Canada’s convention centres are sustaining sustainability

Sustainability has become a huge issue in many areas these days and that is particularly true in the meetings industry. Here in Canada, there is not a single major convention centre that not only has an array of green operating practices in place but a selection of green meetings options available to clients who are organizing events in their facilities.

In fact, a recent study of convention centres world wide showed that more than 90 percent had implemented a full complement of sustainability polices and practices, and that many of these had been updated or enhanced within the last year.

However, that same study indicated that only about 10 percent of centres had seen environmental criteria actually specified as part of a bid request from their clients. This suggests a considerable difference between what is available and what is being asked for — a difference that represents an unrealized opportunity for the industry as a whole to demonstrate leadership in an area of genuine public concern. The question is, why the gap?

Certainly, a lot can be explained by the fact that this is still an evolving issue. Many organizations and corporations that hold events in these centres have environmental commitments, but in some cases these are yet to be converted into hard practices and expectations. Still others simply rate the importance of environmental issues below other decision factors such as cost or access and sustainability and therefore, it never gets to be a critical factor. However, there a few other reasons why centres may be ahead of the curve;

First, centres have several different audiences to satisfy. In addition to clients, many of whom are increasingly interested in organizing more sustainable events, centres also have to respond to the concerns of their respective communities. As a prominent feature of those communities, centres often draw a lot of attention when it comes to areas like sustainability, and this drives their interest in having demonstrable programs they can point to when the question is raised. For many, sustainability is an important part of a good community relations program and an opportunity to demonstrate again why this is a “benign” industry deserving of local support.

Secondly, major centres in Canada are most likely owned by some level of government, and again, this puts additional pressure on these facilities to demonstrate good practices in an area that politicians are increasingly seeing as important. A centre can be a great vehicle for implementing the kinds of practices that governments are trying to encourage in other parts of the community — in effect, a demonstration project that can establish model standards and practices for others to follow.

Third, sustainability is increasingly being “built in” to good design, which means we’re seeing a host of new and renovated centres that have a greater capability to sustain good environmental practices than ever before possible. State-of-the-art control systems, waste management systems and even on-site waste treatment are now literally imbedded in many new centres, giving them the ability to achieve higher levels of compliance with greater ease than would have been possible with the infrastructure available even a few years ago.

Finally, it often simply makes good economic sense. Operating costs are a big part of the financial equation for centres and things like energy conservation can more than return any system’s investment in the form of utility savings, particularly when this is done with the cooperation of clients. As more financial incentives (and disincentives) start to accumulate, this will only increase. For example, there are now communities that are creating significant incentives to recycle and penalties associated with waste disposal, which can be a very big financial consideration when you’re talking about the kinds of volumes a centre typically generates.

For clients, the upside of all this is the fact that they will increasingly be able to participate — and meet their own sustainability objectives — by simply choosing from an array of options available in their host centre.

Instead of having to design their own initiatives — along with the measures that are needed to demonstrate and document how effective these have been — a client in a centre with a well evolved sustainability program can simply select programs that are consistent with their objectives and then work with the centre to carry these out.

For all of the above reasons, Canada’s convention centres have become industry leaders in the area of sustainability. But this isn’t about competition, because in fact everyone has the same objective. Instead, it is one of those rare situations where all will benefit from whoever can set the stage for better practices. To the extent that centres can pave the way, it will help the entire industry in the long run — and demonstrate once again why this is an industry with an important future.

Rod Cameron is Executive-Director at Convention Centres of Canada

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