Natural Choices

Why these 20 cities and their convention facilities are among North America’s greenest

Lynn Valley in North Vancouver


For extra-special events:
Verdant Lynn Valley in
North Vancouver

It only stands to reason that an organization with eco-friendly aspirations should be able to meet in a city that shares those goals. Here, then, we present 20 cities in the United States and Canada that are doing their part to host green conventions by providing renewable energy, intelligent recycling programs, transportation that minimizes usage of fossil fuels, and a whole lot of parkland.

1. Portland, Ore.

With 166 miles of trails and 37,000 acres of parkland, Portland is as green in color as it is in reputation. But it’s not just the great outdoors that gives the city bragging rights. For example, Portland offers more than 246 miles of developed bikeways and the Airport MAX light-rail, which was the first train-to-plane transportation option on the West Coast. The Portland Streetcar, inaugurated in 2001 to help decrease traffic congestion and air pollution, is green in both age and impact.

Portland also is a leader in sustainable building practices: For example, it has the most LEED-certified buildings per capita in the nation (for a description of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, see “Green Parade”). The Oregon Convention Center, which is one of only two LEED-approved convention facilities in the country (the other is in Pittsburgh), recently created a Rain Garden that collects storm water from the roof and filters it through a system of rock terraces, pools and soil to help prevent pollutants from reaching the Willamette River.

Portland also has several eco-friendly hotels, with the 476-room Doubletree Hotel & Executive Meeting Center leading the pack. The only official Green Seal-certified property (meaning it’s environmentally proactive on everything from coffee filters to air chillers) in Oregon, the Doubletree offers an in-room recycling program, uses water- and energy-saving equipment, donates leftover food to a local shelter and composts what can’t be donated.

“While some of these green policies initially had a significant cost, overall we are enjoying savings based on our sustainable efforts,” notes Steve Faulstick, general manager.

According to Tracy Marks, general manager of the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower, which is moving toward a Green Seal, “As more Portland hotels become green-certified, we believe the entire city will recognize an uptick in business, particularly among groups equally concerned with the environment.”

San Francisco


San Francisco:
Solar panels atop
the Moscone Center

2. San Francisco

A very active Department of the Environment, combined with citizens and legislators concerned about humanity’s effect on the world, makes San Francisco an exceptionally green city, one unmatched in its recycling programs.

The hotels play a big part in the city’s eco-savviness. Kimpton’s Hotel Triton, for example, set the original standard in 2004 for the California Green Lodging Program, an effort to convince state employees to stay in eco-friendly hotels. The hotel now offers a number of “eco-suites”; 10 percent of its room rental is donated to an environment-saving charity. Perhaps more impressive is the state’s first LEED-certified property, the 86-room Orchard Garden Hotel, which opened in June. The hotel uses all-natural cleaning products, recycled paper and a system in which lights and heating/air conditioning shut off when guests leave the room. And, of course, the place is smoke-free.

The city’s convention center, the Moscone Center, has perhaps the most comprehensive recycling program of any stateside convention venue. In 1997, state law mandated that communities reduce the amount of landfill waste by half; immediately, management of the Moscone Center took action, above and beyond what was required. “We did it because it made sense, and because it was the right thing,” says Julie Burford, assistant general manager, “and we were convinced that we could save money for our clients.”

Since the program’s inception, the amount of garbage sent to the landfill has decreased by 75 percent by volume and 50 percent by weight. Much of what used to be waste is now donated to homeless shelters, nonprofit associations and schools.

As icing on the cake, in 2004, the city voted to install 60,000 square feet of solar panels on the roof of the Moscone Center, a display that generates enough power for 550 homes and will pay for itself by the end of 2012.



Seattle: Tops in LEED certifications

The Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification is a voluntary program that provides standards for eco-friendly building design, construction and operations. Depending on how green the building is, the certification given can be Platinum, Gold, Silver or simply Certified, which is still no easy feat. Here are 10 cities (nine in the States, one Canadian) with the most LEED-certified buildings. The number of projects in the pipeline are in parentheses. -- J.V.

Seattle 19 (75)

Portland, Ore. 15 (84)

Pittsburgh 13 (38)

Atlanta 13 (59)

Chicago 8 (90)

Grand Rapids, Mich. 8 (47)

Washington, D.C. 6 (66)

Vancouver, B.C. 6 (11)

San Francisco 6 (39)

Durham, N.C. 5 (20)

Source: U.S. Green Building Council rankings, April 25, 2006

3. Pittsburgh

In the first half of the 20th century, Pittsburgh was blanketed in smog. After the local steel industry collapsed in the 1970s and ’80s, a major effort was undertaken to clean things up. Today, the city is one of the greenest in the country.

Pittsburgh helped jumpstart the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification, and it currently has the third-most LEED-certified buildings in the country, with 13, and many more under construction.

The city’s crown jewel of environmental design is the LEED Gold-certified David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The venue is built like a suspension bridge, supported almost entirely by 60 cables, and has 313,400 square feet of exhibit space. Much of the structure, including the main exhibit hall, is bathed in natural light, which saves money on electricity and heating costs and permits a gorgeous view of the Allegheny River from all of the prefunction space.

Local hotels do their part, too, by changing sheets every third day, according to guest preference, and with lights and air conditioning that automatically shut off when guests leave the room.

4. Vancouver, B.C.

Looking forward to the 2010 Olympics, Vancouver has ensured that LEED design principles will be applied to all new Games facilities, and existing venues will be made more energy efficient. In addition, every Olympic venue will have recycling facilities. As part of its environmental strategy, the city is highlighting its public transport: The Games will tie event tickets to transit use, with no spectator parking available at Games venues.

At present, the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre is gearing up for a major expansion that will triple its event capacity prior to the arrival of the Games. The addition will include Canada’s largest “living roof,” meaning that there will be more than 400,000 plants and wild grasses living on the structure.

The expanded VCEC also will come equipped with a system to treat 100 percent of the wastewater produced in the building, which will then be used to irrigate the living roof. Finally, the center also plans to create a new fish habitat on the side of the expansion next to Burrard Inlet.

Minneapolis skyline


Downtown named
a top business
district by the EPA

5. Minneapolis

Besides its reputation as the most fun city in the nation (according to a recent poll by Money magazine), Minneapolis also can claim to be one of the greenest, as it was named one of the top business districts in the nation by the Environmental Protection Agency. Part of this is probably due to the more than 60 percent of downtown workers who use public or alternative transportation.

But the city is also known for its recent push to improve sustainability. Since receiving a grant from Hennepin County to increase the amount of materials recycled, the Minneapolis Convention Center is looking into several projects, including purchasing a cardboard baler, installing a computerized “waste view” system to make sure trash compactors are full when hauled away, and diverting materials such as scrap wood and metal from landfills via separate recycle streams. The MCC also donates leftover food to a local hog farm.

The new Minneapolis Public Library is doing its part with an impressive 18,560-square-foot living roof that reduces storm water runoff, conserves energy by reducing cooling and heading loads, and improves downtown air quality.

Builders of the proposed new Minnesota Twins stadium plan to pursue LEED certification, due to Senate-approved legislation stating such certification must be pursued as long as the ballpark obtains enough grant money to cover the cost. If achieved, this would give Minnesota the distinction of having the first LEED-certified major-league ballpark in the country. Although still in the early stages, one unique feature of the plan is to take advantage of the nearby Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, which uses mass-burn technology to convert garbage into electricity. HERC would be able to heat the stadium while also disposing of the its trash.

Melbourne, Australia


Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre

Cities overseas often uphold more rigorous standards of environmental protection. Here is a taste of what a few of our foreign counterparts are doing for the planet.

The Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre began working this spring toward environmental sustainability, with the ultimate goal of achieving the Green Globe 21 standard, awarded for sustainable travel and tourism by Turner, Australia-based Green Globe. First steps have been to encourage recycling and reduce the use of artificial light.

Melbourne, Australia’s planned 5,000-seat theater (called a “convention centre”), to open in 2009 next to the Melbourne Exhibition Centre, will be a six-star energy rated facility (the most efficient possible) and will heat its water with solar power.

The Edinburgh International Conference Centre has won awards in 2005 and 2006 from VisitScotland for its green practices. EICC management works with meeting planners to reduce waste and energy consumption. Also, local organic foods are served at banquets, and cleaning products are eco-friendly. -- J.V.

6. Toronto

Toronto has several eco-friendly meeting facilities to its name. The first is the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, which has a 300,000-square-foot green roof and was the first facility to be on Enwave Energy Corp.’s Deep Lake Water Cooling System, creating natural air conditioning from Lake Ontario.

The Fairmont Royal York, a popular meeting spot, has blue recycling boxes in all 1,365 guest rooms, meeting facilities and offices. The hotel also participates in the Bag-a-Cork recycling program, which will keep more than 50,000 wine corks out of landfill this year.

7. Boston

The Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Conventions (CERC) made a huge push to green the city before the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and many of those reforms, including recycling programs at the city’s convention centers, are still in place.

Daniel Ruben, executive director of Boston Green Tourism (what CERC evolved into), is working with 23 area hotels to bring them up to Green Seal or Energy Star certification. Ruben also has compiled a list of eco-friendly tourist and convention services, such as hybrid-car transportation companies and environmentally responsible restaurants. “We have a clean harbor, and we’re America’s Walking City,” says Ruben, “We thought, if we could get the green services to go along with this, we could attract some conventions and tourist dollars we’re not now getting.”

8. Salt Lake City

Utah’s capital is not only a haven for outdoor activity -- and the biannual Outdoor Retailer megashow -- it’s also becoming cleaner by the day. The Salt Lake City Green program is a multipronged effort that includes transportation, waste, buildings and open space. As examples, hybrid cars get free parking at city meters, 4 percent of residents use renewable wind power and all traffic lights are being converted to energy-saving status. As a result of this initiative, Salt Lake City was selected from 400 cities for the World Leadership Awards’ 2005 environmental award.

9. Boulder, Colo.

Nearby Denver is a great example of an environmentally conscious city, but we give the award to Boulder for its recent “Zero Waste or Darn Near” resolution. Currently, 15 percent of Boulder’s residents and businesses purchase green power. As for its hotels, the 162-room Outlook Hotel epitomizes Boulder’s waste-free policy by buying recycled in-room paper products, using corn starch-based compostable cups and straws in its restaurant, and adopting voluntary water conservation throughout the hotel.

10. New York City

It helps that most Big Apple residents don’t have cars, opting to walk or use public transportation instead. Recent legislation promises the introduction of hybrid taxis, and a number of alternative-fuel buses already troll the streets. In addition, a new law requires newly built municipal buildings to be sustainable. The first office tower to rise from Ground Zero, 7 World Trade Center, has earned Gold status in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program, and developer Larry Silverstein plans to make the others green as they are built.

Austin, Texas


Austin: Tough
standards for
the greenest city
in Texas

11. Austin, Texas

In 2000, the city council passed a law requiring all municipal buildings to meet the U.S. Green Building LEED Silver rating, solidifying Austin’s reputation as the greenest Texan city. Also, the 96-room Habitat Suites, arguably the greenest hotel in town, has taken measures to enhance air quality, energy efficiency, recycling and more. The property maintains its grounds with natural nontoxic fertilizers and also uses recycled paper products.

12. Fort Collins, Colo.

The Sierra Club named this university town one of the country’s four most sustainable cities last fall (along with Austin, Chicago and Portland, Ore.), because of the bold strides it has taken to promote energy efficiency. In addition, the city has been using LEED’s Silver guidelines for municipal buildings since 2004, and a few major private buildings are pursuing the certification as well.



The garden on
the roof of
City Hall

13. Chicago

The Windy City has aimed to improve sustainability since 2000 with a major effort to switch over to renewable energy sources and a requirement that all new and renovated city buildings are LEED-certified. Chicago also gives a monetary incentive to residents and businesses for building “green” roofs. There’s an enormous rooftop garden on City Hall, and another coming with the expansion of McCormick Place, the city’s convention center, scheduled to debut in fall 2007.

14. Honolulu

The Hawaii Convention Center has taken several steps to integrate recycling into all aspects of operations. It has a computer-based system that controls lighting and air conditioning. The kitchen uses an innovative recycled water process, which filters off any solid material and pre-rinses before running the dishwasher, to prevent having to run several dishwashing cycles. Leftover food waste is sent to a hog farm on Oahu’s coast. There is even a sail on the roof that brings cooling Hawaiian trade winds into the building.

15. Madison, Wis.

In 2006, the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau partnered with the new Travel Green Wisconsin program to encourage hospitality-related businesses to go green. In addition, Madison’s brand new Overture Center for the Arts was chosen as one of the leading projects in Wisconsin for sustainable design. During construction, the expansive building has recycled or reused a projected total of 5,395 tons of fixtures, furniture, stone, metal, concrete, carpeting and ceiling tiles. The performance center can accommodate up to 3,000 people for events.

16. Seattle

With 19 LEED-certified projects under its belt, Seattle can lay claim to the most green buildings of any city in the United States. The city also is the U.S. home of the Oceans Blue Foundation, dedicated to preserving coastal ecosystems around the world by teaching environmentally responsible tourism.

On the hotel side, the 450-room Fairmont Olympic Hotel brings guests into Puget Sound for eco-education and whale-watching expeditions, and the property donates to local environmental organizations.

17. Spokane, Wash.

The Spokane Convention Center, which was originally constructed to host the first environmentally focused World’s Fair in 1974, is undergoing an expansion. A new 100,000-square-foot exhibit hall, opening in 2007, is expected to be LEED-certified. Its green measures include the use of recycled materials in construction, the removal of contaminated soil from the site and the use of hydropower to run the building.

18. Burlington, Vt.

Not only do the city’s meeting hotels make a special effort to reduce their footprint on the environment, residents’ efforts to keep Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains clean, as well as the plethora of organic food available, conspire to earn Burlington a spot.

19. Sacramento, Calif.

As of this year, all events that the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau has booked at the Sacramento Convention Center have been certified green. That means the bureau has purchased enough renewable energy to power all the groups’ energy needs during their use of the convention facility. Furthermore, it’s not called the City of Trees for nothing.

20. Baltimore

This spring, the city announced an effort to double the tree cover of the city, to 40 percent. Also, guidelines are circulating that will offer tax credits and reduced fees to developers who build LEED-certified structures.

Is your town working to conserve resources? Send us a letter about such programs (, and we’ll print responses in a future issue.

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