April 17, 2024

Columbus Convention Center a Leader in Sustainability

Gone are the days of sustainability just being a buzzword or an aspiration.

Sustainability has become a key standard for many event planners looking at the Greater Columbus Convention Center (GCCC) as a potential venue for use.

“More and more events are very particular about the types of venues they want to partner with,” said Ryan Thorpe, assistant general manager of the GCCC.

“If they aren’t satisfied, they could go elsewhere. The standards are higher, which is a good thing for our environment. But it’s also good for us because our Convention Center is more than prepared.”

Of the 200+ convention centers in the U.S., the GCCC is one of the few that is LEED Silver certified, which indicates a significant commitment to environmental sustainability. And the commitment comes in many forms.

For any visitor who comes into the facility to buy food, all of their items, from the leftover food scraps to plates and forks, are compostable. In the first three months of 2024 alone, the Convention Center composted more than 16 tons of materials from events held at its facility.

“We have a responsibility to make every effort possible to be sustainable for our community,” said Molly Dale, general manager of Levy, which is the food service provider to the GCCC.

“With a venue the size of the GCCC, we know it has an enormous impact on our community. That’s why we are very intentional about what materials we procure, making sure they are compostable at the end of their service life.”

Levy sources most of its food products locally, which helps reduce the carbon footprint that comes from transporting materials. It also uses the center’s hydroponic Smart Farm that sits in the North Building to grow basil, chives, kale and other edible plants that can be used in cocktails, sandwiches and wraps.

Every effort is made to ensure that as little food as possible from Convention Center events goes to waste. Levy has a strong partnership with Food Rescue US, which allows leftover food to be picked up and delivered to people in need. A few years back, food was donated to victims of a large tornado in Nashville using a refrigerated truck.

Aside from food, the Convention Center is dedicated to responsible energy use, which is critical for a facility that is 1.8 million square feet, or the size of 32 football fields. All lighting in the facility comes from LED lights, which provide a significant decrease in energy. The building has a system in place that tracks real-time energy use and can pinpoint energy saving opportunities. After reducing as much energy as possible, the GCCC offsets 100% of the electricity used by the Convention Center annually with Renewable Energy Credits from wind power and other renewable energy sources.

“Our teams here are serious about sustainability. We also have such great support from community partners who help us recycle and compost effectively,” said Thorpe.

There is always staff on duty in charge of waste removal, but during major events, like the Arnold Sports Festival, there can be up to 150 people on-site at a given time dedicated to removing the waste and keeping the facility clean.

“It really takes a village. There are people on the floor emptying bins and taking the recycling and compost waste to the back dock. That’s where we have even more people in charge of our compactor machines and hauling the waste out to the recycling and composting facilities,” said Thorpe.

There are times when creativity must come into play for Thorpe and his team.

“You wouldn’t imagine the types of items that these events bring into our venue,” said Thorpe.

“We recently had an event bring in hundreds of these unique items that we had to figure out how to recycle. There were springs inside these small cloth bags. We didn’t know what to do at first, but through some brainstorming and phone calls, we figured it out. It’s just part of our desire to remain sustainable.”

Thorpe has 25 years of experience in managing convention centers. He’s worked at the McCormick Place in Chicago, and the Oregon Convention Center, two of the most well-known and sustainable convention centers in the U.S. He’s also traveled the country to visit dozens more. It was in 2016 when Thorpe took his role with the GCCC, helping it make large strides in sustainability.

“From a sustainability standpoint, our Convention Center is in the top 20 in the country. Our programs, our commitment and dedication, we’re right up there, which is something we feel really good about,” said Thorpe.

Every year, millions of people from across the country and the world walk through the GCCC, as they attend one of the 300+ events. And many of these events keep coming back for a multitude of reasons. But one reason is the GCCC’s commitment to sustainability, which should pave the way for a sustainable future of events in Columbus for years to come.

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