Leveraging Sustainability in the Convention Industry

I bet you didn’t know that we are able to use a planet’s gravity as a slingshot to send things into space. It’s true. Spaceships regularly use Gravitational Assist in order to save fuel, time and expense on their journeys.

Although not orbital mechanics, we have noticed an interesting phenomenon of gravitational assist with our green building clients. Green building initiatives, the tactile environmental representations of sustainable principles that house their employees round-the-clock, can be used to launch strategic sustainability pursuits and integrate sustainability into corporate culture.

Pittsburgh’s David L Lawrence Convention Center exemplifies how a green building can provide a Gravitational Assist. Built in 2003, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center was the largest green building in the world, and the first LEED Gold Convention Center. It was constructed with public money, and received a $3 million dollar loan from the Heinz Endowments to cover its green design and construction features. evolveEA recently completed a holistic sustainability study of the DLCC that aimed to understand how well it was performing, what the returns were on the initial sustainability investment, and opportunities for improvement.

Owned by the Sports and Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, and managed by SMG, the facility successfully leveraged its green design into its corporate culture, operations, and marketing strategy. As a result, evolveEA has shown that this initial $3 million investment has paid for itself many times over, generating over $12 million dollars in revenue from “green seeking” events to the DLCC from 2006 to 2010 (38% of total), and more importantly $143 million in direct spending to the local businesses.

As a result of the green building, sustainability became a core and lucrative part of the DLCC brand. In addition to increased business, this same sustainability mindset, exemplified by the DLCC’s greenfirst (g1) program, has led to more sustainable operations.

energy savings of approximately 25 million kWh resulting in a reduction of over 19,000 tons of CO2 (2005-2010), over 24 milllion gallons of potable water saved (2008-2010), and over 785 tons of waste diverted from the landfill. Increasing business and improving environmental performance at the DLCC are not mutually exclusive, but synergistic goals.

Leveraging Sustainability Beyond the Building

If the DLCC was able to achieve such dramatic economic and environmental results by pursuing sustainability, imagine the impact that this same mindset could have on the region and its businesses. How much energy or water could they save—or–how much more economic growth could they generate?

The DLCC has a tremendous opportunity to further leverage the “gravity” of this recent study into increased business and improved environmental performance, not just internally, but within its local value chain of service providers. After all, the hotels, restaurants and other service providers that DLCC visitors patronize directly benefit from its commitment to sustainability—to the tune of $143 million–and account for a significant portion of each event’s environmental footprint. Given that destination (i.e. location of the facility), and sustainability of operations are key selling points for convention planners when choosing an event location, all stakeholders involved (i.e DLCC, Pittsburgh’s downtown businesses, event planners, and event attendees) stand to benefit from a robust network of local service providers that are able to deliver truly sustainable events and accommodations.

Leveraging Sustainability Beyond the Region

If the DLCC was able to achieve such dramatic economic and environmental results by pursuing sustainability, imagine the impact this same mindset could have on convention centers and their values chains around the country. How many tons of waste or CO2 emission could they reduce—or—how much money could they save?

As the first-mover in green building in the convention industry, the DLCC catalyzed a green building movement among convention centers. Since its inception, more than 20 have been LEED certified and over 50 are pursing certification. Now with this study, it has the opportunity to continue to pull the industry forward with its innovative approach and thought leadership. This study generated the most in-depth benchmarking database of convention center sustainability performance. Tracking and sharing this information on an ongoing basis represents a serious opportunity for the DLCC to not only understand and improve its operations, but to help other convention centers do the same.

Gravitational Assist = Faster Acceleration Toward Sustainability

evolveEA’s study of the DLCC shows how strong commitment to green building can launch effective organizational change that expands market share and profitability while improving the local environment and economy. It can serve as a model for members of DLCC’s local value chain and/or members of the convention industry as a whole to decrease their environmental impact while improving business. After all, who wouldn’t want to make more money faster, cheaper and with less effort.

Evolve EA