Redefining the term “healthy competition,” Oregon and Washington vie between themselves for the largest number of environmental awards, buildings with leed (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, organic farms, and sustainable wineries. In its quest to become ecologically responsible, the Pacific Northwest has become an exceedingly green region in which to live, visit and, of course, meet.
Taken as a whole, the entire region offers diverse landscapes and a cornucopia of opportunities for groups to get out and enjoy fresh air and locally grown food and wine, to explore waterways and other unique ecosystems, to view nature-inspired art and endangered wildlife such as whales, and to learn stewardship practices they can use back home.
With low pollution, clean water and efficient energy use, Washington has earned its green stripes as one of the most eco-friendly states in the nation.
In Seattle, the city takes its “Emerald City” moniker seriously.
“Seattle and Seattle’s CVB are very enthusiastic about our natural environment,” says Tom Norwalk, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Seattle’s CVB. “We are proud and stand with our mayor and the city in Seattle’s leadership role in the environment. It is hard not to find an experience in the Northwest that isn’t green or eco-friendly. It has always been a part of what we are and who we are—so much so that we have incorporated it into our brand identity: ‘Seattle—Metronatural.”’
The city has put its money where its mouth is, transforming the green building trend into a burgeoning industry through pro-eco-friendly policies and benefits for developers.
“Seattle seized the opportunity to improve sustainability during a time of unprecedented capital improvement,” Norwalk says. “As a result it now has one of the highest concentrations of sustainable buildings in the country and a powerful sustainable building industry worth $671 million.”
The fruits of these policies include several meeting facilities where attendees can witness cutting-edge sustainable building techniques while conducting business.
A member of the National Register of Historic Places and the only AAA Five Diamond hotel in the region, the Fairmont Olympic Hotel incorporates a number of innovative eco-friendly policies under its Green Partnership program. The property uses steam produced from Seattle Steam Co. for heating and hot water, and energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulbs in public spaces and soon in all guest rooms, and it is implementing a custom-designed waste reduction and recycling process. The hotel offers an Eco-Meet program that enables planners to ensure that events minimize harm to the environment.
Starwood’s new 1 Hotel and Residences chain is slated to open its pilot property in Seattle in late 2008. The Seattle 1 Hotel will be built to leed standards and feature environmentally sustainable architecture and interior design.
Meanwhile, Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion features a subterranean design with a 19,000-square-foot rooftop plaza that conserves energy, the ability to take advantage of natural ventilation during mild weather, and finishing materials that are locally produced, recycled or low-chemical-emitting. The facility offers 14,000 square feet of exhibition space surrounded by two acres of green space.
Seattle also presents a wide variety of green activities for groups.
Six times yearly, the Seattle Architecture Foundation offers BuiltGreen Tours of some of Seattle’s first green buildings. Incorporating lectures by architects, engineers and developers of these structures, as well as information about leed strategies, the tours cost $10 per person.
Evergreen Escapes provides customized team-building adventures ranging from competitive, challenging wilderness skills programs to a relaxing day featuring a yacht excursion, wine tasting and fishing. Experienced naturalists act as guides and educate participants about sustainable principals. Evergreen also works with the Washington Water Trails Association and Washington Trails Association to build itineraries that can include group volunteer work on a conservation project.
IslandWood, located on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound, is just a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle. The 255-acre outdoor learning center offers unique environmental learning programs as well as 6,000 square feet of conference space, a 4,000-square-foot dining area and 37 guest rooms. The facility utilizes solar panels for a portion of its power, sustainable flooring and countertops made from recycled materials, and invites visitors to actively engage in recycling and composting.
Seattle’s Southside is the home of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, highly rated for its eco-friendliness, as well as several distinctive and accessible green activity options.
“With the increasing demand to become more eco-friendly, many Seattle Southside meeting spaces have made efforts to move in the right direction of being green,” says Karla Lindula, media liaison for Seattle Southside Visitor Services. “Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has been deemed one of the greenest airports in a report by the Clean Air Partnership.”
The airport can provide behind-the-scenes “Green Airport” tours for groups as large as 40. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Conference Center, within walking distance of the airline gates, offers over 6,000 square feet of meeting space for up to 200 people.
The Southside is building a new green meeting facility. Kent Events Center, scheduled to open in late 2008, will offer a 6,000-seat arena that can be transformed into an exhibition hall. The center is being built to the leed Silver designation standards.
The 300-acre Green River Natural Resources Area was transformed in the 1990s from an abandoned sewage lagoon into a wetland habitat that is now home to more than 200 species of mammals and birds. One of the largest manmade, multiuse wildlife refuges in the U.S., the area gives groups the opportunity to volunteer with hands-on conservancy projects or schedule an educational classroom session or tour.
In Tacoma, the destination’s newest facility is also its greenest to date.
“The new Environmental Services Building (ESB) is a great example of a facility built completely ‘green’ to complement its environmentally sensitive location adjacent to the new Chambers Bay Golf Course,” says Traci Nelson, group sales manager at Tacoma Regional CVB. “Because Pierce County owns the land and the facility, it could ensure the ESB was designed to be 100 percent eco-friendly while serving county needs and providing a wonderful new meeting venue—complete with sweeping views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.”
The building offers 5,400 square feet of meeting space and a partially covered, 2,000-square-foot courtyard.
It can be argued that only completely wild nature is truly green, and groups can see the proof in Tacoma. Northwest Trek Wildlife Park is ideal option, according to Nelson.
“Groups see native animals such as elk, caribou, bison, and bighorn sheep roaming free in their native habitat while on a tram tour narrated by a naturalist,” Nelson says. “They also see wolves, bears, lynx, and foxes in moat-separated habitat and learn how ecologically dedicated Northwest Trek has preserved its 715 acres of wilderness since 1975.”
As early as 1974, Spokane has been green-minded and working toward harmony with its environment. In preparation for that year’s World’s Fair, it cleaned up a 100-acre railyard and transformed it into a splendid downtown city park.
“Our branding is ‘Spokane. Near nature. Near perfect,’ a moniker that really describes our lifestyle here,” says Keith Backsen, vice president and director of sales at the Spokane Regional CVB. “The Spokane Home Builders Association has started a Built Green program with more than 20 builders online already. Spokane is a leader in Washington state on historic preservation, so what’s better than to combine restoration and green practices?”
Spokane’s main gathering facility follows the green-minded philosophy.
“The Spokane Convention Center Group Health Exhibit Hall is the third convention center in the country to earn leed certification,” Backsen says. “The convention center is built on the very site of Expo ’74, the first environmentally conscious World’s Fair. The grounds were covered with railroad tracks before Expo ’74. Over three years, the city turned the railyard into a 100-acre park set along the Spokane River. The convention center is built on the edge of the park and the Centennial Trail. Literally, the outdoors is right outside the back door of the convention center and yet the front door leads to a thriving downtown.”
Meanwhile, Davenport Hotel and Tower has partnered with a local tour operator to create a sustainable agricultural tour. Groups will see wheat being farmed and cheese being made, and spend time at orchards picking fruit.
Green might seem like a new trend, but in some communities, including the San Juan Islands, it’s anything but.
“Being green is very important to those of us in the San Juan Islands, known as ‘emerald gems in the Salish Sea,’” says Robin Jacobson, public relations manager at the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau. “We are enjoying the current trend to ‘think green,’ but this is how life has always been in this part of the Pacific Northwest. It would be accurate to say that being green is who we are, not just what we do. The San Juan Islands have also been called the greenest meetings destination in the state—quite an honor when you consider that the Pacific Northwest is widely known as one of the greenest regions in the country.”
Three island hotels are members of the Green Hotels Association: Turtleback Farm Inn B&B on Orcas Island, Juniper Lane Guest House on San Juan Island and The Inn at Ship Bay on Orcas Island, which also participates in the Islands Certified Local program and Chefs for Sustainable Food Production to support local farmers.
Whale-watching cruises, many of which incorporate education on how everyone can adopt more eco-friendly practices at home to help protect the majestic, endangered marine mammals, are one of the most popular group activities in the islands.
The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island presents shore-based whale-watching bus tours led by marine naturalists who describe the lives of Orca whales and Salish Sea ecology.
Southwest Washington has made a serious commitment to environmentally progressive policies and attracting meetings business that values its efforts.
“The city of Vancouver is taking steps by switching to LED lights in traffic signals, using hybrid vehicles in their fleet, selecting Earth-friendly products in the cleaners, chemicals and fertilizers it uses, and adopting a policy ensuring new city buildings will meet green building standards,” says Jennifer Kirby, marketing and communications manager at the Southwest Washington CVB, adding that the city’s public transportation system is also ecologically conscious. “We are also very proud to have the first Hilton in the world to receive leed certification.”
Hilton Vancouver Washington and Vancouver Convention Center, which is currently applying for Green Seal Certification, offers 226 guest rooms, 30,000 square feet of meeting space and complimentary parking for guests driving hybrid vehicles. The complex was constructed in 2005 with numerous environmentally friendly features.
Another leed-certified meeting space is the 80,000-square-foot Firstenburg Community Center.
Water Resources Education Center overlooks the Columbia River and almost 50 acres of wildlife-rich wetlands. Groups can explore hands-on exhibits and learn how to be better stewards of the water supply. The center features nature-inspired art at the White Sturgeon Art Gallery, and wetland tours can be arranged. The center has a meeting room accommodating up to 180 people.
The Wenatchee Valley region expresses its passion for healthy ecology in part by creating eco-friendly energy alternatives. Its award-winning renewable energy program makes small-scale solar and wind power more cost-effective for customers. A fertile agricultural area, Wenatchee is also fostering a growing community of sustainable and organic farmers.
“We let our ‘green’ features speak for themselves,” says Roger Clute, executive director of the Wenatchee Valley CVB. “Wenatchee offers outdoor activities for all seasons as well as an emerging wine industry. We have seen groups come in and visit wineries by bike, which is a very green way to get around Wenatchee. In March 2007, Wenatchee was ranked as the fifth most eco-friendly city in the nation, according to a survey conducted by Country Home Magazine
Groups might enjoy a visit to Tiny’s Organic, a family-owned farm in East Wenatchee that offers free one-hour tours highlighting organic growing practices and green tips that visitors can use at home.
With one of the lowest carbon footprints per capita and more leed-certified buildings per capita than any other state, Oregon has worked hard to deserve its place near the top of the green ladder.
Portland’s goal is to establish itself as the leading destination for green meetings, and the city certainly has a lot to boast about.
“As a place known for its green spaces and proximity to natural wonders like the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood, Portland also is known as an incubator for progressive urban planning, environmentally conscious public policy and the sustainable development movement,” says Michael C. Smith, vice president of convention sales at the Portland Oregon Visitors Association. “Home to the most leed-certified buildings per capita in the nation, Portland is proud to offer meeting planners several options for eco-friendly meeting spaces, including the Oregon Convention Center and the Billy Frank Jr. Conference Center at the Ecotrust Building.”
The Oregon Convention Center, which already holds leed recognition for its expansion, has applied for leed certification for its entire 1 million-square-foot facility. Furthermore, the center purchases renewable energy through Pacific Power’s Blue Sky Block program. The convention center is also the first in the country to earn Salmon-Safe certification after proving its dedication to practices that safeguard waterways from pollution, including its rooftop Rain Garden.
Located at the Ecotrust Building, the Billy Frank Jr. Conference Center was the first restoration of a historic building to be awarded the leed Gold rating. Originally constructed as a warehouse in 1895, the respectful renovation of the building incorporated environmentally innovative materials and features such as an “eco-roof” that filters and absorbs rainwater.
Two Portland meetings hotels have earned Green Seal Lodging Certification: the Doubletree Hotel & Executive Meeting Center Portland–Lloyd Center and the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower, the state’s largest hotel.
The innovative Heathman Hotel was one of the first hotels in the city to complete energy efficiency upgrades and receive financial incentives from Energy Trust. The hotel offers a “Go Green” package, which donates $25 per package to the Portland-based nonprofit Friends of Trees to pay for the cost of planting a tree in the city. The Heathman restaurant is currently designing a composting program that will divert more than 128 tons of food from the landfill each year, offsetting an estimated one to three tons of carbon per ton of composted food.
A large number of Portland-based outfitters offer tour options focusing on eco-friendly or sustainable ideals. Included are Eco Tours of Oregon, featuring sightseeing tours of northwest Oregon and southwest Washington; Scappoose Bay Kayaking, offering kayaking tours; and Portland Bicycle Tour. Other options include excursions with Friends of the Columbia River Gorge or the Nature Conservancy.
One of the country’s top wine-producing states, Oregon is home to numerous sustainable and organic vineyards, and more than 75 percent of the state’s grapes are grown in the Willamette Valley, which stretches south of Portland down to the city of Eugene and brims with wineries.
Just south of the Willamette Valley near Eugene is King Estate, which boasts 465 acres of organic vineyards producing pinot noir, pinot gris and chardonnay, plus 30 acres of organic fruits, vegetables and flowers. With conference space for as many as 40, private dining rooms seating 25 and 45, respectively, and its 10,000-square-foot MarketPlace building, there are plenty of choices for meetings, many of them offering splendid views of the surrounding Lorane Valley. Groups can break up the schedule with a tasting event, a walking tour or a gourmet meal at King Estate Restaurant, which opened in 2006 and serves fresh, organic and locally produced foods.
On the Oregon coast, Coos Bay and the South Slough Estuary are their own special ecosystem, and well worth discovering.
“With 4,771 acres of open water channels, tidal and freshwater wetlands, and forested uplands, the South Slough Estuary is the ideal meeting place for those who want to be inspired by nature,” says Katherine Hoppe, director of promotions and conventions at Coos Bay–North Bend Tourism & Promotions Committee. “[Some of the] buildings have been recycled into new offerings, like our Post Office building that was turned into a museum, or the botanical gardens that once belonged to a timber baron but now belong to the state of Oregon so that everyone will be able to enjoy its beauty. But really it’s about getting out and exploring our hiking trails that wind along the cliffs of the coast, or viewing the marine life that we protect and give their own space.”
Wavecrest Discoveries specializes in educational and nature-based tours of the Coos Bay, North Bend and Charleston areas. Sights include crashing waves, natural rock formations, the occasional winter pod of whales, botanical gardens at Shore Acres State park, or seals and sea lions at Shell Island and Simpson Reef.
Partially covering several counties in northwestern Oregon, Tillamook State Forest is a young forest still recovering from a series of devastating fires in the 1930s and ’40s. After 72 million tree seedlings were planted by hand over the generations, the forest is slowly regaining its lush, beautiful and ecologically important health and providing a symbol of hope for other vulnerable natural treasures. Tillamook Forest Center was carefully and lovingly designed with green materials and sustainability in mind. Two combinable classrooms can welcome as many as 70 people. The Tillamook Burn Theater seats 60. The Forest Learning Shelter is capable of hosting 75.
The coastal community of Lincoln City may be quite small, but it packs a mean green punch and provides planners with plenty of unique group activities.
“Lincoln City has been designated by the EPA as a Green Power Community—the first on the coast,” says Sandy Pfaff, executive director of the Lincoln City Visitor and Convention Bureau.
Pacific Coast Center for Culinary Arts focuses on the culinary heritage of the Pacific Northwest as well as locally grown, seasonally fresh and minimally processed ingredients. The culinary center is committed to strengthening the connections between farmers, fishermen and the table. Meeting space and customized group classes are available.
Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, located north of Lincoln City, offers workshops on coastal ecology and natural arts such as woodcarving, printmaking and painting. The center offers four studios and several public gathering spaces.
Lee Gray, better known as the Wild Gourmet, leads groups on one-of-a-kind foraging tours in the Lincoln City area. Participants learn how to find edible berries and mushrooms in the forest, kelp and shellfish in tide pools and in general, a meal where most people would only have seen a photo opportunity. He incorporates recipes and rules for sustainable harvesting to protect the abundance and balance of nature.
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