The concept of sustainability is used to represent several different ideas and notions as they relate to environmental conservation or consciousness. However, for the purposes of this article we will be referring to the concept of sustainability as defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development, 2 which defines sustainable as “Activities that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This definition implies a balance between economic, environmental, and social considerations, often referred to as the “Triple Bottom Line.”
For venue operators and meeting professionals, the current focus on green meetings is becoming increasingly apparent. Once referred to as a “throw away industry,” the meetings industry is experiencing a revolution as national, state, and city planners, as well as venue operators and meeting associations are acknowledging the importance of adopting sustainable practices. As a result of this shift and recognition, many facilities and planners have begun to implement actions to reduce their environmental impact. However, it seems that just as the practices of green building and sustainable operation and maintenance are increasing in popularity, so are the questions, misconceptions, and roadblocks. These may come in the form of lack of funds, unwillingness to change standard behaviors, or resistance from vendors. In my role as the Sustainable Programs Manager for the Colorado Convention Center, I have worked with many clients who would like to produce more sustainable events but feel overwhelmed with where to begin focusing their efforts. I have also worked with several facilities experiencing the same frustrations and roadblocks. Nevertheless, in the past few years, practices that were once seen as unreasonable are now viewed as standard, and more advanced practices are receiving serious consideration and implementation.
In this article, we will review the history of LEED for convention centers and initial practices; the importance of establishing a commitment to sustainable practices from top executives; areas of focus; metrics; and finally, the future of the industry including checklists for vendors and planners.