from rehabilitation facilities. An indoor event space holds up to 350 people, and outdoor spaces include gardens with views of the bay and San Francisco skyline.