Green Convening

A brief look at the eco-friendly design and practices of British Columbia’s Vancouver Convention Centre.

I recently attended a medical conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. Normally, I dread a convention like this because the buildings are cold and lack natural lighting. The food available is usually awful and there’s no recycling available for the multitude of water bottles I go through from all of the dry air. But, Oh Canada! To my amazement, this one was different.

This meeting took place in the new Vancouver Convention Centre that sits on the waterfront of downtown. Standing on land and looking out, you see the beautiful harbor with the bike trail running along the coast. Then, looking up, you see the strata of deep green conifers. Looking further skyward, your eye rises high to meet the snow-covered peaks of the Pacific Northwest’s mountains. It’s breath-taking scenery. Remember that commercial for BC that Steve Nash was in during the Olympic games? That wasn’t a fake backdrop – Vancouver really does look like that.

I digress. Since the center was built recently, in this climate of “go green,” much care went into designing an environmentally conscious space that incorporates sustainable practices. Very different from the 1970’s poured concrete buildings in which these events are usually held, the modern eco-friendly convention center is one of the greenest in the world. The West building is the first in the world to earn the highest LEED rating. My brother is an engineer and went through LEED training and explained a bit about the certification to me. The acronym stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.” Pretty cool for this massive (1.2 million square feet), gorgeous structure to receive such certification. (Additionally, the East building, the 2nd of the two buildings, is currently seeking LEED certification.)

Considering that the building was built 60% on land and 40% over water, I had to assume that they have some type of design that is sensitive to the marine system that the building hovers above. Turns out they do. On the website, they report that the West building “features a unique marine habitat” (apparently fish habitat was built into the building foundations) and includes a sophisticated drainage and water recovery system, as well as a seawater heating and cooling system, and even on-site water treatment.

One of my favorite elements is the six-acre living roof of the convention center, which is the largest green roof in Canada. Home to more than 400,000 indigenous plants and 4 beehives. (I wonder if someone harvests the honey?), the roof also recovers rainwater for irrigation. Beyond the practical purposes, green roofs are just so awesome looking. They help a monstrous structure blend into the scenery.

Another feature that really got me excited was the waste system. First of all, the bathrooms have low-flow toilets that utilize non-potable water. Such a great idea. I’m always mystified by the fact that the water we flush with is potable. Also, outside of each conference room is the coolest waste bin – it has a bucket for trash, recycling, and COMPOSTING. I’ve never seen a composting receptacle in a building like this before.  The center recycles an average of 180,000 kilograms of materials annually – nearly half of the total volume of waste generated. Impressive.  But, I’m curious about how labor intensive it is to keep all of the waste straight. They must have hired someone whose specific responsibility is to sift through each bin and make sure someone didn’t toss their banana peel in with the recycling.

On the website for the center, they claim that their “kitchen uses fresh, local ingredients without additives, avoids disposable utensils and dishes, and donates leftover food to local charities.” I somehow missed this piece. The lower level of the East building has a food court similar to what you’d find in a shopping mall, with a Subway and other chain restaurants. I think they must be referring to the kitchen that caters conference meetings and workshops. I did see some women eating salads out of what looked like unbleached post-consumer cardboard packaging with utensils that looked compostable. I searched high and low to find the source, but never did. I asked a few kiosks if they knew where to find these salads, but no one did. They could stand to promote this a bit more – I would have patronized such a place.

To find out what other green things the Vancouver Convention Centre is up to check out their website.  As for me, I’d be sure to recommend this venue for any group looking to host a big event on the west coast.  I hope that other cities with convention centers to build will look toward the Vancouver Convention Centre as a model of eco-friendly design.  The sustainable practices, like incorporation of natural lighting is not only good for my mood, but for the future of the planet.

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  • Gasdaasds
    November 30, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    I’m tentatively sceuledhd to be in DC on May 11 if schedule permits, would love to be at the Unassociated. Please share details as they happen; I’ll probably buy airline ticket in early March so would need to know by then.Steve