Assembly Spaces are Becoming Green Buildings' Biggest Fans

Aug. 22, 2011
Recognize that you can positively influence your operations and the habits of people who come into your unique facilities

When tens of thousands of people gather for a convention, trade show, concert, or sporting event, they have significant environmental impacts. However, this captive audience also provides a prime opportunity to educate businesses, tourists, and area residents about sustainable practices, and many owners of assembly spaces are recognizing that they can positively influence their operations and the habits of people who come to their facilities.

Assembly spaces fluctuate between extremes of zero activity to highly intensive use. Indeed, when they are performing at their best, they tend to draw on huge energy and water resources and create enormous waste. These unique facilities don’t fall into an ENERGY STAR Portfolio framework category, so they must benchmark their performances against their own historical records or conduct a comparative analysis of like facilities across the region. The International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) created a sustainability committee to help address this issue. IAVM is getting event venues to share their water, energy, and waste data so facility managers of assembly spaces can determine how their buildings stack up against their colleagues’ and set goals for improvements.

Exhibiting Best Practices
It might seem an obvious choice to implement wholesale change toward energy and water savings in venues with such intense demands, but greening an assembly venue can be a catch-22. The extremely high use of these facilities means that top performance is critical, making facility operators cautious about change. For example, when hundreds of guests are waiting in line to use the bathroom, toilets and urinals must operate at top capacity. One way to combat the uncertainty is to install a few high-efficient fixtures and monitor their performance in high-use situations rather than swap out all fixtures at once. This was the solution for the San Diego Convention Center (SDCC). Out of 26 restrooms targeted for renovation in the original convention center’s west wing, 4 were renovated on a test-case basis. SDCC also installed 1/8th gallon flush valves in every urinal throughout the convention center. Combined with the newer fixtures installed in a more recently built wing, the changes have resulted in a 21% water savings so far.

Further, SDCC upgraded its irrigation system with a new weather-based controller plus drip and bubbler watering systems to reduce its irrigation water use consumption by 43%. Three primary meters and 10 submeters help the staff track and manage irrigation, cooling tower make-up, and domestic water use.

Convention centers and sports venues are starting to upgrade their mechanical systems and lighting as well. Over the past 3 years, SDCC installed 3 high-efficiency centrifugal chillers and performed lighting upgrades in the Exhibit Hall, loading docks, corridors, and equipment storage areas for a total estimated annual energy savings of 5,500 MWhs. Replacing 1,209 metal halide high-bay fixtures with fluorescent fixtures that have high-lumen output, low-mercury content, and long lamp life reduced the weighted average mercury content to 34% lower than LEED EB: O&M standards.

Standing Out in the Crowd
The Oregon Convention Center (OCC) in Portland, OR, was one of the first convention centers in the nation to achieve LEED-EB certification. In 2007, OCC management developed the infrastructure necessary to make great strides in waste reduction. In addition to adding clearly marked recycling containers, OCC provided signage and education for the public and staff. In addition, management added contract language into leases and vendor agreements to ensure everyone using the facility adhered to its new recycling and waste management practices. In the 2007-2008 year, OCC’s average recycling rate was 44%. The center has since raised its average recycling rate to an astonishing 67%.

Through partnerships with local food shelters, the convention center donates leftover pre-consumer meals and other food items. OCC also composts pre- and post-consumer food waste, as well as compostable plates, coffee cups, flatware, barware, and food service paper towels to keep a significant amount of materials out of the landfill.

Convention centers and sports venues usually cover very large tracts of land, making sustainable site management essential. OCC reduced its heat island effect through landscaping and reflective roofing. Stormwater from its 5.5-acre roof is treated in a 2,000-square-foot vegetated infiltration basin that serves as an attractive onsite “raingarden.” The measures save OCC $15,600 in stormwater bills annually.

Other progressive OCC measures included established guidelines for green housekeeping and a continuous commissioning process to document building performance.

Making a Major Score
The rapid changes happen in the sports arena community are incredible. The Rose Garden arena in Portland, OR, (home to the Portland Trail Blazers) scored a first for major league sports facilities by achieving LEED-EB: O&M Gold certification in 2010. Some of the facility’s notable green practices include extensive sustainable purchasing, including compostable food and beverage serving containers and sourcing 50% of its food and beverage locally. The organization implemented energy efficiency projects saving over 2 million kWh’s in energy on an annual basis and installed low-flow plumbing fixtures. Nearly 40% of fans and employees use alternative travel, and the facility now has comprehensive recycling stations for visitors, including a food-waste composting program that helps divert more than 800 tons of waste annually. Management also purchases renewable energy for 100% of electricity and natural gas consumed for the 765,000 square-foot facility.

In March, the Green Sports Alliance launched to help sports teams, venues, and leagues improve their environmental performances. Members share best practices and environmental data, which allows Alliance members to exchange experiences and create meaningful, measurable goals across the international forum. The Alliance provides inspiration and a roadmap for teams and venues to reduce their environmental impacts. In facilities that have the potential to reach 20,000 – 50,000 people at each sporting event, visitors can walk away with concepts to implement in their daily lives if the green message is transparent and consistent.

Moving the Goal Line
One thing is clear: with the variety of industry leaders are serious about addressing their environmental impacts, you continually have to push for ongoing best practices and the goal line is never truly reached. Some green approaches haven’t yet made their way to assembly spaces. For example, with the tremendous amount of roof space assembly venues own, solar panels and green roofs seem like a natural fit but these features don’t yet pencil out. Donating a piece of the land for an urban garden would be a great way to give back to the community, but this idea hasn’t yet taken hold.

Nonetheless, assembly and sports venues are worthy of watching. Regardless of the type of facility you manage, step out of your own comfort zone and apply the principles to your professional arena. These landmark facilities are heightening their influence not just through their upgrades and operations but also through education and transparency. There are undoubtedly opportunities for you to do the same.

Elaine Aye, IIDA, LEED® AP O+M, BD+C and ID+C, is a principal at Green Building Services Inc. . She helps organizations throughout the U.S. achieve their green building objectives and create healthier working environments. Elaine can be reached at 866-743-4277 or [email protected].

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