The program is varied and thorough: The convention center diverts nearly half of its waste away from landfills, enforces an anti-idling policy for trucks and buses and generates hundreds of thousands of megawatts solar power annually.
With a stated goal to make every convention a green one, Lindsay Arell has been the convention center's sustainable programs manager since she originated the industry-first position in 2007. She had previously worked as an event manager during the expansion, and saw the need for an internal champion for environmental policies.
Arell has since guided the facility to milestone after green milestone. The building has LEED Gold certification for an existing building as well as ASTM and ISO 140001 certifications. “We're the only city to have all three,” Arell says. “It's really because of how we operate the building.”
“I view the Colorado Convention Center and Denver as a leader in sustainability collaboration across a destination. VISIT DENVER, the CCC, Centerplate, the hotel community – they are all on the same page, making every meeting in Denver more efficient by design, and ready to push the envelope with planners who are up for the challenge.”
The Colorado Convention Center has five areas of sustainable initiatives: energy management, waste reduction and management, water quality and conservation, air quality, and community support.
The convention center's varied sustainable processes “have evolved over time,” Arell says, with an assist from the operations team. The 2008 Democratic National Convention was a watershed moment that helped cement a number of sustainable policies and practices. Then-mayor John Hickenlooper said “he wanted it to be the greenest convention in the history of conventions,” says Arell.
The second-level “reclaim room” is a unique feature. “We can recapture leftover conference materials and hold on to them until we find a nonprofit to donate them to,” says Arell. Notepads and pens, for example, go to education nonprofit Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT). “In the past, those materials would go to the landfill.”
The center's “Engine's Off!” anti-idling campaign tackled “a major issue in our industry,” says Arell. Idling trucks, buses and taxis pump a lot on carbon monoxide into the air around convention centers nationwide.
It has worked remarkably well: Before implementation, 80 percent of vehicles at the convention center idled at the building. That number is now down to 20 percent and the quality of the air is up.
The convention center's composting program operates in both the front and back of the house. The facility composted more than 160 tons of organic waste in 2014.
The cleaning supplies are likewise eco-conscious. “Over 90 percent of our cleaning supplies are Green Seal or equivalent,” says Arell.
The convention center's annual sustainability reports foster accountability and track a full slate of trends. The convention center, for example, recycled 411 tons of material in 2014 – up nearly 50 percent from 269 tons in 2010.
The Blue Bear Farm is another green feature of the Colorado Convention Center. The onsite 5,000-square-foot urban farm is the source of thousands of pounds of produce for Centerplate, the in-house catering operation. It doesn't get any more local than that.
Arell won a Convention Industry Council Pacesetter Award in 2014 for her environmental efforts.
But she says she can't do it all alone. “I'm lucky to have an engineering team who are focused on sustainability,” she says, citing a recent lighting retrofit. “We have to be really close partners.”