Atlantic Cities

Redefining Convention: The Greening of the Moscone Center

What do software engineers, Anime fans, car enthusiasts, and brides-to-be have in common? It’s likely that they’ve all visited a convention center for an expo, conference, or show. Regardless of where in the world their convention took place, what they may not realize is that everything from the banners they see to the lavish displays they enter to the very carpet they’re standing on may end up in a landfill. 

By some estimates, the events sector produces more pollution and waste than the construction and demolition industry. Besides the obvious trinkets and plastic bottles, a single conference with 18,000 participants can generate as much as 1.5 tons of food waste; seven tons of discarded paper; thousands of tons of greenhouse gas emissions from air and ground transportation; and forklifts-ful of wood laminate flooring, Foamcore displays, and even kitchen fixtures. Not so at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, which has adopted a sustainable business model to reduce pollution and repurpose leftover convention materials. 
The convention center has won recognition for its green practices over the past decade, including the 2009 Environmental Achievement Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). More recently, the Moscone Center became the first convention center on the West Coast to receive LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The convention center earned this certification in October for applying measurable practices to conserve water, improve indoor air quality, and demonstrate sustainable site development and energy efficiency. 
Most of the Moscone Center’s environmentally friendly practices are not new—solar energy, recycling. The secret to the success of their sustainability model is that it has incorporated various measures companywide and rigorously. If this strategy were applied to convention centers and events venues around the world, the reduction in waste and CO2 emissions would be staggering.
At the Moscone Center nearly 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions are displaced each year, thanks to the convention center’s 60,000 square-foot rooftop solar generator—one of the largest in the country, producing enough energy to power nearly 600 homes. 
Adopting a simple yet effective recycling program has resulted in about 2 million pounds of plastic bags, brochures, pallets, banners, and apparel being recycled annually by the Moscone Center. Each conference manager receives stickers prior to the dismantling of an exhibit so that they can easily label any leftover items as either “Donation” or “Recycling.”  Thirteen percent of recyclable materials are donated to local charities. In addition, the Center and its catering company, SAVOR, partner with various nonprofit organizations to donate excess meals such as boxed lunches and produce.
Dick Shaff, vice president and general manager of the Moscone Center, noted that the key to a successful recycling program is buy-in from all stakeholders. “It starts with top management and it runs throughout all levels of the organization,” Shaff said. “If it isn’t driven from the top, it’s never going to be adopted throughout.” 
The impact of the Moscone Center’s sustainability efforts extends well beyond San Francisco. U.S. Green Building Council president, CEO, and founding chair Rick Fedrizzi summarized it best when he stated, “The Moscone Center project efficiently uses our natural resources and makes an immediate, positive impact on our planet, which will tremendously benefit generations to come.”

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