Go to [Green] Meeting?

By Annabelle Mathis
Engineering Analyst
Sustainable Investment Group (SIG)

photo of businesspeople in a row at a conference clapping

Currently, the modern events industry is one of the most wasteful sectors in the country, due to the massive environmental footprint from air travel, food waste, and more. Because of this, meeting planners and show managers are looking for ways to minimize their impact, such as using LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) certified venues, and often include a sustainability plan in their RFPs (requests for proposal). Though some venues may not have achieved LEED certification, many still use LEED as a guiding principle for best practices in sustainability.

Convention centers have the opportunity to significantly decrease energy/water usage and divert tons of waste, especially during conference events. With correct planning and the implementation of green operating policies, these large-scale events can significantly reduce their negative environmental impact. In many ways, economic and environmental sustainability go together; owners save money when their building is operating optimally. Not to mention, a LEED-certified event space can attract more clients as concern for environmental impact continues to grow across the country.

What is LEED?

image of overlapping LEED sealsThe U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED green building program is a consensus-based rating system designed to recognize high-performance design and operations of buildings. LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building, home, or community was designed or operates using strategies aimed at achieving high performance in key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. LEED certification is based on 9 prerequisites and 110 points and offers four levels of achievement.

Learn more about LEED.

What has SIG done?

Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) 

Located in downtown Atlanta, the GWCC opened in 1976 with a total of 750,000 square feet. It went through four phases of construction and was completed in 2002 with a total of 3.9 million square feet. It is owned and operated by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA). In 2014, it achieved LEED Silver level certification. In 2017, it was recertified in 2017 and awarded LEED Gold, making it the largest convention center in the world to achieve this status.

Highlights of the project include:

  • Minimum 39% savings on energy utilities
  • 32% water use reduction
  • 6 MW of solar panels on the campus generate enough electricity to power 160 homes in Georgia annually
  • 48% reduction in traditional commuting
  • Diverted 14 million pounds of waste since 2010

For more information on SIG’s involvement, please click here (https://sigearth.com/georgia-world-congress-center/)

Savannah International Trade and Convention Center (SITCC)

Built in 2000, the SITCC is a 376,724 square foot complex on the Savannah River right across from downtown Savannah. It is owned and managed by the GWCCA and its sister site is the GWCC in Atlanta. In 2017, it achieved LEED Gold level certification for Existing Buildings by the USGBC, making it the first convention center in Georgia to do so.
Highlights of the project include:

  • 41% of building occupants commute alternatively to the building
  • 32% water use reduction
  • ENERGY STAR equivalent score of 77
  • 100% of energy usage for 2017 and 2018 is offset by Renewable Energy Certificates (wind power offsets)
  • For recent carpet & ceiling tile replacement, 99% of materials purchased (by cost) met sustainability criteria (recycled content and low-chemical materials), and 81% of debris generated during the work was diverted from the landfill and recycled
  • 94% of janitorial cleaning and paper products purchased meet sustainable criteria
  • Average mercury content of lamps in the building is 84.25 picograms per lumen hour


Achieving LEED certification for a convention center is no easy feat. The same scoring system is used for hospitality venues as is used for any other commercial buildings; however, there are a few key differences that must be considered for convention centers and other event spaces:

  1. Sheer Size: GWCC was the 14th largest LEED-certified project ever in 2014 and the largest building certified that year at 3.92 million square feet. In addition, in these types of buildings there is a wide-variety of space-types and larger number of ventilation systems, which complicates documentation and tracking across all areas during LEED. To achieve many of the LEED prerequisites and credits, building performance is compared to a baseline. However, as convention centers, exhibit venues, and stadiums vary so much that this can be difficult to find. Proving improvement in categories over the course of previous years has been one technique SIG used to overcome this obstacle.
  1. Occupancy Patterns: Occupancy of the building depends largely on when events are being held. The building could be occupied by only a few hundred people on non-event days, while on event days there could be thousands. In comparison, most commercial office buildings have consistent occupancy patterns based on full-time employees and traditional work hours. These extreme occupancy patterns can be challenging when it comes to managing energy and indoor air quality performance and indoor water usage, which are key prerequisites for LEED certification. For example, with IEQp1: Minimum Indoor Air Quality Performance, as occupancy changes or even just the type of event being held, the required outdoor air intake required can be affected.

Hometown Pride

Atlanta, where SIG is headquartered, is emerging as a leader in the sustainable events industry and features America’s greenest concentration of diverse event spaces and attractions, including the following:

  • GWCC: LEED Gold
  • Mercedes Benz Stadium: LEED Platinum
  • College Football Hall of Fame: LEED Silver
  • Philips Arena: LEED Certified
  • World of Coca-Cola: LEED Gold
  • National Center for Civil and Human Rights: LEED Gold
  • Centennial Olympic Park: 21-acre urban greenspace

This eco-hub is unified by the GWCCA’s 220-acre campus downtown and attracts a variety of audiences, tourists and locals alike. In 2019, the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo will be held at the GWCC, the Super Bowl at Mercedes Benz, and in 2020, the Men’s Final Four at Philips Arena. Atlanta is setting a precedent in environmental sustainability for other cities to follow and receiving its due recognition.

portrait of Tim TrefzerSpecial thanks to Timothy Trefzer, Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility for the GWCCA, for providing insight into the GWCC LEED certification process and the green meeting industry.


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