In a packed session last Saturday afternoon at the new Heldrich conference center in New Brunswick, N.J., members of the International Association of Conference Centers heard from a meeting planner and two architects about best practices in green buildings and conferences at the association’s annual meeting.

Some takeaways:

  • Tourism and travel is one of the top five industries challenged by climate change, according to Marge Anderson, associate director, Energy Center of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis., because hotels, convention centers, and conference centers are such electricity hogs.
  • Conference centers are in the forefront of the hospitality facility community in embracing environmentally-friendly operations and policies. IACC has formed a green task force, co-chaired by Leslie Vanderzwet, general manager, conferences, The Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta, and T. J. Fimmano, general manager, GE Crotonville, Ossining, N.Y. The task force aims to educate IACC members and meeting planners, provide a resource for developing green programs, and recognize properties leading the green movement.
  • The U.S. government and military are mandating green and sustainable buildings for new building projects and retrofitting of older buildings, according to Richard H. Fawell, principal architect, and Marina Vassi Panos, senior associate architect, VOA Associates, Chicago, which surprised many in the room. Fawell quoted a New York Times article from April 18 that reported that the Environmental Protection Agency has given its procurement staff a list of questions that they must ask hotels and convention centers bidding for EPA travel and meetings business, which totals about $50 million annually, and that the General Services Administration—which oversees the $13.5 billion in annual federal spending for travel—is amending its own rules to suggest that meeting planners throughout the government consult the E.P.A. checklist.
  • Companies like Wal-Mart and Bank of America, Lehman Brothers, and most insurance and investment companies, which must manage risk over the long term, are leading the way in the environmental movement. (Visit www.ceres.org, a coalition of investor groups, environmental organizations, and investment funds engaged directly with companies on environmental and social issues, for more).
  • Gone are the days of “hermetically sealing our hotels, conference centers, and other buildings,” said Fawell. “We got off track by building structures where you can’t open windows, and with meeting rooms with little to no daylight.”