Greenbuild’s Sustainability Pledges - What’s Yours?

Nov. 1, 2018

Greenbuild, the world’s largest green building conference and expo, asks attendees to take a sustainability pledge as part of registering for the event. Suggesting concrete action items encourages attendees to make a personal investment in the show’s sustainability goals.

The world’s largest green building conference and expo is blazing another trail.

Greenbuild, which has spotlighted the latest and greatest in sustainable buildings since 2002, asks conference attendees to take a pledge promising to take at least three sustainable actions during the event.

The Nashville convention center displays this sign to tout its sustainable practices. Are you showcasing what your building is doing? - Credit: Lynne Pfister

The 2018 show in Chicago marks the second year that Greenbuild attendees have been asked to take a pledge.

McCormick Place, the host venue for Greenbuild 2018, was chosen because it’s LEED certified. So is the Field Museum, the site of the annual Greenbuild Celebration, a night of food, fun and cocktails.

Venues play a key role in both reinforcing pledge actions and generally encouraging visitors to adopt environmentally friendly habits while they’re traveling, notes Megan Magaña, senior marketing manager for Informa Exhibitions, which produces the event with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

[Related: 10 Tips for Green Building Certification]

“The list of pledge options serves as a gentle reminder that most definitely has a progressive effect on behavior,” Magaña says. “People really want to do the right thing. They want to be good stewards of the environment. However, when we travel or attend events, we are so busy that it can be hard to remember make the right choice. Having the pledge can reinforce that good behavior that people have already.”

Here's how your building can incorporate pledges and other public commitments to underscore your environmental accomplishments.

How to Structure Pledge Options

Greenbuild's pledge was inspired by a similar initiative that the American Chemical Society implemented at its annual events, Magaña says.

Greenbuild kept nearly 91 percent of its waste out of the landfill at its 2017 show in Boston.

The five pledge options at Greenbuild 2017 could apply equally to any city, but the nine best practices for 2018 are full of local color, such as using Divvy bike rentals or CTA trains and buses to get around the city rather than a general request to reduce carbon emissions.

The Chicago-specific items were suggested by the Illinois Green Alliance, Greenbuild’s local host partner organization for this year’s event. Registrants this year chose from:

  • Use low carbon transportation like bicycles (Divvy) or trains and buses (CTA) and if I must use Uber/Lyft/Taxi, I will carpool.
  • Consider staying at a Certified Green Hotel in Chicago.
  • Use the linen and towel reuse program at my hotel and turn off lights when I leave my hotel room.
  • Bring my reusable water bottle/coffee mug and reusable bag with me (and avoid the City of Chicago plastic bag tax).
  • Responsibly dispose of waste materials by recycling or composting at the convention center, at my hotels, and at the outdoor Bigbelly recycling stations around the city.
  • Download and use the mobile app instead of the printed Expo Guide for Greenbuild.
  • Choose sustainable, local or organic food whenever possible when dining out during the event, and in true Chicago style, I will not put ketchup on my hot dog and I will only eat pizza in square form.
  • When I drink beer, I will choose Illinois draft beer over cans (preferable) or bottles (less preferable).
  • Learn about the importance of water in Chicago by visiting the Chicago Water Tower, Riverwalk or a lakefront beach.

Bringing a reusable water bottle emerged as the most popular choice, with responsibly disposing of waste and using low-carbon transportation in a tie for second.

Water stations throughout host venue McCormick Place will provide ample opportunities to refill reusable bottles, Magaña notes, and Greenbuild organizers are excited to beat last year’s record 90.5 percent waste diversion rate.

“When our attendees and exhibitors are at home, they have great habits and routines for a more sustainable lifestyle. They’re recycling, they’re using reusable water bottles, and making responsible food choices. That shouldn’t change because they’re on-site at the event,” explains Magaña.

Meetings Today contributor and Buildings’ senior staff writer Janelle Penny pledged to take these three actions at Greenbuild 2018:

1. Consider staying at a Certified Green Hotel in Chicago.

2. Use the linen and towel reuse program at my hotel and turn off lights when I leave my hotel room.

3. Bring my reusable water bottle/coffee mug and reusable bag with me (and avoid the City of Chicago plastic bag tax).

“Our hope is that this gentle reminder and interactive opportunity on-site shows attendees that Greenbuild acknowledges their efforts at home and supports the effort it takes to make sustainable choices while traveling,” she says.

How to do this in your building: Locally inspired pledge options feel more relatable to people who are on-site and encourage locals to take ownership. Partner with your local USGBC chapter or another environmental advocacy organization that's familiar with your area to develop pledge options that are interesting, colorful and most importantly, accessible. Set the bar high enough to challenge people to change their behavior, but not so high that they'll give up. Also, make sure that your facility accommodates the actions you're asking people to take. For example, if you ask people to utilize reusable water bottles like Greenbuild did, ensure that there are plenty of well-labeled, centrally located places to fill those bottles.

Make it Easy to Engage

Partner with event organizers to highlight your facility’s existing sustainability bona fides and find ways to improve. At Greenbuild, for instance, waste is “a big conversation,” according to Kate Hurst, senior vice president of conferences and events for USGBC.

“People really want to do the right thing. They want to be good stewards of the environment. However, when we travel or attend events, we are so busy that it can be hard to remember make the right choice. Having the pledge can reinforce that good behavior that people have already.” - Megan Magaña

The waste diversion component of the event’s sustainability plan is refined over the course of most of a year with the help of the venue hosting the next Greenbuild and includes “all the different types of waste that will touch the Greenbuild expo floor and our breakout sessions,” Hurst explains.

Make it easy for attendees to sort their trash with distinctive, clearly labeled bins. Cardboard dispensers mean the receptacles themselves can be recycled after the event.

That includes leftover conference materials that vendors and exhibitors leave behind after the end of the event. It isn’t waste, but without a good disposal plan, it may end up in the landfill. Hurst suggests developing a venue donation program that conference organizers can utilize.

[On topic: Zero Waste Tips for Event Venues]

“Find a good resource to give abandoned materials to, whether they’re TVs or audiovisual equipment or building materials,” Hurst says. “Last year, Greenbuild donated more than 25,000 pounds of material, including cement blocks, flooring, carpet, floor tiles and wood. Shows with international exhibitors have even more left over because international exhibitors tend to buy their equipment wherever they’re exhibiting and then leave it because it’s cheaper than shipping it home.”

Sit down with clients who are considering renting your space to see where your goals and theirs overlap. For example, Greenbuild increasingly chooses venues that are already LEED-certified because the designation demonstrates a baseline of energy and water efficiency. On-site catering services are another possible place to find common ground.

“Food and beverages also play a very important role,” explains Hurst. “We like to source local or organic food for Greenbuild whenever possible, as well as local or organic beverages and beer and wine for the receptions.”

How to do this in your building: Completing a building certification, such as LEED, helps create a common ground for discussing resource efficiency. However, some aspects of renting out your building won't be covered by a certification program. Make it easy for potential clients by developing a customized facility services plan that covers the entire lifecycle of an event, from how you plan to minimize paper waste during badge printing to how you'll dispose of abandoned materials after the event closes. Make this plan available to anyone who rents out your facility and work with them to further tweak it to each event's needs. Include sustainability information for any third-party partners who have space in your building and/or participate in events - for example, how your food service vendors source ingredients and dinnerware.

Hurst recommends working with meeting planners to make it as easy as possible for attendees to make good decisions that align with event and venue goals. In Greenbuild’s case, each annual expo requires reviewing the event sustainability plan to customize it to local needs and resources and improve on best practices based on previous experience.

Greenbuild partners with colleges in its host cities to staff recycling areas with waste diversion advocates. Students agree to volunteer for eight hours in exchange for a conference pass.

“Every year we’ve built on the sustainability plan and added additional components. Start small and build,” Hurst says. “You can’t do everything the first year out, and it takes a lot of time and planning. Every little bit helps.”

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About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with a special emphasis on covering facilities management. She aims to deliver practical, actionable content for facilities professionals.

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