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by Haley Freeman

During the decade since the EPA declared the meetings and conventions industry the second most wasteful in the U.S. (behind building and construction), this sector has made giant strides toward fashioning a smaller environmental footprint. An industry-wide effort to mitigate the impact of air travel, food waste, consumption of energy and water and many other factors have all contributed to a greener business model and a cleaner planet.

Host cities across the nation have also stepped up and begun developing more sustainable meeting venues with access to clean energy and waste recycling; eco-friendly choices of transportation, lodging and food; along with an enhanced visitor experience that effectively integrates the urban and natural environments.

After cross-referencing the findings of several recent studies evaluating America’s greenest cities, I have composed my own list of top sustainable meeting destinations. Over the next few months, we will be visiting these cities together and examining the qualities that make them extraordinary in their greenness.

The Findings

In 2014, GreenBiz.com published its pick of top 10 U.S. cities for green meetings. Its evaluation focused on the implementation of APEX/ASTM standards by local convention centers, as well as the overall green characteristics of each city.

In 2017, RewardExpert.com issued a study comparing 53 U.S. cities of more than 300,000 residents to help travelers determine which are the greenest places to visit. Analysts evaluated 20 weighted metrics in five key areas: Ecotourism; Transportation; Lifestyle & Policy; Environment; and Energy, and generated a score and ranking for each city.

Also in 2017, WalletHub.com underwrote a study of 100 of the largest U.S. cities to determine which are promoting an environmentally friendly lifestyle. Its methodology evaluated 22 metrics across four dimensions: Environment; Transportation; Energy Sources; and Lifestyle & Policy.  Seven of this study’s top 10 green cities are located in California. While I am a California resident and love my state’s eco-conscious culture, I want to be fair to the rest of the country and the amazing accomplishments of other communities that welcome many thousands of convention visitors each year.

So, our tour of top green convention cities in the U.S. will begin in California, first in San Francisco (rated number one by both RewardExpert and WalletHub), then on to San Diego (rated number two by WalletHub and number 11 by RewardExpert). From there, we will cross to the East Coast and visit Washington D.C. (rated number three by RewardExpert; number six by WalletHub; and number nine by GreenBiz) and then Boston (rated number two by Reward Expert and number 14 by WalletHub), before heading back to the West Coast and looking in on our neighbors in Portland (rated number four by RewardExpert; number five by GreenBiz; and number nine by WalletHub).

Expert contributors to the WalletHub study were asked to answer several questions, among them: What types of “green” policies or investments offer the biggest bang for the buck?. Arden Rowell, Professor of Law and University Scholar at the University of Illinois College of Law, gave an answer that is good for the meetings and conventions industry. She encouraged cities to continue investing in green infrastructure, which often pays for itself “in savings from traditional (or gray) infrastructure, and/or can be structured as conditions for development. Cost-effective green infrastructure practices include promoting green roofs; planting trees and shrubs; permeable pavement; and water harvesting.”

Rowell went on state that the city of Chicago has been effective in promoting green roofs throughout the city. To prove her point, Chicago’s McCormick Place, the largest convention center in the Western Hemisphere, has partnered with Windy City Harvest to turn a half-acre of green roof space into a vegetable garden that supplies its sustainable kitchens.

Innovations like this one are in evidence in convention cities and venues around the country, stepping up the meeting experience for attendees, while protecting the environment and turning the industry’s formerly soiled reputation to a brilliant shade of green. Now lets get on the road and see some of these earth-friendly destinations for ourselves, beginning with San Francisco and its award-winning Moscone Center.

Green Quote: “The good building is not one that hurts the landscape, but one which makes the landscape more beautiful than it was before the building was built.” — Frank Lloyd Wright

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