Beyond limiting impact on the environment, utilizing a convention center devoted to sustainability makes good business sense.

Thousands of attendees enhance the local community through their presence and the company or association sends a clear message that it’s socially responsible and dedicated to a larger cause than just profits and growth.

“It’s a great opportunity for groups to educate the public about how a meeting designed around sustainability can benefit both the attendees and the city,” says Kevin Wilhelm, CEO of Seattle-based Sustainable Business Consulting and author of the book Return on Sustainability, which examines how climate change impacts companies and how they can improve their financial, brand and sustainability performance.

For planners, the key to any venue evaluation is finding the answers to important questions. In the research process, it’s imperative to wade through the hyperbole and evaluate sustainability on merit, not public relations bluster.

Always Audit
How do you begin the evaluation of a sustainability-focused convention center? Many progressive convention centers now have sustainability coordinators who can guide you to organizations helpful in the evaluation phase.

A starting point in the auditing process is LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, which incorporates rating systems for design, construction and operation of green buildings.

“Planners need to keep in mind that LEED certification has more to do with bricks and mortar and [is] not directed as much on sustainable behaviors at the facility,” Wilhelm says.

Focused more on operations, the newest sustainability guideline is the APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Meeting Standards, a partnership between the Convention Industry Council’s Accepted Practices Exchange (APEX) and the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM).

All-encompassing, the standards address nine sectors: accommodations, audiovisual, communications and marketing materials, destinations, exhibits, food and beverage, meeting venue, on-site office and transportation. Additionally, there are eight impact areas targeted: waste, energy, air quality, water, environmental policy, communications, procurement and community partners.

Planners and suppliers can use the guide to help evaluate the numerous sustainability elements.

The Colorado Convention Center in Denver is the first venue to receive certification as a facility that meets APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Meetings, Events, Trade Shows and Conferences standards.

“The APEX program gives planners another good way to evaluate a sustainable meeting venue and our certification says a lot about our focus on sustainability,” says Lindsay Arell, sustainability programs manager at the Colorado Convention Center.