10 Venues Embracing Sustainability

Event sustainability is easiest where you can find a venue that is already responsibility-minded. So what to look for? In years past we might be satisfied with a basic paragraph in the event venue specs that confirms “recycling happens”. But today our expectations are evolving, urged on by those who are setting a new example for what it means to deliver leadership in event venue sustainability.

EMB_image_10venues embracing sustainability

This blog post proposes six things to look for that you won’t find on a typical green event venue checklist, and 10 global venues that are embracing these new ideals.

Management Systems Before Marketing Message

The sustainable event movement is growing up. Advanced practitioners have learned that marketing statements must be supported by sound management systems. Or else the risk of greenwashing is high. Today’s leading venues are therefore embracing standards like ISO 20121 and ISO 14001. These management system standards guide venues to take stock of their sustainability issues and set objectives that measure tangible progress toward things like better waste, carbon and water management. Good examples in practice include the ISO 14001 accredited Edinburgh International Convention Centre and ISO 20121 certified Marina Bay Sands.

Transparency in Reporting

Most event planners have experienced a green let-down or two, when claims about venue best practices are not backed up by performance onsite. Today’s leading venues not only share best practices, but publicly report progress against goals related to them. Good report examples include those shared by the Cape Town International Convention Centre and Amsterdam RAI, both of whom produce reports in accordance with the Global Reporting Initiative. Leading venues are also taking the added step to inform event planners of their singular impact through event footprint reporting, such as is offered by Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Operational Strategy Meets Product Development

Sustainability operations are traditionally the realm of building managers and engineers. Folks that are not always the first point-of-contact for planners who typically direct “green” requests to convention sales and services. This separation can sometimes impede sustainability adoption, education and partnerships. Savvy venues keen on sustainability have learned the value of translating technical and complex operational practices into convenient sustainable event solutions that are easy to say yes to. A favorite case in point for me: the Las Vegas Sands Corporation Eco 360 Program, which provides a planner toolkit of standard practices and easy-to-select additional options, such as food and beverage with a social enterprise focus and community volunteer programs.

These event sustainability products also hint at an important point: you can build and operate a green venue, but that does not guarantee a green event. It takes cooperation on the part of the planner too, to follow guidelines suggested by venue management. This challenges the assumption it is the planner who drives sustainability change. In my experience venues are equal and sometimes greater advocates in educating and encouraging sustainable choices and behavior change on the part of planners, who can also lead by taking steps to reduce waste, carbon and water use.

SANDS ECO 360 Sustainability Trailer

Social Responsibility Matters

Feeling a bit like your “green” event is paying myopic attention to environmental practices? More event professionals are seeking the stories and emotional connections that social responsibility and philanthropic efforts can create. Venues that focus on both environmental and social aspects differentiate themselves, and create richer opportunities for service, philanthropy and engagement. For example, get to know more about MGM Resorts’ diversity and inclusion, philanthropy and community engagement programs. Or take on the perspective an attendee relieved to be able to plan their experience at the (also green-rated) Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre through an easy online accessibility guide.

Independent Certification

Not a necessity of sustainability leadership, certification can sure help “put a cherry on top” of green venue accomplishments. It provides external reassurance that the venue has been independently verified to meet green building standards like LEED® or operational ratings like Green Key. Leading venues such as the Vancouver Convention Centre and Oregon Convention Center have earned high accolades, including Platinum LEED® certification. The presence of these certifications can provide a degree of assurance buildings operate efficiently and standard sustainable practices are in place. Helpful for an event planner who doesn’t have the time to verify everything themselves.

Responsiveness Trumps All

All of the above said, it is important to point out that certification, reports and sustainability management systems are no substitute for (but often a sign of) a venue operations team that is sincerely engaged in sustainability. In fact, I would argue that an older, less environmentally efficient building in a city with little sustainability infrastructure can lead where staff is open to deliver service and improve by saying “yes” to an event sustainability opportunity. So willingness to respond to continuous improvement opportunities presented by sustainability enables ANY venue to emerge as a leader, and break the business-as-usual mold.

In Conclusion

From their green roofs down to their black water treatment facilities, today’s leading event venues are not just great spaces for amazing experiences, they’re sustainable, too. Our list today is a starter, including 10 venues that are exceeding expectations, with many we’re sure we’ve missed. Who would you add?

About The Author
Shawna McKinley
Shawna McKinley is a sustainability specialist who believes in the power of events to make the world a better place. She helps eventprofs take practical, smart steps through zero waste and carbon conscious choices that generate social good, business value, and happy event participants. Read more on her blog, Eventcellany.
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