Monday, 9 July 2012

Taking sustainable events a mile further in the Mile-High City

Last month, the Colorado Convention Center in Denver announced the creation of a new urban garden  that will provide 2,000 lbs of food per year to their on site caterer, Centerplate. This move is just the latest step in a multi-year effort to push this destination forward in providing a more integrated, sustainable event product. In this blog post Tiffany Hoambrecker, Associate Director, Convention Services for VISIT DENVER, shares her insights on the origins, current state and future direction of sustainable events for Denver, including what planners can do to help destinations go further.




What started Denver on the path to being a more sustainable event destination?

In 2005, Mayor John Hickenlooper committed Denver to reducing its emissions of greenhouse gases by 10 percent per capita by 2012 as part of the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement. He was one of the first 49 mayors to sign this historic document, which is now signed by over 1000 mayors. In order to reach this commitment, the Mayor created Greenprint Denver, Denver’s action plan for sustainability. A group of 33 civic, business and government leaders were appointed to form the Greenprint Advisory Council and study best practices from around the country that could help Denver reach its greenhouse gas reduction goal. The result of the Greenprint Advisory Council’s efforts was Denver’s first Climate Action Plan in October 2007. Since then, Greenprint Denver has begun implementing the many programs needed to reach the goals of the Climate Action Plan. Coloradoans have been eco-conscious for a long time, but Mayor Hickenlooper’s Greenprint initiative became the platform in which the City of Denver and Greenprint Denver can engage with City agencies and business leaders to provide services that allow for continued improvement in our quality of life. Since the inception of Greenprint Denver, Denver continues to be recognized nationally as a green destination, by both meeting planners and national sustainable organizations.

 How did you become involved and why is it important to you?

Greening the 2008 Democratic National Convention (DNC) was a major focus of the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC). The DNCC wanted the 2008 Convention to be the greenest political convention to date. I worked in partnership with the DNCC Green team to provide education to our local community members that were engaged with the DNC. In particular, I worked closely with the 94 convention hotels on their greening efforts. From that point forward, we realized that we needed a green champion within VISIT DENVER to act as a consultant to our meeting planners and to oversee the sustainable movement in Denver- so I raised my hand. In my personal life, I have always been mindful of the environment and my sustainable footprint. It seemed like a natural fit to also apply that passion to my professional life as well.  

Are there certain challenges and opportunities that you've prioritized for the destination to address in the area of sustainable events?

Overseeing the sustainability for VISIT DENVER is not my full-time job. One of my biggest challenges is just trying to keep up with what is going on in hospitality community, not only locally but globally. Becoming a member of the Green Meeting Industry Council has proved to be a very beneficial way to network both locally and globally with like-minded people.

Is there a certain sustainable event program you're particularly proud of at VISITDENVER? A convention service, product or case study?

One of the many legacies of the DNC was VISIT DENVER’s Travel and Event CO2 Emission Calculators. These calculators were designed to be simple to use for both the individual traveler as well as our meeting and event planners. Upon completing the calculators, the user is encouraged to make a donation to the Colorado Carbon Fund, an organization that helps support new energy efficiency and renewable energy projects geared toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Denver is also proud to be the 1st convention center in the United States to have a Full-Time Sustainable Programs Manager on staff to assist our meeting planners with their green events and to oversee and evaluate the internal practices of the Colorado Convention Center. Since the implementation of this position, several other convention centers in the United States have followed suit. Without this position, it’s likely that the Colorado Convention Center would not have been able to undergo the infrastructure changes to become a LEED Certified Building in Operations and Maintenance. Most recently, The Colorado Convention Center, in collaboration with exclusive caterer Centerplate, has taken local sustainability to the next level by creating fully operational, on-property farm. The Blue Bear Farm, will provide produce vegetables, herbs and honey for food service operation at the Colorado Convention Center and the Blue Bear Food Truck. This will be the largest scale garden operation for a convention center. The farm is yet another way in which the Colorado Convention Center is continuing to re-evaluate their sustainability practices and determine what they can do next to help drive business to Denver.
   

Event planners often have wish lists of what we would love destinations, hotels and venues to do for us to make greener events easier, which often ignores that planners could do things better too! What can planners do to better support your work to 'green' Denver?

Continue to ask! It goes back to basic economics- supply and demand. The more our meeting planners are asking for sustainable option, the more likely our venues and hotels are apt to start making some changes. Fortunately for Denver, many of our hotels and venues have already jumped on the sustainability bandwagon and have made some significant strides in their internal practices and continue to improve and build upon their existing sustainable practices. However, there is always room for improvement.  

You've been involved in the development of new green destination standards for quite some time. How do you anticipate things might change or Denver might be impacted by these standards now that they're in play?

 The APEX/ASTM standards are finally a way for meeting planners and suppliers to evaluate the different sectors on an even playing field. The challenge is awareness and implementation of the standards. More often than not, when I discuss the standards with either clients or our members, they are not aware of the standards. If a meeting planner was just starting to dip their toes into sustainability and wanted to use the standards as a guide, they could very easily get overwhelmed and intimidated by the standards. For those of us who are more familiar with the standards, its our job to help educate our planners and suppliers that they are not the bible for a green meeting but merely tools to help you look at your meeting from a different perspective and hopefully start to gradually incorporate some of the practices into your operation.  

Making sustainable choices is not easy. Lots of tradeoffs involved. How do you approach the greyer areas of sustainability where there isn't a perfect decision?

Sometimes you just have to weigh all of your options, look at what is most important to you and/or your client, focus those one or two aspects and do the best that you can with the assets you are dealing with. Nobody ever said sustainability was easy. It takes work but in the end, every little bit helps.  

Denver has been paying attention to this issue for a long time while other destinations are just starting the sustainability adventure. What's your advice to professionals in your field just starting to create a sustainability program for their destination?

Unfortunately, CVB’s don’t “own” anything. You rely on your City and your partners (venues, hotels, restaurants, transportation partners, etc.) to help sell your city as a green destination. They provide the menu, it’s your job to sell their products and bring clients to your destination. The most important thing is to make sure that your leadership is on board. Without their support and buy-in, you will constantly be facing brick walls. CVB’s are leaders and influencers of our members and/or partner organizations. Once your leadership determines that becoming a green destination is a brand pillar for your city, they will professional development for you and your local partners.

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